Benz taking SL back to basics


Much is expected of the next-generation Mercedes-Benz SL, which will revert to a soft-top sportscar configuration and underpin future AMG GT derivatives. Design-wise, it will incorporate cues from the iconic ‘50s original, says Gorden Wagener, which augurs well for the upcoming model's kerb appeal.  

Speaking to Autocar recently, the Mercedes-Benz design chief said the 7th-generation SL (codenamed the R232), which is expected to be unveiled in 2021, will return to its sportscar roots. This will not only apply to its sinuous styling, however ­– the new model is reportedly being developed in conjunction with AMG and may ultimately replace the S-Class Cabriolet.

It was recently reported that Mercedes-Benz would “dramatically reduce” its model line-up to decrease complexity/increase profitability as part of the Stuttgart-based firm’s new focus on launching electric vehicles; in light of that news, few would have been surprised if the now slow-selling SL ended up being retired, just like its SLC baby brother was.

This is what Autocar believes the upcoming R232 will look like. The original image appears here

But don’t fear, SL fans… The next-generation SL is definitely coming and it will be based on the aluminium-intensive MSA (modular sports architecture) platform, which Mercedes-Benz’s Affalterbach-based AMG division will also use to produce the next generation of the GT (and its variants).

What’s more, like the upcoming BMW 4 Series Cabriolet derivative, the next SL will feature a lighter folding soft-top instead of the retractable hardtop (Vario Roof), which has featured on the iconic model since the 5-generation R230.

Based on spy photographs, the model will feature a classic long bonnet, a sharp nose and cab-back profile, but it will lose that fleshy rump/three-quarters that designers have been obligated to add to the SL's shape to help accommodate the bulky mechanical components of a retractable hardtop in addition to availing usable measure of boot space. The newcomer could look like the render at the top of the article (published by Future Cars Now on Instagram)... and Autocar's render looks even better.

The SL won’t be a full roadster however, it will have a 2+2 seating configuration, although the rear seats will be small (more suited for children), which would make it marginally more practical than the current car (for what that’s worth).

Through the generations, the SL has grown in dimensions and morphed into a grand tourer. We tested the SL500 in late 2016.

But what about the looks of the R232, which, to many, are all important? Since the curvy Fifties and Sixties models, the SL first became blockier (with the R107 “Bobby Ewing” or “Panzerwagen” model), then longer and portlier (from the Nineties R129 and Noughties R230) and finally, the much-criticised bluff-nosed and cumbersome boulevard cruiser that is the R231 came to market in 2012; it was then facelifted in 2016.     

“For me, the most beautiful SL is the original model,” Wagener told Autocar. “We’ve taken some of that DNA, starting with the proportions, the surface treatment, things like that. In that respect, the new SL is probably the closest to the first one ever.”

Great. And, although the SL will share its platform with the next GT/GT C Roadster, they will remain very distinctive products. Wagener added: “The GT is more of a race car and the SL is more of a sports car. You will clearly see the differences.”

Manana Nhlanhla's beautiful and iconic 1959 Mercedes-Benz 190SL was featured in the 6th episode of SentiMETAL.

Remember, the R232 will be a luxury car first and foremost. Such is the stiffness of the upcoming SL’s all-aluminium architecture that the package won’t suffer an insurmountable loss in torsional rigidity without a folding hardtop. Plus, advances in materials technology mean the designers believe they can achieve close to the R231’s noise-suppression qualities with a weight-saving soft-top, Whichcar reports.

We also expect that the SL, like the next-generation S-Class, will incorporate Level 3 Highway Assist autonomous driving technology, the next version of AirMatic+ active suspension (which scans the road to pre-arm the air suspension and dampers for bumps ahead) and perhaps even active anti-roll bars that facilitate flat cornering at a wider variety of speeds. Cabin materials and finishes will be first-class.

In terms of powertrains, the next-generation SL and its AMG siblings are likely to share axle assemblies, suspension, steering systems, a 48V electric architecture, as well as turbocharged straight-6 and twin-turbo V8 hybridised powerplants.

600-kW flagship

The Australian publication is mooting a range-topping EQ Power plug-in hybrid SL. The derivative, which may be badged the SL73, could combine a 470 kW/900 Nm M178 twin-turbo V8 with e-motors on both axles to produce approximately 600 kW in total.

“It’s kind of a burden to be responsible for the SL, but we had to make sure this iconic car had a bright future,” AMG boss Tobias Moers said earlier this year. “The weight of responsibility is heavy but what we’re doing is good. We are taking the new all-aluminium SL back to its roots: more sporty, but also better for everyday use.”

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