May 27, 2024

You’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve been here before. Mercedes-AMG, Germany’s original purveyor of preposterous power, has, after all, spent the last year making its presence keenly felt in the plug-in hybrid market. And aside from the misgivings that greeted its interpretation of what a C63 S should be in the petrol-electric era, we’ve rather enjoyed its attempts to rock the boat. Not least because it has mostly involved strapping an electric motor to the firm’s 4.0-litre twin-turbocharged V8, and smirking at the supercar-sized outputs that have resulted.

For the most part though, this combination has been the preserve of the big, heavy saloons – namely the GT 63 S E Performance and the S-Class equivalent. Now, though, the manufacturer has turned its attention to a big, heavy roadster – specifically, the still fairly new SL. It threatened a plug-in hybrid halo model from the very beginning, and while some of us were moved to suggest that 585hp in the non-hybrid SL 63 was plenty enough, Mercedes-AMG has kept to the script: the new E Performance version gets a combined system output of 816hp. With 1047lb ft of torque to back it up.

The scale of these numbers is unsurprising insofar as we’ve seen them before – or something very much like them. The GT 63 we drove back in April was ladling out 843hp and 1,084lb ft of torque, lest we forget. But their arrival in something SL-shaped – and the 2.9-seconds-to-62mph that results – makes it clear that Mercedes-AMG is pursuing a level of performance we haven’t seen in an SL since it thought a Black Series variant was a bright idea.

That SL was limited to 199mph; the top speed for the newcomer is quoted as 197mph. But the comparison needn’t go any further: the rear-drive SL65 was famously a handful, whereas – much as it has done with the other iterations of E Performance – Mercedes-AMG has endeavoured to keep the combination of 612hp V8 and 204hp electric motor on a short leash. The latter, predictably, is mounted on the back axle where it is integrated with its own two-speed transmission and a mechanical limited-slip diff. The motor drives the rear wheels directly, but thanks to standard 4Matic+ all-wheel drive, its delivery can be shared with the front wheels, too.

Above the rear axle is where you’ll find the 6.1 kWh lithium-ion battery ‘inspired’ by F1 technology. Much as it does elsewhere in the E Performance lineup, its presence is chiefly about increasing performance; it can be charged from a socket and will let you travel in pure electric mode – but only for 13km. Otherwise, it is meant for frequent discharges followed by rapid (four-stage) recuperation, both aided by a sophisticated direct cooling system. The objective is to make ‘electric power always available’. And underwrite the eye-popping acceleration figures.

Whether or not the new SL 63 S E Performance is capable of rivalling a supercar beyond a straight line remains to be seen, but its maker cannot be faulted for effort. Not only does the car get fully-variable AWD, rear-axle steering and semi-active roll stabilisation (its four suspension struts are hydraulically interlinked) – it also adds an active aero element in the underbody that extends by 40mm to create the Venturi effect at speeds above 50mph, thereby reducing lift on the front axle. And if being sucked onto the road isn’t enough to get you around the next corner, the enormous 420mm (front) and 380mm (rear) carbon ceramic brake discs clamped by six-piston fixed calipers (or a one-piston floating caliper at the back) ought to do the trick.

Around them, the E Performance adds 20-inch, multi-spoke wheels (that seem to be exclusively available in black as standard) although otherwise – integrated plug-in flap aside – the visual enhancements appear to be relatively minor. The model name is highlighted in red and there are grooved trapezoidal twin tailpipe trims to marvel at, but otherwise the top-spec SL apparently presents much like its siblings. The same goes for the cabin, which is still dominated by the latest MBUX multimedia system (where you can expect to find numerous hybrid-specific displays). That said, Mercedes is inevitably keen to reiterate that ‘an extensive selection of exterior and interior customisation’ is accessible via its Manufaktur programme.

“The SL has always been an icon in the Mercedes-Benz portfolio. The latest version of the legendary roadster transfers this status into the future”, reckons Michael Schiebe, CEO of Mercedes-AMG. “With this unique concept, we offer our customers not only superior performance but also the option of all-electric driving. Extensive equipment options and the high-quality materials used also make the SL one of the most exclusive roadsters on the market – a real dream car.” Quite what this dream car will cost when it goes on sale isn’t clear. But with the existing combustion-only SL63 already north of £170k, expect the E Performance’s supercar-rivalling output to come at a correspondingly high price.

 

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