Mercedes-AMG's engineers have been busy with the hacksaw and welder to create the latest test mule to hit the streets of Affalterbach; a cut-and-shut E-Class that we're fairly confident is hiding next-gen SL underpinnings. The 2021 drop-top will be a 2+2 of much higher performance than its two-seat predecessor, with a never-before-produced hybrid version of AMG's 4.0-litre V8 to sit atop of a vastly expanded range.
In fact, AMG has been tasked with heading development for the entire model line-up, so has sought the use of a shortened saloon with widened tracks to test the new underpinnings and come up with a more athletic base for the entire line-up. Apparently it'll be called the Modular Sports Architecture (MSA) and be shared with the GT's successor, using lots of aluminium to lower the centre of gravity and reduce overall weight.
The SL won't, however, turn into the GT's drop-top sibling, but will remain a luxury cruiser first and foremost. Only this time round, accessing the car's raciest settings will turn it into something far more focussed and capable. This will plug a previously unfilled gap in Merc's line-up: a sporty 2+2 drop-top to sit between convertible versions of the S-Class and GT.
It's likely the line-up will include Merc's now familiar twin-turbocharged V6 and V8 engines, but with hybrid power integrated for the first time with various stages of input. Expect lower versions to have starter motor generators and be badged as EQ Boost models. But higher spec cars, including an all-new top version that combines the AMG's blown 4.0-litre with a hybrid system, will use plug-in power and enable pure electric running. The latter should at least partially fill the void left by the departed SL65 V12.
What powertrain lives beneath the panels of our shortened test mule is yet to be discovered. With only two years to go before the next SL is revealed, expect the number of sightings to drastically increase over the coming months. For now though, who else thinks a shortened E-Class with big wheels looks weirdly compelling?