Test Drive: 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL65

Since the 300SL’s inception in 1952 as Mercedes’ first true racing car, the SL has been the brand’s most iconic ride. But like its post-300SL predecessors, the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SL65 roadster (which hits the market this summer with an MSRP of $219,850) is more of a grand tourer than anything bound for the race track.

Make no mistake — when it comes to performance, the AMG version remains the brand’s most impressive and powerful ride. But there’s no fooling anyone here. Most anyone who can afford it is driving this car for its looks — and the looks it gets. And the re-styled new front end of the 2017 is something to get excited about.

At first glance, it’s impossible not to notice the updates to the SL65’s exterior, with most of the love given to the car’s front end. From 2012 to 2016, the SL65’s aesthetics had devolved into a holding pattern. And we’re betting we’re not the only ones who got tired of the boxy, prudish look of the old front grille.

Blame it on evolution.

“The SL is very iconic for Mercedes, and each one is different in its decade, somehow always reflecting the taste of the time and the current beauty ideal,” says Daimler Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener, elaborating on the company’s new philosophy of “sensual purity” (he recently released a book on the topic). “The updated SL is clean and very high tech, but on the other hand very emotional and sexy looking,” Wagener says. In other words, a ride for the times.

The updated diamond radiator grille on the SL65’s nose — a complete redesign, in fact — now sweeps downward, widening toward the bottom for a look that’s both sleeker and more aggressive. There’s an A-wing front splitter, and more aggressive-looking air inlets on the front lengthen the appearance of the hood for a more impactful first impression. Other additions to the 2017 include new standard-fit LED headlamps with housings that extend far to the outside of the car and elegant chrome inserts in the front bumper.

We recently heard one car reviewer rather uncharitably refer to the SL65 as a “retired dentist's express.” But there’s no denying the power behind this thing: This is the car inspired by Formula 1, with bi-turbo acceleration torque (a whopping 738 lb-ft) that’s a pass-down from the racing division’s engineering and technology. And it’s been widely publicized that the SL65 has one of very few 6.0L V-12 bi-turbo engines on the market, with the Audi A8 and Ferrari F12 Berlinetta among its peers. But Audi, of course, has never entered the Formula 1 championship, and Ferrari has been down on its racing luck. All that puts the SL65 in a league of its own.

Behind the wheel, the torque kicks in early and pulls through the entire rev range thanks to the big engine and twin turbochargers. You can be cruising at pedestrian speeds then push the pedal and be launched nearly instantly into the prohibited digits (it takes the car just 3.9 seconds to go from 1 to 60, with a top speed of 186 mph). Sure, you could get swept away by the SL65’s sexy new looks. But we say give them an approving nod — then drive it and weep. [From $219,850; mbusa.com]