First drive review: 2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL sharpens its edge as it becomes more welcoming

The pea soup fog and steady rain in the mountains outside of Palms Springs, California, are making it hard to figure out the character of the 2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL. With its new 2+2 layout, is the SL now a Porsche 911 competitor? Is it the lovechild of a C-Class cabriolet and an AMG GT roadster? Or do its soft top and small rear seat simply revive the third-generation SL model last sold in 1989?

The 2022 SL marks a complete redesign of a beloved sports car that traces its roots back to 1952. It rides on a new aluminum-intensive platform that could very well be the last one Mercedes develops for the internal combustion engine. It also marks three important changes from the last-generation model: that rear seat and cloth top, and standard all-wheel-drive.

The new SL is also the first engineered from start to finish by Mercedes’ AMG performance arm. Those roots give it a performance credibility it hasn’t had since the first-generation 300SL that was derived from a race car.

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 63 AMG

The AMG crew also gave the SL a host of standard and optional performance goodies. It starts under the long, low hood, where the M177 twin-turbo 4.0-liter comes in two states of tune: powerful and rambunctious. In the SL 55, the V-8 huffs down 16.0 psi of boost, while the SL 63 line-topper inhales 22.5 psi. Both engines deliver the performance mail, and both are modified for use in the SL with a new oil pan, new intake and exhaust ducts, and repositioned intercoolers.

The SL sends its power to the optional 275/35R21 front and wider 305/30R21 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires (245/40 and 295/35 tires on 20-inch wheels are standard) via a 9-speed wet-clutch dual-clutch automatic to launch the car from 0-60 mph in 3.9 seconds. The SL 63 uses the same driveline hardware to slay the 0-60 mph run in 3.4 seconds.

Familiar to Mercedes fans, the 4.0-liter V-8 is real and it’s spectacular, while the 9-speed is real and pretty damn good. When either version is pushed, the V-8 pauses ever so slightly to inhale, then sounds a deep, throaty growl as the SL explodes forward. Let off in the Sport, Sport+, or Track modes, and NASCAR-style pops and crackles induce giggles. (I can’t help it. I’m 13 at heart.) The power stays on boil, too, pushing the SL 63 all the way to 196 mph, which is a sure way to give yourself racing hair with the top down. The SL 55 tops out at a mere 183 mph—barely even ticket-worthy.

I’m not about to induce any forward-thrust explosions with fog so thick I can barely see the taillights of the SL a few car lengths in front of me. With steep drop-offs unprotected by guardrails on these mountain roads, I’m also not keen on finding the limits of grip for the chunky Michelin tires. If only Mercedes AMG could control the weather like they do a suspension.

2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL body shell

2022 Mercedes-Benz AMG SL body shell

Too bad Mercedes can’t, because on 350 other days of the year this would be a great opportunity to test the stiff new structure and some pretty cool advanced suspension technology. Referred to as the MSA (Modular Sports Architecture), the SL’s exclusive platform features space-frame construction relying on a mix of aluminum, magnesium, steel, and fiber composites to make the body shell stiff and light. Despite a wheelbase that is 4.6 longer due to the added rear seat, the new structure has 18% more structural rigidity than the outgoing model, and 50% more bending rigidity versus the fantastic AMG GT roadster.

Lightweight coil springs and adaptive dampers come standard, but rather than air springs or even active anti-roll bars to fight body lean, the SL 63 uses a hydraulic suspension that’s linked at all four corners. Like the system in the McLaren 720S, this advanced setup pulls the inside tire up when the outside tire is compressed through the flow of hydraulic fluid to keep the body level. It works quickly and effectively, giving the SL the flat cornering of a sports car. AMG engineers chose it for that purpose and to save weight versus those other systems.

Mercedes compensates for the SL’s additional length by making rear-axle steering standard. It can turn the rear wheels counter to the fronts up to 2.5 degrees to virtually lengthen the wheelbase in sharp corners and parking lot situations.

Even in these adverse conditions, some of the SL’s dynamic strengths show through. The 12.8:1 steering ratio makes it quick, and it feels weighty and direct through the chunky, small-diameter steering wheel. That quick turn-in is met by flat cornering and incredible body control enabled by the hydraulic dampers and double-wishbone front and rear suspensions that all conspire to maintain a large contact patch in corners. The rear end follows along quickly, with reactions made sharper by the rear-axle steering that steers opposite of the fronts not up to 37 mph like in many cars, but up to 62 mph, where it can be more useful for track driving. 

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

Stiffer than the outgoing car with more advanced suspension technology and the ability to tune it for performance or comfort, the 2022 Mercedes SL is a more capable and better handling car than the fast but soft SLs of recent years. 

