2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Klasse R232
Merc SL ‘goes back its roots’. All-new rag-top roadster is an AMG project – cue big V8s and attitude. By Ben Miller.
Inside the new Mercedes-Benz R232 SL
What does SL mean to you? The first, introduced in ’1954, was a competition-bred tiger of a car based on a race winner, the W194. The fifth and sixth-gen cars were big ol’ pussycats. In between, Paul Bracq’s W113 and the pert R107 weren’t road racers but they were small, perfectly formed and fun. The new seventh-gen car is an AMG project that shares its new platform, MSA, with the still-under-wraps new GT, so you perhaps won’t be surprised to hear Affalterbach’s taken it upon itself to save the SL from mushy mediocrity.
‘You can only imagine the original SL’s impact. We wanted to take the car back to those roots,’ explains AMG CTO Jochen Hermann. ‘If you think about the 300SL in the ’50s – how far ahead of its time it was – we wanted to take this car back to that, and give it a clear character. The last two SLs were something in between being sporty and a cruiser.’
Affalterbach’s taken it upon itself to save the SL from mushy mediocrity
This is where things get a little contradictory. The original SL was lightweight, small, simple and rear-drive, with a modest straight-six. The new SL is an all-wheel-drive 2+2 with a folding fabric roof (lighter than the previous two cars’ folding hardtops), a wealth of performance-enhancing hardware and, initially at least, a monstrous V8 in the nose. And while AMG’s adamant this is a new, altogether sportier SL, it also admits that because it shares much with the new AMG GT (which will be two-seat, tin-top and with a transaxle set-up), the SL can’t be too sporty, for fear of what Hermann calls ‘overlapping’.
‘Sporty does not have to mean rock-hard dampers,’ explains Hermann. ‘It can mean precise and predictable. You don’t need to make a car uncomfortable to achieve these things.’
Certainly, there’s much here that’s promising. Semi-active roll control and rear-wheel steering can, when calibrated sweetly, give a car real versatility, from laid-back right through to ballsout. The AMG 4.0-litre M177 V8 in the range-topping 577bhp SL63 (3.6sec 0-62mph and 195mph) is also a peach. (The 469bhp SL 55 does without the 63’s adaptive dampers and e-diff.) For now at least, AMG is ruling out a V12 or pure-electric SL on this platform, but smaller engines and hybrids will come.
The SL gets all-wheel drive, though without the E63’s rear-drive- only option. Still, it promises to be nicely rear-biased. ‘With all the systems and modes, including the e-diff, the power split across the axles and the rear-wheel steering, you can make this car very sporty with the push of a button,’ claims Hermann.
Those toys come at a price, though: weight. On paper the SL 63’s a soft-top 911 Turbo 992 rival, but its kerbweight of 1970kg is nearly 200kg heavier. Back to its roots? Doesn’t look like it. But it may prove to be a fine SL nonetheless.
The SL’s actual roots: the tiny, lightweight and simple W194. Wheel could really use a few more controls Exterior is by-numbers modern Merc.