The AMG-fettled Mercedes SL has a long and varied history. From Zonda-engined special commissions in the 90s to the much loved supercharged '55 to the wild Black Series, the flagships models have been nothing if not memorable. Now, for 2022, there's a brace of new AMGs resurrecting an old nameplate and introducing a host of new technology into the bargain.
There hasn't been an SL55 AMG since 2008, but now the name is back on the 476hp entry point to the new Mercedes-AMG SL range. Alongside 516lb ft from the 4.0-litre twin-turbo, 'M177' V8, the new model is capable of 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and 183mph. Above it, there is the SL63 with 585hp and 590lb ft from the same engine, figures that the keen will note are the same as the old '63. You know the power wars are up - or at least the combustion engined ones, that is - when even AMG are replacing V8 flagships with no change in output. That said, with both cars powering through the nine-speed automatic, the '63 reaches 62mph in 3.6 seconds and will reach 196mph - so we can't complain. Plus old habits die hard at AMG; we're told that an E-Performance SL - like the 800hp GT - will arrive in time.
So the engine is familiar for the SL, but that's about it. Both '55 and '63 are now 4Matic + models, the first time four-wheel drive has featured in the SL. There's four-wheel steer on both models, too, another first, which ought to make the convertible feel more nimble than its 1,950kg kerbweight would lead you to believe. Both have presumably been made possible by building the SL on an entirely new platform, the composite aluminium architecture not sharing a single thing with the old car or any other Mercedes. A big investment for a comparatively niche model, but indicative of the SL's traditional place as the technology flagship of the range.
Perhaps the most notable advantage of the new underpinnings will be the SL's return to a 2+2, the first time it's boasted that configuration since the R129. Mercedes says the new rear seats are suitable for people up to 1.5m tall (or 1.35m in a booster seat), which will make them useful for taking the grandkids out to the seaside. Failing that, the seats "can be used as additional stowage space and accommodate a golf bag, for example." Can't say Mercedes doesn't know its audience...
There ought to be dynamic benefits, too. The aluminium spaceframe and self-supporting structure "guarantees maximum rigidity and is thus the perfect basis for precise driving dynamics, high comfort, optimal packaging and sporty body proportions." It's said that the new SL has 18 per cent greater torsional rigidity than before, with transverse rigidity up 50 per cent on the AMG GT Roadster, with a bodyshell weight of 270kg.
Furthering the new SL's handling edge will be five-link front axle (another first for the model), active aerodynamics and composite brakes. Buyers who opt for the SL63 will get the latest generation of AMG Active Ride Control, now featuring hydraulic anti-roll stabilisation (rather than conventional roll bars) to deal with roll correction. Like many rear axle steering systems, in the SL the rear steer in the opposite direction to the fronts up to 62mph for agility, and with them above that for stability.
Marshalling the new technology will be six AMG Drive modes - Slippery, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Individual and Race, although the latter is only optional on the SL55. As has been seen in a few AMGs now, AMG Dynamics also features in the SL, described as a vehicle dynamics control that "extends the stabilising functions of ESP with agility-enhancing intervention in the all-wheel control, steering characteristics and additional ESP functions."
Which ought to add up to an SL that'll be better to drive than ever before but, really, that's only ever been secondary (if that) to how an SL looks. An ugly SL is bad SL in the eyes of many, which is why that 2008 facelift for the R230 was received so poorly. It's easy to imagine this R232 model enjoying a more favourable reception, even if the gaping intakes and chunky raised spoiler required for the active aero benefit looks a bit OTT. Recognisable Mercedes-AMG cues abound, including the vast Panamericana grille, quartet of exhausts and substantial diffuser. This red one even has the black wheels it's apparently impossible to avoid in a new AMG. But beneath all that it's a fairly handsome beast, rear end not too bulbous given the roof, long wheelbase giving it presence and CLS-style 'Digital Light' headlights sitting well on a drop-top model.
Mercedes is using a fabric folding roof for this SL, ditching the old metal one and saving 21kg in the process. It can be raised or lowered in just 15 seconds at up to 37mph, so it seems unlikely you'll be left stranded if the lights go green. With the roof up, there's 240 litres of boot space, dropping only to 213 with it stowed. Apparently, and we kid you not, "two golf bags fit perfectly" in that space. So those that really have to can carry three golf bags in the new SL, even with the roof down - good to know.
As well as those new rear seats for humans or golf paraphernalia, the SL's interior features a 'hyperanalogue' cockpit. For Mercedes that means a mix of the analogue geometry and the digital world, which then manifests itself as a portrait touchscreen with an adjustable angle. That's right: say the sun is causing glare, the floating infotainment display can be adjusted from 12 to 32 degrees. The second generation of MBUX, borrowed largely from the new S-Class, features voice recognition in 28 languages, five dash displays and 80 different parameters in the AMG Track Pace app. Because track days are just as popular for SL drivers as golf. But it wouldn't be a new SL without all sorts of technology, so finding these new AMGs stuffed with equipment is no great surprise. Mercedes says the interior is now "even more digital and intelligent."
That we've reached this point with additional items still to discuss - the drag co-efficient is just 0.31, fact fans - gives you some idea of just how all new this all-new SL is. It really is a complete remake of an icon, not just a slightly more luxurious AMG GT. Predictably, Mercedes is unequivocal about its achievement: "The new SL combines the sporty genes of the original SL with the driving performance typical of AMG. At the same time, it offers luxury and comfort at the absolute top level", said Philipp Scheimer, Mercedes-AMG's Chairman. Given the quality of both recent AMGs and more traditional luxury Benzes, an SL that delivers on that promise will be a very special car indeed. Expect it on sale in the UK early next year.
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