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Mercedes-AMG's newest roadster handles nimbly, shifts perfectly

With Sport Plus engaged, I exult in how the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL63 takes to the tight corners of a country highway somewhere near San Diego. The wheel turns easily and the car feels nimble and light as it dashes through the turns, holding true to the superlight origins of its name. The AMG seven-speed transmission unfailingly performs the same gear changes I would have chosen, had I elected to put fingers to paddle shifters.

Even better, the engine roars and pops on the downshifts, exhibiting that Mercedes-AMG muscle.

Then the inevitable happens, a line of cars cruising at 35 mph despite the 55-mph limit signs. Well, it was fun while it lasted. Instead of stressing out I choose to enjoy the countryside, the SL63's open top giving me 360-degree views. Dial the driving mode down to Comfort and the car becomes a pussycat, letting me cruise happily along on this Mercedes-Benz-sponsored press drive.

2017 Mercedes-AMG SL63

Mercedes-Benz's AMG division gave the SL-Class a powerful, hand-built engine, a quick-shifting transmission and suspension tuning that creates light, nimble handling.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

The spiritual successor to the gullwing-doored 300 SL, Mercedes-Benz brings back some of that super-leicht character, the German origin of the SL designation, to the 2017 SL-Class. The newest version of this roadster uses an aluminum body, saving 220 pounds over steel, according to Mercedes-Benz. It also boasts a retractable hard-top capable of operating at speeds up to 25 mph, if you get caught in sudden squall or don't want to stop for the sunshine.

Of this new model, Mercedes-Benz offers the SL450 and SL550, oriented toward cruising, but in the hands of the AMG performance division, the SL-Class becomes something much more satisfying to those who like tackling the turns. The SL63 is the model you want if track days and twisty roads are your thing.

Mercedes-Benz couples the car's seven-speed automated manual transmission with a twin-turbocharged 5.5-liter V-8 engine making 577 horsepower and a monstrous 664 pound-feet of torque. The engine and transmission work beautifully together to deliver power for turn entrances and exits, but forget about drag-strip starts. In Sport Plus mode I floored the gas from a dead stop, and rather than neck-snapping thrust the SL63 showed its turbo lag, making a mild start until the forced induction kicked in. That initial lag doesn't last long, however, as Mercedes-Benz puts the SL63's zero-to-60 mph time at 4 seconds.

The SL63's performance character is noticeable even with the suspension in comfort mode, assuming a slightly stiffer character than its less capable siblings, the SL550 and SL450. However, it remains a highly comfortable roadster, suitable for lengthy excursions.

2017 Mercedes-AMG SL63

The SL63 uses a dial for drive mode selection rather than the less convenient button of its SL550 and SL450 siblings.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Put it in Sport, Sport Plus or Race mode and what Mercedes-Benz calls Active Body Control, its adaptive suspension technology, steps in to deliver excellent handling. As I flogged the SL63 through the turns, I thought that this was how a sports car should behave. It followed the lines I dictated without fuss, putting me in complete control. Powering out of the turns, the limited-slip differential ensured that the ample torque was put to good use, twisting both rear wheels.

In many other respects, the SL63 follows its SL-Class siblings. The infotainment system, inhabiting a surprisingly small screen, sits in the center of the dashboard showing standard Mercedes-Benz navigation, audio and communication systems. Mercedes-Benz really needs to overhaul the interface here, as recent additions to the menu structure don't follow the original paradigm, for example mixing drop-down and rotational menus.

If you want a roadster with horsepower over 500, your choices are very limited. Along with the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL63, you might consider the 550-horsepower Jaguar F-Type R or the 553-horsepower Ferrari California. Those cars neatly bracket the SL63's approximately $150,000 price tag. The 2017 SL63 should become available this spring.

2017 Mercedes-AMG SL63

The SL63 has few competitors, as there are not many large, powerful and luxury-oriented roadsters on the market.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow
 

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