New SL-Class is radically different.
There's still an SL badge on the back, but Mercedes-Benz has managed to change just about everything else on the new generation of its opulent roadster. The previous SL seated just two, but the new one comes with a 2+2 layout. Where before there was only rear-wheel drive, both new trims are all-wheel drive. Finally, the hardtop roof has been ditched in favor of a lighter fabric roof. These changes have fundamentally altered the character of the SL, but does that mean it's change for the sake of change, or is it actually a superior drop-top? Let's find out.
The SL always looked like a graceful boulevard cruiser, or as if it were interested in little more than trips to and from the country club. The new model is a dramatic departure and has an energy about it that is more reminiscent of the AMG GT. Lines are tauter, the AMG-specific grille is angrier, and the lighter fabric roof - which opens and closes in around 15 seconds - looks sportier but isn' as elegant as the old hardtop when raised. Most agree that this is a pretty, striking convertible, but it doesn't scream SL like the old one. Quad-exit tailpipes, large 20-inch AMG alloy wheels, and a long hood are just a few of the aesthetic highlights.
The previous SL's button-festooned interior had become quite dated by the end of its life, but the new one has a thoroughly modern cabin. It's dominated by an 11.9-inch central touchscreen. Impressively, drivers can minimize the effects of the sun reflecting off this screen because it can be electronically tilted in inclination from 12 to 32 degrees. The latest MBUX system provides all the necessary connectivity features, and there's a powerful Burmester sound system. Directly ahead of the driver is a 12.3-inch digital LCD display.
The other big change is the adoption of small rear seats, theoretically increasing seating capacity to four. However, as we've seen in cars like the Porsche 911 Cabriolet, these seats are likely to offer very limited space. Dazzling ambient lighting and fine materials like Nappa leather are used throughout, as one would expect in an SL.
Two AMG models, an SL55 and an SL63, will be offered at launch. In both cases, Mercedes-AMG's brutish 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 is used, and it's paired with a nine-speed MCT transmission. The SL55 generates 469 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, which is enough for a 0-60 mph time of 3.8 seconds. The SL63's 577 hp and 590 lb-ft are good for a 3.5-second blast. These times are rapid but not mind-blowing in an era of stupendously quick electric cars. Then again, the roar from that V8 will make the new SL more engaging than any EV. Mercedes says that a performance hybrid model is on the way too, but no details have yet been shared about this model.
Mercedes has worked hard to ensure that the latest SL is a sportier, sharper machine to pilot. Rear-axle steering is standard and improves agility, while the SL63 gets the standard AMG Active Ride Control suspension with hydraulic roll stabilization. The SL63 also gets a front axle lift system as standard, a first for an SL, which can raise the front of the car when traversing steep driveways.
Of course, the implementation of the 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive system is big news too. This will allow the powerful roadster to put its power down more effectively than ever before.
The new SL is now a legitimate Porsche 911 Cabriolet rival. Both have small back seats, both offer AWD, and both have a soft-top roof. However, we expect the 911 to maintain its dynamic edge, whereas the Merc's V8 remains a big selling point. Style is subjective, so it's up to you to decide whether you prefer the Porsche's instantly recognizable, classic form over the flashier SL.
Mercedes has not yet revealed pricing for the new SL but the previous model began at around $90,000 for the V6. Therefore, we expect the new V8-engined SL55 to cost over $110,000. Porsche will charge you $137,200 for the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet with 443 hp and $187,100 for the 911 Turbo Cabriolet. The latter is expensive but far quicker than the Mercedes.
It's a rivalry that will likely be hotly debated over the next few years, but Mercedes has positioned the new SL with its best chance yet of dethroning the mighty 911.