Mercedes plots new driver-focused SL. Eighth generation of the legendary convertible will return to its sporting roots, sharing a new platform with the next AMG GT.
ALL NEW NEXT GENERATION MERCEDES-BENZ SL: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Mercedes-Benz is preparing to revive its iconic SL as a lighter, faster and far more engaging model featuring engineering input from the German manufacturer’s AMG performance car division. Drive-My can confirm that the eighth-generation model will receive a traditional fabric hood in place of the folding hard-top arrangement that has been used for the past two incarnations of the SL. It is scheduled to reach UK showrooms in 2020 based on an all-new platform, key elements of which are set to be shared by a planned successor model to the AMG GT.
The new aluminiumintensive platform, known internally as the MSA (modular sports architecture) structure, has been conceived to provide both the new SL and future GT with largely common underpinnings in an attempt to increase the economies of scale and overall profitability of two of Mercedes’ most exclusive model lines.
As well as sharing a common platform structure, the two upmarket Mercedes models are also expected to share axle assemblies, suspension, steering systems, 48V electric architecture and hybrid drivetrains, among other components, in a move to cut costs and boost production efficiency. The new SL and GT will be built alongside each other at Mercedes’ Sindelfingen plant in Germany.
Early plans to base a successor to today’s smaller SLC off the same underpinnings have been abandoned following a recent decision not to replace the junior Mercedes roadster due to dwindling sales.
Early prototypes of the new SL have been spied testing with the new platform underneath the body of a shortened S-Class Coupé. They give away little about the car’s mechanical set-up, which is rumoured to run a transaxle arrangement with a dual-clutch gearbox integrated within the rear axle assembly like the GT. However, the overall dimensions of the engineering mules suggest the production version will be slightly larger than the existing SL, which measures 4630mm in length, 1870mm in width and 1310mm in height.
The adoption of the MSA platform is claimed to have had a positive effect on the styling of the new SL, whose proportions are said to be more in keeping with earlier incarnations of the classic roadster than the current model, which shares a platform with saloon models such as the C, E, CLS and S-Class.
A Mercedes source told Drive-My that the new SL receives a longer bonnet and more rearward-positioned cabin. “The new platform has given us more freedom,” the source said. “There’s more distance between the front axle and the front firewall. This gives it more traditional proportions.”
The decision to replace the folding hard-top of today’s SL with a more compact fabric hood is also said to have provided greater scope in the styling of the rear of the new model. “It’s much more shapely, especially at the rear, because it is no longer dictated in height and width for the packaging of the hard-top roof,” the source added.
Together with a traditional roadster version, suggestions are that Mercedes is planning to extend the SL line-up with a new coupé model in a resurrection of the much-sought-after SLC hard-top produced between 1974 and 1981.
In a further departure from today’s model, it is also expected that Mercedes will provide the 2020 car with a 2+2 seating layout. Drive-My EN has been told that AMG is keen to give the new SL the same sort of practicality as the Porsche 911, with a set of rear seats capable of accommodating adults for short journeys or, alternatively, luggage as an extension of its boot.
Mercedes plans to offer the SL with a limited range of hybridised in-line six-cylinder and V8 petrol engines in a line-up that’s likely to include both standard and AMG models.
The range is understood to start with an SL450 EQ Boost model running a turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder developing around 365bhp, along with an added 22bhp in combination with an integrated starter motor.
Further up will be the SL53, which will run a more powerful AMG-tuned version of the SL450 EQ Boost’s mild-hybrid drivetrain with around 430bhp and added 22bhp through electric assistance.
Among the V8-powered models will be the SL500 EQ Boost. It is due to receive a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 with a similar power output to the SL53, but significantly more torque. Topping the range will be the SL63. It is likely to offered in two states of tune, with the most powerful model running a turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 capable of in excess of 600bhp and more than 30bhp of electric boost.
It is unclear if Mercedes will continue with the V12-powered SL, although, given the potential output of the SL63, it would seem unlikely. All engines for the new SL will come as standard with Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic gearbox, with the AMG variants set to adopt the Speedshift electronics package for faster shift times. Suggestions are that Mercedes could offer 4Matic four-wheel drive alongside standard rear-wheel drive, although this has yet to be confirmed.
Despite the SL’s market repositioning, it won’t completely abandon the luxury focus, so expect the interior to be almost as opulent as Mercedes’ other high-end models. It will be more driver-focused than cars such as the S-Class Coupé, but there could still be plenty of the brand’s latest driver assist systems drafted in, including its semi-autonomous Drive Pilot function.
MOVE THE NEEDLE – BUT NOT TOO MUCH
As Mercedes’ range has grown over the years, the positioning of some of its models has become increasingly blurred.
The SL evolved throughout its history from a racing-inspired sporting model to a flagship luxury GT, but the current generation has sat in no-man’s land since the introduction of the roomier and more luxurious S-Class Cabriolet, and the faster, more hardcore AMG GT.
The SL’s repositioning as a more sporting model makes sense, then, and there’s no denying buyers will be intrigued by the idea of a car that shares much with the AMG GT range but can be bought for significantly less. What concerns me, however, is that it could become too hardcore for the SL’s traditional customer base. A more sporting focus with AMG’s input is fine, but Mercedes needs to balance this with the long-distance comfort and refinement expected from what has been a cosseting GT car for decades.
The new SL’s proportions are said to be more in keeping with earlier incarnations of the classic roadster.
THE PREVIOUS SEVEN SL GENERATIONS
190SL (W121) Years built 1955-1963 Units built 25,881
300SL (W198) Years built 1957-1963 Units built 1858
Pagoda (W113) Years built 1963-1971 Units built 48,912
R107 Years built 1971-1989 Units built 237,387
R129 Years built 1989-2001 Units built 204,940
R230 Years built 2001 to 2011 Units built 166,433
R231 Years built 2011 to date Units built Undisclosed