This is the new Mercedes-AMG SL

An icon reborn

One of the car world’s great oaks has returned, this time via Affalterbach.

No one’s actually saying it, but Mercedes kind of knows it’s been casually reversing the SL down a cul-de-sac this past 20 years. Even for this storied marque, the SL name-plate – it stands for sporty and light – is one that has genuine emotional heft.

The original arrived in 1952, a competition car whose gullwing doors and spectacular engineering presaged a thrilling road car. The one that followed, the ‘Pagoda’, was the automotive equivalent of the ‘little black dress’, as effortlessly elegant and timeless as any 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.

Since then, well, maybe not so much. Blame that folding hard-top roof and a studied deviation from the ‘lightness’ part of the equation. 

So the SL you see here is more than just a seventh generation version of a well-established greatest hit. This is a big re-set. A reboot in which the boot is once again free to be a proper boot. Done under the auspices of AMG, it features an all-new clean-sheet-of-paper chassis that borrows nothing from any existing Mercedes.

As ever, you can judge the design for yourself, but it features short-ish overhangs, slim ‘digital’ headlights, a long bonnet, sharply raked windscreen, and some smoothly reductive surfacing (as is the modern way). It looks tighter and way punchier than the car it replaces with shades – dare we say it – of Porsche 911 from some angles. (It’s the work of Mercedes’ California design studio, by the way.) 

It also has a proper soft-top, which re-connects it with its forebears while releasing the design team from the trauma of packaging a pile of concertina-ed metal gubbins. Inside, the new SL imports the latest MBUX user-interface – remember when cars had dashboards? – but with some SL-specific twists. There’s active aerodynamics, all-wheel drive for the first time in an SL, and an active rear axle for greater sure-footedness and agility. It’ll waft, sure, but this one is going back to the source. 

“We wanted the new SL to return to its origins. It’s a sports car so AMG took over the task of developing the architecture,” Philipp Schiemer, Mercedes-AMG’s chairman of the board, tells TopGear.com. “But it had to be comfortable as well. We had to create the right combination. AMG’s guys are driving dynamics freaks, but the SL has to be completely useable as a daily driver. There’s also a lot of innovation in this car.”

There sure is. Let’s talk engines; the new SL arrives armed with two versions of Mercedes’ terrific 4.0-litre ‘hot V’ V8 twin turbo. The SL55 makes 469bhp, delivers 516lb ft, gets to 62mph in 3.9 seconds and can do 183mph. The SL63 has 577bhp, 590 lb ft, takes just 3.6 seconds to dispatch 62mph and tops out at 195mph. A plug-in hybrid and fully electric version are incoming although there will be no EQ SL. Mercedes’ ‘sports car first/comfy boulevardier second’ ambition for the new car is made clear by launching it with the petrol V8 in such juicy form: it’s been a while since an SL was just as suited to the circuit as it is the golf club. 

Various modifications have been made to the engine for duty here: there’s a new oil pan, repositioned intercoolers, active crankcase ventilation, and reworked intake and exhaust. The 63’s turbos run higher boost pressure and achieve even greater air flow, and the software has been tweaked.

It also benefits from liquid-filled active engine mounts, which manage the tricky compromise between rigidity and isolating unwanted vibrations. The SL’s cooling system is pretty elaborate with three tiers to manage the engine, turbos, intercoolers, transmission and engine oil. AMG’s nine-speed MCT gearbox now has a wet clutch rather than a torque converter, which reduces weight and has lower inertia to deliver faster shift times. 

The transmission’s Dynamic Select now has no fewer than six different modes: Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual, and Race (the latter is an option on the SL55 but standard on the 63). Mercedes has also added its version of side-slip control in the form of AMG Dynamics, which has ‘Basic’, ‘Advanced’, ‘Pro’ and ‘Master’ settings to deliver what Mercedes calls ‘agilising interventions’. An electronically controlled limited slip rear differential is standard on the SL63, and available on the 55 as part of the AMG Dynamic Plus Package. Given what you can get away with in the AMG E63, we’d say that the SL is more attuned to the inner hooligan than ever before – and it now has the chassis to go with it. 

The cabin is dominated by the 11.9in portrait format central touchscreen, which can be electrically adjusted from 12 degrees to 32 degrees to avoid reflections when the roof is lowered. The door panels are cleverly layered, the seats sculpted to appear lighter than they actually are with a headrest that’s integrated into the backrest. Airscarf is standard on the eight-cylinder SLs. Note also that the new SL returns the car to a 2+2 seating configuration for the first time since 1989’s R129 model. The back’s for kids only. 

“This is the first SL I’ve designed despite being at Mercedes for so long,” design vice president Gorden Wagener tells TopGear.com. “The 300 SL gullwing is the blueprint, the car I had in mind when we worked on the new car. That was a UFO when it first hit the market, you know? We started with a blank sheet of paper so we were able define everything. The SL was always a mirror of the decade it existed in, and this one is the SL of the digital age, an age of transformation. It was important to pick up on the heritage but also make it very technical and forward-looking.”

We approve of the new direction.

News Source: Top Gear

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