New SL set to rival Porsche and Aston Martin with a powerful outro for the SL combustion engine.
It was only fitting that Mercedes launched the latest incarnation of the SL in 2021, specifically because this is the year Mercedes enthusiasts have celebrated 50 years of the iconic R107 SL. Built from 1971 – 1989, the R107 is undeniably one of the most iconic cars to have graced our roads, television screens and car parks. With a reputation endorsed by so many ordinary and influential people as a sturdy, reliable and great looking continent cruiser, the r107 set a benchmark not surpassed by any successor. Could the new SL take its place, and do we want it to?
How does it look?
From the outside, we notice immediately that the fabric roof has returned, as one of few nods to previous models made by designers. The design takes on the lines of the wider Mercedes fleet, with the emphasis on specific creases across the bonnet and around the waist as dictated by the head of design Gorgon Wagner. Unlike BMW, the creases within the new Mercedes design language are not overly aggressive. At the front and the rear are Slim LED lighting units with a much larger than usual front pan-Americana grille with vertical slats. This is the subtle reminder of the beast that lies beneath.
In summary, there’s less of the unruliness associated with previous variants, and it appears that AMG and the designers have favoured sleek subtlety over loud and proud. An SL should be calm to look at, with hints of adventure and reassurance that power is sufficient to get you to your destination comfortably. Sideways is an option but not always appropriate when grand touring.
Another detail carried through from previous incarnations, is the 2+2 configuration which was an option on the earlier SLs and later standard on the R129 SL built from 1989 until 2001. The interior features the latest generation MBUX touchscreen interface first seen on the S-class, which can be tilted to prevent glare when the roof is stowed. Other than the 2+2 configuration, the inside oozes modern, without a hint of the past.
What are the details?
The new SL has been developed from scratch by AMG and doesn’t share any elements or components with either the previous MRA-based SL or AMG’s current GT roadster. The all-new platform means this car is unique and set up to compete with Aston Martin’s DB11 and the Porsche 911.
Under the bonnet:
Mercedes have assigned two different variations of the M177 V8 engine, with a base SL55 (a return to the R230 moniker) producing 469bhp and 517lb-ft of torque – identical figures to the original R230 SL55 that was launched back in 2002. The more powerful gladiator of the two, the SL63 offers a peak power figure of 577bhp between 5500 – 6500rpm, with 560lb-ft of torque peaking at just 2500rpm. As the last combustion engine SL, Mercedes have alluded to an E-performance variant likely matching the GT63 E Performance’s 803 combined horses.
Both the SL55 and SL63 feature a modified version of the M177 hot-V V8 engine found elsewhere in the line-up, with a 3982cc and two twin-scroll turbos found within the cylinder banks. Unlike the AMG GT models, the new SL features a wet-sump, as well as repositioned intercoolers and an active cooling system for the crankcase.
Both tiers of the SL are paired to a ‘Speedshift’ 9-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. Instead of a complex dual-clutch and torque converter, engineers have opted for a wet clutch to deliver snappier shifts. A stark contrast to the three and four-speed automatics offered with the R107 SL back in 1971.
This set-up achieves a set of performance numbers we’re not used to seeing at SLSHOP. The SL55 and SL63 models can achieve 62 mph in 3.9 seconds and 3.6 seconds respectively, going onto unlimited 183mph and 195mph top speeds. Mercedes clearly recognises that owners need to enjoy their IC vehicles before they completely phase them out in favour of electric powertrains.
To take the SL back to its racing routes when the 300SLR was deemed outrageously quick, the new SL range will be topped with an SL 63 E Performance variant. This will possess the standard SL63’s powertrain with an electrified rear axle. This will provide an additional 201bhp and 236lb-ft of torque distributed to all four wheels. The power is supplied by a 6.1kWh battery pack situated above the motors on the rear axle – this pack has been designed to sit specifically onto the SL’s rear axle without modification.
How big is it?
The original SLs were not small cars and nor were they light, despite the SL designation. This remains the case, and the new SL is slightly longer due to the 2+2 configuration making it 170mm longer than a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet. Naturally, the new SL has gained weight – 100kg to be precise. The new SL is heavier despite attempts to use alternative materials including the fabric roof, as well as aluminium and composite materials used in the body-in-white. The new fabric roof can be electrically commanded into its stowed position in 15 seconds and up to 40mph.
How’s the ride?
Moving away from the air suspension found with the R230, the new R232 SL will be fitted exclusively with steel springs as part of an all-new five-link front and rear suspension design. The wishbones, steering knuckles and wheel hubs are constructed entirely from aluminium. The SL63 will debut AMG’s hydraulic crosslinked dampers with an integrated active anti-roll system, working similarly to that of McLaren to do away with traditional anti-roll bars. This achieves a unique ride due to the independence of each wheel’s suspension setup.
Braking comes in the form of steel for both variants of the R232, with 390mm front and 360mm rear brakes with six-piston calipers up front and floating calipers at the rear.
When will it launch?
The new SL will be on sale from 2022 in the UK, with final specifications and prices to be announced. With this amount of performance, stylistic and nostalgic appeal, you’ll have to choose between the top of the range 911s, Aston Martin Vantage and the BMW M8 Competition Cabriolet.
Should it take the place as number one for future generations?
The continuation of the SL range is a moment to commemorate because it not only celebrates the talent and innovation of humanity, but it also reminds us that there was always a starting point. The subtle references made to existing models, the enthusiasm from the motoring community and the continued interest in existing SL models keeps the industry alive and varied.
Where the new R232 is likely to sadly be another White Good that moves around the houses over short periods, the W113, R107 and R129 will continue to be eternally cherished, remaining in some families for several generations at a time. We can only hope that the enthusiasm for the R232 SL is enduring and that the future generations appreciate this new SL in the same way that those who grew up seeing the R107 still do 50 years on.