The linked hydraulic dampers also work at the opposite end of the spectrum, loosening up during straight-line driving for a more comfortable ride. Active engine mounts, standard in the SL 63 and optional in the SL 55, do much the same: their magnetic fluid loosens up while cruising for a softer ride and firms up in corners to better prevent the engine from adding to the lateral inertia, resulting in quicker reactions. The new SL may perform better than the car it replaces, but it’s still smooth enough for comfortable use every day even with the optional 21s.

Inside, the SL boasts a lot more technology, too, though the interior still perfectly blends traditional SL themes of performance and luxury, while also giving a nod to the original 300SL with its minimalist look. A 12.3-inch digital screen serves as the instrument cluster and features a special visor to prevent reflections caused by sunlight, a must for driving with the top down. It offers several display themes—Understated, Classic, Sport, Supersport, and Track Pace—with layouts that range from so minimalist that only the immediate range of speed and torque are shown in the speedometer and tachometer to extensive on-board telemetry. Check out the information and designs, and choose the one that’s right for you. I’m partial to the look of Supersport and the dynamic information it shows.

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

2022 Mercedes-Benz SL 55 AMG

An 11.9-inch portrait-style touchscreen sits in the center console as the main hub for infotainment. It tilts from a standard 32 degrees, which provides the most comfortable view to a far more upright 12 degrees to avoid reflections caused by sunlight. Under the screen are a row of physical buttons used to control frequently used items. 

A head-up display is standard in the SL 63 and optional in the SL 55. It uses augmented reality to overlay arrows and for navigation directions. 

It’s all easy to monitor sitting low in the coddling and supportive base sport seats or the even sportier optional seats. Either set of seats cradle bodies of just about any size quite well, and offer the additional pampering of heating, cooling, and massage. 

I’m driving top up for most of this cold and rainy trip. The standard AirScarf neck-level heating can battle the cold but not block the rain. In the up position, the three-layer top blocks out most wind and road noise, though I detect some wind noise from the windshield header at highway speeds. The fully automated roof takes just 15 seconds to raise or lower, a process that can be done while traveling at speeds of up to 37 mph. Thank goodness it’s so quick because you have to swipe on the touchscreen to one side or the other to operate the top and keep your finger in place until the process is complete. 

Mercedes loads up the SL with amenities such as soft nappa leather, Burmester audio, and a surround-view camera system, plus a full spate of standard and optional active safety features. Prices aren’t yet available, but we expect the SL to start around $100,000 when it hits the market this spring. 

That’s about the same price as the outgoing car, but this time around buyers get a sharper, better performing grand tourer with additional utility and better technology. It doesn’t sport the exotic layout of the Porsche 911, but the new SL will appeal to buyers of the previous car, while also attracting more serious enthusiasts who want to carve through the canyons (preferably not in the rain) on the weekends. 

Mercedes-Benz paid for travel and lodging for your author to bring rain to California and bring you this firsthand report.

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BAGGSY’S NISSAN GT-R – EPIC WRAP BATTLE

When it came to shaking up the look of Baggsy’s Nissan GT-R drift weapon for 2021, he knew just what he needed: a fresh bodykit, and an epic new wrap…

Feature from Fast Car. Words: Dan Bevis. Photography: SHYAM.

“Give me Goodwood on a summer’s day, and you can keep the rest.” So said racing legend Roy Salvadori, and it’s a sentiment that’s resonated across the ages. The historic motor circuit transcended its functional roots as an RAF base to become one of the most celebrated racetracks in the post-war period; it closed in 1966, but the spirit of that mid-20th century era has been vividly rekindled by the Goodwood Revival and, more recently, the Members Meeting. And it’s among the verdant foliage of West Sussex that we find Steve Biagioni, better known as Baggsy, disturbing the peace at Goodwood’s other key event, the Festival of Speed, just up the road from the circuit at The Duke of Richmond’s country pile.

In 2021, more than ever before, we’ve needed this. The mind-warping weirdness of the last eighteen months or so hardly needs spelling out; confined to quarters and forbidden from mingling, Goodwood’s 2020 events were cancelled much like everything else on the show calendar. We were bereft, rudderless, adrift in a sea of uncertainty. So as these shows started to safely tiptoe back onto the calendar this year, there was an enthusiasm across the board to go big, make an impact, remind ourselves just what this is all about. And for Baggsy, that entailed bursting back onto the scene with a fresh new look for his brutal drift-hero R35 GT-R.

