Mercedes’ new SL returns to the model’s roots

AMG takes the SL back to its race-car derived origins

While in latter years it became best known as a pillar of refinement and relaxed grand touring, the original 1954 Mercedes-Benz SL – the 300SL Gullwing – was really a race-car in disguise. Based on the Le Mans-winning 300 SL 'Ulenhaut Coupe' (named for its creator, race-car designer Rudolf Ulenhaut) the original SL was closer to a racer for the road than any of its successors.

Possibly until now. The new SL has just been launched, and while it’s certainly not throwing out the luxury baby with the old model bath-water, it is significant that Mercedes has turned over development of the new SL to its AMG high-performance brand.

That will come as no surprise when you see the new SL. In spite of its luxurious character, there are distinct visual connections between this, and the harder-edged two-seat AMG GT. The SL differentiates itself by having four seats, the first time in several generations that an SL has had rear seats. Quite how useful they actually are remains to be seen, but Mercedes promises that people of up to 1.5 metres tall can get comfy.

There’s another change with recent tradition - this SL gets a soft-top roof, for the first time since 2001. It’s some 21kg lighter than the previous model’s folding hard-top, and can be opened or closed in just 15 seconds (and at speeds of up to 60km/h). It covers a cabin that takes obvious inspiration from the new S-Class saloon (same digital dials, same rakishly reclined central touchscreen), but which places it all in a much more obviously sporty environment.



Want yet more breaks with tradition? This SL gets four-wheel drive as standard, something that no previous SL model has had. You’ll be thankful for it, too - at first, the SL will come only with some very powerful versions of the AMG 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine. There’ll be an SL 63, with 585hp, and a faintly ludicrous 0-100km/h time of 3.6 seconds. The SL 55 is barely any less mad - 476hp, and 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds.

There will be, in due course, a fully electric Mercedes sports car, but it’s not on the horizon just yet. The SL will partially fill in that gap by offering an E-Performance hybrid model, but Mercedes has not revealed any details of that just yet.

The SL also boasts active aerodynamics, enhanced safety features (including a Tesla-style display that shows you what all of the sensors are looking at and how the car is working), and switchable driving modes that run the gamut from ‘Slippery’ to ‘Race’.

"We at Mercedes-AMG consider it a great honour to have had the privilege to develop the new edition of this sports car icon. When we were tasked with the overall development of the new SL, we were able to start from scratch without building on an existing structure. We are proud of the result, which once again demonstrates the high level of engineering expertise in Affalterbach. The new 2+2 concept combines agile driving dynamics with a high level of comfort and unrestricted suitability for everyday use", says Jochen Hermann, chief technical officer of Mercedes-AMG.

How much? Don’t expect it to be cheap. The outgoing SL 63-AMG cost €272,000. Hardly surprising, then, that Mercedes Ireland only sold two SLs in 2019, and none at all since. Still, we can all dream, can’t we…

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe

Neil Briscoe, a contributor to The Irish Times, specialises in motoring