The new Mercedes SL, which was revealed for the first time at the Detroit Motor Show, promises to deliver “the ultimate in passionate, refined motoring”. It was 60 years ago, in a warm July, that the original 300SL became the first German sports car to win the Le Mans 24Hrs. The sixth-generation SL is based on an all-new platform, but otherwise retains much of the outgoing model with many an innovative detail.
As is the class norm, and like the R230 model, the new R231 SL uses longitudinal V6 and V8 petrol engines and rear-wheel drive. But unlike many direct competitors, it has a folding metal ‘vario-roof’ that converts in less than 20 seconds, above a two-seat-only cabin.
The new R231 SL flaunts cleaner plates and bolder lines — most tellingly so in the seamless shoulder line extending from headlight to tail lamps. The new SL takes beauty tips from 1960s ‘pagoda’ SL and 1970s R107.
SLS being the benchmark this year, Mercedes has appropriately upgraded the design with the upright radiator grille used by the SLS family. Elegance blends with functional value in the new SL, which is claimed to be the most aerodynamically efficient car in its class while refining the ride with even less of wind noise. This will be the first large-scale production model Mercedes to use an almost exclusively aluminium construction, which allows the new SL to be between 125kg and 140kg lighter than the outgoing steel car, and 20 per cent more rigid in torsion. The A-pillars and header rails are still made of strong steel to account for an unlikely rollover.
Fuel efficiency and power output
The new SL with its two direct-injection petrol engines claim substantial fuel efficiency gains of between 22 and 29 per cent over previous models. The 3.5-litre V6 in the entry-level SL350 produces 302 bhp and 370 Nm. While the former falls short of the outgoing SL350, the torque is higher, taking the SL350 to 100kmph in 0.3sec less (5.9sec) while attempting to amaze with 41.5mpg on the combined cycle.
The V8 growl in the SL500 is from a twin-turbo 4.7-litre powerhouse that is also at the heart of the Mercedes S-class. It produces 429bhp and 700 Nm of propulsion sending the SL500 from base to 100 in just 4.6 sec. A seven-speed automatic transmission tails both the engines.
The multi-link suspension will be tuned to suit the car’s lively and cool sort of character. Steel springs with ‘semi-active’ dampers will be standard on the SL350. Mercedes’ self-levelling, height-adjustable, hydraulically controlled Active Body Control chassis will be an option. The steering features a new electro-mechanical ‘direct steer’ set-up with variable assistance levels and a variable ratio.
The optional electro-chromic panoramic glass roof on the SL features the Magic Sky Control system that gives the option of a transparent, light or dark sky-screen. The SL’s folding roof frame itself is made out of magnesium. It weighs 6kg less than that of the outgoing car and contributes to a lower centre of roll for the car.
The innovative Frontbass audio system uses bass loudspeakers mounted in the front bulkhead rather than the interior door panels – the result: better sound resonance and less distortion while the footwell niche acts as a natural amplifier. Innovation in detail is evident in the next “first” – a high-precision windscreen wash-wipe system called Magic Vision Control. Water is sprayed through jets integrated into the rubber of the wiper blade, which will apparently minimise the mess, save water and improve visibility.
With machines such as these, the Mercedes boss Dieter Zetsche has set his eyes on being the world’s largest premium carmaker by the end of the decade, improving by one place where it currently trails BMW in global sales.