The seventh-generation SL has arrived to prove once and for all that the V8-powered roadster isn’t dead. Making this point required undergoing a significant transformation: the SL now comes from Affalterbach rather than Stuttgart and it will exclusively be marketed by Mercedes-AMG. It also gains a power-folding cloth soft top, a pair of rear seats, and standard all-wheel-drive for the first time in its history.
Mercedes has set out to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks with a little added help from AMG. And this is the result: the new Mercedes-AMG SL, which arrives having been developed in Affalterbach by the brand’s performance wing, “combining the sports cars and driving dynamics of AMG with the comfort and luxurious appeal of Mercedes,” according to AMG boss Philipp Schiemer.
Fewer than one per cent of the cars sold by Mercedes around the world were sports cars in 2020, representing 17,800 of total sales of more than two million. Perhaps, then, it’s a surprise to see that the SL has been given a new lease of life when its smaller SLC sibling has been axed. But Mercedes and AMG have gone back to the drawing board with this new model, which it wants to position as a sportier offering more in keeping with the original 300 SL of 1954.
To achieve this, AMG has developed an entirely new platform for the SL called Modular Sports Architecture (MSA), which will be shared with the next-generation AMG GT at the very least, while several key changes to the car’s design have been introduced, to reposition it.
Key to the new MSA platform is a lightweight aluminum spaceframe upon which the new SL’s bodyshell sits. A material mixture of aluminum, steel, magnesium and fibre composites has been used to achieve rigidity that exceeds that of the AMG GT in some parameters, but crucially means that the new SL’s body shell structure has 18 per cent increased torsional rigidity over the old model’s.
It’s a scalable platform and we’ll see other new models use it; for example, the next AMG GT has already been confirmed on the MSA by Mercedes. Multiple powertrain configurations and electrification are possible, but for now Mercedes has confirmed a pair of V8 models and has promised an E-Performance plug-in hybrid model due at some point in the SL’s lifespan.
The new SL is a 2+2 roadster with a folding fabric hood; the soft-top has been reintroduced for a lower centre of gravity and for weight reduction of 21kg over an equivalent folding hard top. Mercedes says it takes 15 seconds for the roof to open or close, a process activated via a panel on the centre console or by way of a menu on the touchscreen infotainment system, and possible at up to 37mph. Although the car goes back to a fabric roof, Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener insists that it’s a modern touch. “We will never do retro design,” he told us.
The exterior design carries over no part from any other Mercedes model but is in key with the brand’s current design language. The front end uses a Panamerica style grille with vertical slats but is differentiated from the AMG GT with triangular headlights. The passenger cell is more in the middle of the car, to create space for the two booster seats behind the driver and passenger. The sloping rear end sports a pair of well defined shoulders over the rear axle, while at the rear is a longer bootlid with an integrated spoiler, quad exit exhausts and large triangular LED taillights. Further active aerodynamic underbody parts are optional.
Wheels ranging from 19 to 21 inches in size will be available, and because the SL is now an AMG model, a sporty AMG bodykit with a wide front splitter and air deflectors is standard fit. Mercedes Digital Light matrix LED headlights with projector functions are also included as standard on the new SL.
New Mercedes-AMG SL: engines and chassis
From launch the new SL is powered by a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 petrol engine available in two power levels, both sending drive to a 4MATIC four-wheel-drive system via a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
The range kicks off with the SL 55 4MATIC, which features the well-known 4.0-itre V8 biturbo engine, producing 469bhp and 700Nm of torque. Mercedes claims 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds, with a top speed of 183mph. The other option buyers will have from launch will be the SL 63 4MATIC, which has 577bhp and 800Nm. The time for the 0-62mph sprint drops to 3.6 seconds and top speed climbs to a claimed 195mph.
Both cars emit from 268g/km of CO2 and have an average economy figure from 23.9mpg. The more powerful SL 63 version comes as standard with active engine mounts, which stiffen or slacken automatically, in much the same way as an automatic adaptive suspension system. These are an option on the SL 55.
For the first time in the model’s history, the SL goes all-wheel drive, with a fully variable 4MATIC system that can distribute torque between the front and rear axles. The SL 55 is equipped with AMG Ride Control steel suspension with adaptive dampers, but the 63 comes equipped with AMG Active Ride Control, which includes hydraulic anti-roll stabilisation alongside the adjustable damper system. It also receives a limited-slip rear differential; again, this is optional on the 55.
Four-wheel steering is offered on both models. Up to 62mph, the rear wheels can turn in the opposite direction to the front axle by up to 2.5 degrees, to aid turn-in and low-speed manoeuvrability. Above 62mph, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts, for greater stability.
An E-Performance hybrid version of the new SL has been confirmed. However, Mercedes has not yet revealed if this will be based on the new plug-in hybrid V8 system in the AMG GT 63 S E-Performance, which produces a colossal 843bhp, or on the four-cylinder plug-in hybrid engine hotly rumoured to be under development for the next AMG C 63 saloon. Nonetheless, AMG Boss Schiemer confirmed that four-cylinder versions of the SL will appear in some form.
New Mercedes-AMG SL: interior, infotainment and practicality
The interior of the new SL blends the brand’s latest infotainment technology found on the luxury S-Class limo with a sportier and more traditional dashboard design, which the brand calls ‘hyperanalogue’. The car is a 2+2 for the first time since the R129 generation SL from the late Eighties and 1990s, although by the brand’s own admission the rear seats are suitable only for people shorter than 1.50m.
A long centre console flows upwards into the dashboard, and is where a portrait-orientated 11.9-inch MBUX infotainment system is found. It’s very similar in operation to the set-up found in the latest S-Class, but with AMG visuals and graphics on the menus and interfaces. The angle at which it sits can be altered to suit lighting conditions. It is supported by a 12.3in digital instrument panel.
A pair of electrically adjustable AMG Sports seats are standard, with separate heating systems for the cushion and backrest, plus the Mercedes Airscarf system. Even racier AMG Performance seats are available on the options list, as is seat cooling.
Mercedes says that the 213-litre boot can hold two golf bags, although choosing the optional Load Compartment Package introduces a sliding partition that increases the boot size to 240 litres when the roof is up.
New Mercedes-AMG SL: price and on sale date
Mercedes has not confirmed any specific details about the launch of the new SL beyond the availability of the 55 and 63 variants. It hasn’t outlined when the new SL will be available to order, or on roads, nor has it hinted at a starting price.
It’s probably safe to assume that it won’t arrive on UK roads until at least spring 2022, and with a starting price lower than that of the basic AMG GT, and in similar territory to the latest S-Class, so around £85,000 for the 55 variant and close to £100,000 for the 63.