Affalterbach is the latest home for one of the great oaks of the car industry.
Mercedes knows that it has been casually reverse engineering the SL down a narrow cul-desac for the past 20 years, although no one is actually saying it. The SL nameplate – which stands for sporty, light – has real emotional weight even for this storied marque.
The 1952 original was a competition car with spectacular engineering and gullwing doors that set the stage for a road car. The ‘Pagoda,’ the next generation of automobiles, was as elegant and timeless as any other car in history. The Seventies iteration was a pop culture smash hit favoured by Bobby Ewing on Dallas and Richard Gere’s American gigolo, the late Eighties-into-Nineties car a brilliantly blocky slab of modernism.
Well, maybe not so much since then. Blame the folding hard-top roof, and a deliberate departure from the lightness’ part.
The SL that you see is not just a seventh-generation version of a well known greatest hit. This is a major re-set. This is a reboot where the boot can once more be considered a normal boot. It was created by AMG and features a completely new clean-sheet-of paper chassis that is not influenced by any Mercedes.
You can still judge the design by yourself. It features a short overhang, slim ‘digital headlights’, a long bonnet and a sharply raked windshield. There is also smooth reductive surfacing, as it is today. It is tighter than the Porsche 911 it replaces, and it looks even more punchy from certain angles. It’s Mercedes’ California design studio.
The soft-top is also a real soft-top that re-connects the car with its predecessors and frees the designers from the pain of packaging concertina-ed steel gubbins. The new SL imports MBUX’s latest user-interface – remember dashboards in cars? SL-specific tweaks. Active aerodynamics, all wheel drive for the first time in an SL and an active rear axle to increase agility and surefootedness are some of the features. While it will flutter, this one is going back directly to the source.
“We wanted the new SL back to its roots. It’s a sports car, so AMG took over the development of the architecture,” Philipp Schiemer (Mercedes-AMG’s chairman) tells TopGear.com. It had to be comfortable. The right combination was needed. The AMG guys are driving dynamics freaks. However, the SL must be fully usable as a daily driver. This car is also very innovative.
It is. Let’s talk engines. The new SL comes with two versions the Mercedes’ 4.0-litre ‘hotV’ V8 twin turbo. The SL55 produces 469bhp and 516lb ft. It can reach 62mph in 3.9 seconds, while the SL63 can go 183 mph. The SL63 is 577bhp and 590 lb ft. It can reach 62mph in 3.6 seconds and tops out at 195mph in 3.5 seconds. The new SL63 will come with a plug-in hybrid and fully-electric version, but there won’t be an EQ SL. Mercedes”sports car/comfy boulevardier’ ambitions for the new car are made clear by launching it in such a juicy form with the petrol V8: it’s been a while that an SL was as well suited to the circuit than the golf course.
The engine has undergone several modifications to suit the duty: a new oil pan and intercoolers have been repositioned, active crankcase ventilation has been added, as well as a reworked intake/exhaust. The software has been improved and the turbos of the 63 achieve a higher boost pressure and even more air flow.
The liquid-filled active engine mountings are also a benefit. They manage to strike the right balance between rigidity, and isolation from unwanted vibrations. The cooling system for the SL is quite complex, with three tiers that manage the engine, turbos and intercoolers as well as transmission oil. AMG’s MCT nine-speed gearbox has a wet clutch instead of a torque converter. This reduces weight and allows for faster shift times.
Dynamic Select’s transmission now offers six modes: Slippery and Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Individual. (The SL55 has this option, but it is standard on the 63). Mercedes also offers its own version of side-slip control with AMG Dynamics. This has ‘Basic, Advanced, Pro, and Master’ settings that Mercedes calls a ‘agilising intervention’. The SL63 comes standard with an electronically controlled limited slip rear differential. It is also available as part of AMG Dynamic Plus Package 55. We think the SL can do more than the AMG E63 – it even has the chassis.
This, by the way mixes aluminium and steel, magnesium, carbon fibre composites to increase rigidity while remaining relatively lightweight. For maximum roll-over protection, the windscreen is made of high-strength, hot-formed tubular steel. Cast aluminium components are used in critical structural pathways to permit large forces to transfer or be discharged. This isn’t a simple assembly. Mercedes claims that the SL’s transverse rigidity, at 50 percent, is higher than the AMG GT’s, which is far more stable. The bodyshell is 270kg in total.
The suspension of the SL is more innovative and clever than ever. A modified version of AMG’s ride control steel suspension is used in the 55. The 63 has active anti-roll stability with hydraulically connected dampers. To improve kinematics, the SL debuts a five-link front axle with similar setup at the rear. The key components are made from forged aluminium. All this points to a car with the AMG GT’s agility and precision, but also with comfort and a sense of aggression dialled back.
Both 55 and 63 have steel composite brake discs of 390mm diameter and six-piston front calipers, while 360mm discs are equipped with single-piston floating discs at the rear. The calipers of the 55-year-old are red and those of the 63-year old are yellow. Ceramic composite brakes can be an option. You can also choose from a variety of driver assistance programs, some of which may be confusing and not all are particularly user-friendly.
Mercedes also incorporated aero techniques from Formula One into its new SL. These techniques improve stability, reduce drag and optimize cooling. The front apron has a splitter and wing to reduce lift. There are aero-optimised brake lines and ducts. A two-piece active aero Air Panel employs electronically controlled louvres to move air into maximum cooling or cutting drag.
An active rear spoiler can be placed in five positions at the rear. For even more efficiency, an optional aerodynamics package can be purchased. You also have the option of aero-optimised alloy wheels in 20 and 21 inches. Mercedes offers a range of exterior design options, including Night, Night II, and Carbon Packages.
It’s AMG GT meets the new S-Class inside. There are many aviation influences, including a wing-like structure supported by four galvanised turbine air vents. The driver’s 12.3-inch display has an interesting cut-out section at its top. The display also features some SL-specific graphics and read-outs. AMG’s Track Pace datalogger is standard on the Model 63. You can add your tracks to the existing Nurburgring or Spa tracks.
The central touchscreen in portrait format is the centerpiece of the cabin. It can be adjusted electrically from 12 to 32 degrees to prevent reflections when the roof is lower. The door panels are cleverly designed with layers. The seats are sculpted to look lighter than they really are thanks to a headrest integrated into the backrest. Standard on eight-cylinder SLs is airscarf. The new SL makes the car 2+2 for the first time since the R129 model in 1989. This back is for children only.
Gorden Wagener, design vice president at Mercedes, tells TopGear.com that this is the first SL he’s designed despite having been with Mercedes for so many years. The 300 SL gullwing was the blueprint. It is the car that I had in my mind when we were working on the new car. You know, that was a UFO at the time it hit the market. So we could define everything, we started with a blank piece of paper. The SL was always a reflection of the decade in which it existed. This SL is the SL for the digital age, a time of transformation. It was crucial to not only preserve the legacy but also make it technical and forward-looking.