Now missing its V-12-powered SL 600 and SL 65 AMG models, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SL Class lineup still has a huge performance reach, thanks to a pair of wonderfully smooth, urgently powerful V-8 engines.
The lesser of two pricetags, the SL 550 sports a 5.5-liter engine making 382 horsepower that's sent to the rear wheels via a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic. This powertrain's a common thread uniting much of the Mercedes lineup, and for good reason. It doles up tart performance, with 0-60 mph times of less than six seconds promised, along with a top speed of 155 mph. Over the years, we've wondered why exactly anyone wanted the rev-resistant V-12 cars: the only drivers who will miss the extra cylinders here are the most badge-conscious of the well-heeled.
Of course, if you're really rich, not just reality-TV rich, then you'll think the SL 63 AMG is the base car. Well done. This version thunders along behind the blast of power triggered by a 6.2-liter V-8, AMG's first ground-up powerplant. As it does in the SLS gullwing and roadster, it howls through a 518-hp power peak, and teams up with an automated-manual seven-speed transmission. AMG says this one's up for a 0-60 mph rocket ride of less than 4.8 seconds.
There's a distinct difference between the SL 550 and the AMG SL, though all now have the Direct Steer system that quickens the car's response as the steering wheel moves farther off-center. The AMG SLs have much tauter tuning and faster steering, and even they have an absorbent, comfortable ride. Credit for that achievement goes to Active Body Control (ABC), a suspension setup that lets drivers choose comfort, normal, and sport driving modes. It's not needlessly complex with separate selections for steering and throttle, as are some other driver-configurable systems like Audi's Drive Select.