But let’s rewind a bit. Back to 2017, way before the days of lockdowns and firebreaks. Baggsy was a decade or so into his professional drifting career, having won the British Drift Championship in 2009 and enjoyed all manner of motorsport success since, and found himself with a unique focus for the direction of his next pro drift car. He needed to build a show-stopping machine to feature in Monster Energy’s Battle Drift 2, a video in which he’d go head-to-head with skidding kingpin Daigo Saito… and Saito’s got a drift-spec Lamborghini Murciélago. So whatever the next car was to be, it had to bring the noise to a pretty devastating extent.

Now, Baggsy’s got form with Nissans, so it made sense to start there. Having competed in an LS3-swapped S13 (a car in which he appeared in The Grand Tour, teaching Richard Hammond to drift), there was a formula to exploit. And while the purists gasped at the idea of tearing the venerable VR38 motor out of an R35 GT-R and replacing it with some Detroit iron, that’s exactly what he had his eye on. It actually made more sense than it might at first seem, as this is no ordinary LS swap. You’ll no doubt be familiar with the LS family of Chevrolet V8s, which have been around for a fair while in a great many configurations: the LS2, for example, was the 6.0-litre unit found in various Corvettes and the Cadillac CTS-V, the LS3 was a 6.2-litre version for Corvettes and Camaros as well as the Vauxhall VXR8… so what’s an LSX? Well, it’s a full-race engine that uses the basic LS V8 architecture and irons out all of the road-car tolerances. Based on the 427ci (7.0-litre) LS7 block, it has a meatier 7.4-litre displacement, forged pistons, lightweight rods, a lightened crank, and LSX-specific heads with hollow-stem valves and reworked ports. With boost forced in by a colossal Garrett snail, Baggsy’s staring down the barrel of 1,200bhp+ here, and all with impeccable reliability. It’s a monster, but a logical one.

This is a highly intelligent engine build; you can park your preconceptions about Chevy motors being dumb iron at the door, as this LSX features such clever highlights as drive-by-wire throttle, a custom rear-mounted radiator setup, highly developed cam profiles, super-clever fuelling, and an HP Electronik Powerbox power distribution module that replaces all of the traditional fuse and relay systems with solid-state parts. And the intelligent developments continue throughout the powertrain: Nissan’s AWD setup and DCT transmission has been junked in favour of a Quaife QBE69G sequential ’box, Winters IRS quick-change rear differential, and Pro-Level axles from The Driveshaft Shop. All the rough stuff needed to get twelve-hundred rampaging horses through those fat Accelera rears with maximum impact and minimum stress.

When it comes to the chassis, you can be damn sure that’s as cunning as a sly fox too. ST Suspension is a key technical partner, and their 3-way adjustable motorsport coilovers work with a full suite of hardware from Voodoo 13 at either end. Brakes? Yeah, they’re pretty phenomenal as well – lurking behind the front Rotiforms is a rugged set of Wilwood Superlite 6-pots, complemented by 4-pots out back. The front discs are bigger than a lot of cars’ actual wheels, and it’s all corralled by pukka motorsport kit inside and underneath. Baggsy has an OBP pedal box under his feet, a massive hydro handbrake handle towering beside him, and he can keep an eye on all the vital signs via an AEM CD-7 digital dash display as he’s strapped into his custom Cobra seat.

With such mighty specs, it was inevitable that the LSX Nissan GT-R would evolve from demo car to full-on motorsport competitor. And it’s within the very essence of evolution itself to keep honing, refining, developing and transmogrifying. That’s where Fleet Vehicle Solutions came in during the summer of 2021. With the Goodwood Festival of Speed approaching, and Baggsy’s slot firmly inked into the timetable for drift runs up the hill, our man was keen to shake up the aesthetics. After all, a lot of people attending the show would have seen the car before, and he wanted to give them something new. Something fresh. Something the likes of which they’d never seen.

Job one was to alter the fundamental profile of the car; he’d originally gone for a Liberty Walk kit in 2017 because, while the Rocket Bunny Pandem option was a very cool one, lots of people were doing it and the sharper Liberty Walk vibe gave him more of an edge. In 2021, that edge has evolved too, as the Japanese styling gods have released a V3 development of the kit: it’s got an altogether angrier aesthetic, the trailing edges of the arch extensions sporting aero flics and swoops, the back end squarer and more muscular, the nose more protruding and imposing. It’s totally altered the character of the car, and with this makeover achieved, there was a crucial finishing touch: the wrap.

Baggsy's Nissan GT-R

In its previous guise, Baggsy’s Nissan GT-R was pretty aggressive – the blacked-out vibe artfully augmented with eye-popping Monster logos and assorted sponsor decals. What Fleet Vehicle Solutions have achieved with the new-for-2021 look is something altogether more cohesive, taking the ethos of the car to new extremes with a riot of yellow accents and pinstripes across the moody and menacing base. Expertly applied with high-end 3M materials, it’s the perfect finisher for a car whose very essence revolves around fusing form and function. The team put some serious hours into perfecting this wrap, working with those myriad angles and overcoming all the technical complexities and intricacies involved, and the results really speak for themselves. The LSX Nissan GT-R looks badass on an unparalleled scale, perhaps even more impactful than when it originally debuted, and the roars of the Festival of Speed crowds as Baggsy pirouetted up the hill were all the validation he needed. Give him Goodwood on a summer’s day, and he’ll fill it with tyre smoke.

Baggsy's Nissan GT-R

Tech Spec: Baggsy’s Nissan GT-R

Engine:

Chevrolet LSX 454 7.4-litre V8 – custom-built by Chris Jeanneret Racing and SB Motorsports, Garrett GTX4718R turbo, twin Turbosmart 44mm wastegates, custom stainless exhaust manifolds and collector, 5-inch front-exit exhaust outlet, custom cams, custom Forge Motorsports intercooler with Vibrant Performance 4-inch pipework, 102mm drive-by-wire throttle body, custom intake manifold, custom Canton wet sump, ASNU 1,500cc injectors, Radium Engineering/Fuel Safe 15-gallon fuel cell, 4x Walbro 450lph pumps, Radium multi-pump FPR, custom rear-mounted Forge Motorsports radiator, OBP oil, transmission, and power steering coolers, AEM Infinity 508 management

Transmission:

Quaife QBE69G sequential transmission, Competition Clutch 7.25-inch triple-disc clutch, Winters IRS quick-change rear diff, The Driveshaft Shop Pro-Level axles

Suspension:

ST Suspension 3-way adjustable motorsport coilovers, Voodoo 13 front angle kit, SB Motorsports-modified front subframe, Voodoo 13 rear camber, toe, and traction arms, Sikky Manufacturing rear subframe, air jacks

Brakes:

6-pot Wilwood Superlite calipers with 14-inch discs (f), 4-pot Wilwood Dynapro calipers with 12.6-inch discs (r)

Wheels:

10.5×20-inch Rotiform LHR wheels, Accelera PHI 2 tyres

Interior:

Custom-stitched Cobra bucket seats, custom 10-point chromoly rollcage, custom carbon dash, OBP billet pedal box, OBP handbrake, AEM CD-7 digital dash display, HP Electronik Powerbox power distribution module, HP9642 switch panel

Exterior:

Custom 3M wrap by Fleet Livery Solutions, Liberty Walk V3 wide-body kit

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1970 Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda from the glory days of Trans Am racing sells for $90,200 at auction

The 1970 Plymouth AAR ‘Cuda was the Mopar brand’s SCCA Trans Am homologation special during the series’ early 1970s heyday. A restored example headed to the Mecum Auctions Kissimmee, Florida, sale scheduled where it sold for $90,200 over the weekend.

“AAR” stands for “All American Racers,” the Dan Gurney-led team that Plymouth brought in as its factory team for Trans Am in 1970. This was during the height of Trans Am’s popularity, with factory-backed Mustangs, Camaros, Challengers, and even AMC Javelins competing against the Plymouths.

Trans Am rules required manufacturers to base their race cars on production models, which is how we got the original Ford Mustang Boss 302 and Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, as well as the Dodge Challenger T/A. The AAR ‘Cuda was Plymouth’s answer to those cars.

1970 Plymouth 'Cuda AAR (Photo by Mecum Auctions)

1970 Plymouth ‘Cuda AAR (Photo by Mecum Auctions)

The AAR ‘Cuda was one of several performance versions of the Plymouth Barracuda, all of which got the shortened ‘Cuda name beginning in 1970. The AAR’s 340-cubic-inch V-8 was far from the largest engine in the ‘Cuda lineup, but it fit SCCA regulations. The engine produced 290 hp, which it sent to the rear wheels through a 4-speed manual transmission and 3:91 Sure Grip rear end.

The white car heading to auction has been fully restored, according to the listing. Because it’s an AAR model, it gets some sporty trim features, including a Hurst Pistol Grip shifter, a Rallye dashboard with tachometer, and front bucket seats.

This car won’t be the only ‘Cuda up for grabs at Mecum’s Kissimmee auction. An extremely rare 1970 Hemi ‘Cuda convertible is also scheduled to cross the block at that sale. Mecum doesn’t provide pre-auction estimates, but ‘Cudas have fetched millions at past auctions.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect the AAR ‘Cuda’s final sale price.

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