The launch date for the new Mercedes SL is drawing nearer, with the German brand’s latest rival for the BMW 8 Series Convertible expected to break cover this summer. Our latest spy shots show the new drop-top in the midst of its development programme at the Nurburgring.
These are likely to be some of the last spy shots we’ll see of the new Mercedes SL. The firm’s engineers are putting the finishing touches on the car’s chassis and pushing it through a trial of fire at the Green Hell, to make sure the production model will hold together.
Mercedes has confirmed that the new SL will be exclusively sold under the AMG banner. It’ll also be available with four-wheel drive for the first time, using the same 4MATIC+ system as the AMG E 63 sports sedan.
These spy pictures show how Mercedes has reinvented its flagship roadster. Its design language has a strong AMG influence, sharing the same “Panamerica” radiator grille and square exhaust tips as the Mercedes-AMG GT. This is a little unsurprising, though, considering Mercedes’s performance division has taken responsibility for the car’s development.
Like the old car, which went out of production last year, the seventh-generation Mercedes SL will retain a 2+2 seating arrangement. The previous model’s long bonnet and relatively short tail has also been carried over, although Mercedes has swapped its folding metal hardtop for a new fabric roof which should shave a few kilos off its kerb weight.
New 2021 Mercedes SL: engines and performance
Mercedes has already hinted that the new SL will only be sold with its most potent AMG powertrains. The range will likely open with an SL 43-badged 3.0-litre straight-six petrol unit and climb up to the 450kW twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 found in the AMG E 63.
The new Mercedes SL will also probably embrace hybrid technology, not only in the form of 48-volt mild-hybrid electrification, but also with plug-in hybrid power.
Former AMG boss Tobias Moers (now Aston Martin CEO) previously told Auto Express that AMG will look to offer a hybrid version of every model Mercedes sends its way. He also hinted that the SL, as a heavier sports car focussed on touring, could be a natural fit for a weighty electrified powertrain with an enormous power output.
Mercedes is already developing such a powertrain for the upcoming range-topping AMG S 73 e PHEV, which is set to have an output of more than 600kW. AMG will also give the SL’s chassis a thorough overhaul in an effort to increase its appeal to keen drivers, although it will still act as a more comfortable alternative to the AMG GT.
New 2021 Mercedes SL: design and styling
Mercedes has paid particular attention to the new SL’s styling. Gorden Wagner, chief design officer for Daimler AG, told us: Each SL is a mirror of its decade. If you think of the fifties and you think of the beauty ideal during that time, it was opulence. Then you move into the sixties, models got skinny, skirts got shorter, and when you look at the Pagoda this is a super-light car, and again represents the taste of the time.”
Our spy shots and Mercedes’s official images have revealed that the newcomer will take on a more aggressive AMG-inspired look than before but, Robert Lesnik, Mercedes’s director of exterior design assured us it will still retain the original car’s DNA.
He said: “Gorden mentioned all those models through decades, but they keep something in common, that is a typical proportion – a front mid-engined car, with a long bonnet, small cabin, cab backward design.
“The last SL was designed for a certain trend at the time, which was a retractable hard-top. That was, at the time, state of the art, and everyone wanted to have one. It’s something that we will not do with the next one,” Lesnik explained.
2021 Mercedes SL: History and sports cars
In 2019, sports cars contributed to slightly more than one per cent of Mercedes’ total sales worldwide; with around 28,400 cars sold. That’s a rise of 48 per cent over 2018, but by the firm’s own admission, the AMG GT line-up accounts for most of that, with the compact SLC roadster now banished from the line-up and full-size SL dwindling in importance.
While the SLC now has no future, the brand’s decision to build the new SL with AMG hinges on the shared use of a new lightweight, aluminium-intensive platform that will eventually go underneath the next AMG GT.
Speaking to Auto Express before his switch to Aston Martin, former AMG boss Tobias Moers explained how the project was developing: “This is a programme that’s really intense,” he said. “The new SL aligned with maybe the next generation of GT.
“I think it’s time to change the attitude of SL a little bit and bring back a bit of the history of this touring DNA of SL – make it sportier, and other things.”
Timeline: six generations of Mercedes SL
W198 (1954-63): Iconic Gullwing lasted for three years before Roadster replaced it. Four-cylinder 190 SL was the affordable alternative.
W113 (1963-1971): ‘Pagoda’ model came with a removable hard-top. 230, 250 and 280 models all came with six-cylinder engines.
R107 (1971-1989): As well as a roadster, Mercedes produced the four-seat SLC coupé up until 1981. This was the first SL with a V8.
R129 (1989-2001): SL moved into the nineties with V12 power introduced for the first time. AMG versions also appear.
R230 (2001-2011): Introduced folding hard-top roof first seen on the SLK, as well as adaptive body control and other hi-tech aids.
R231 (2012-2020): Outgoing SL was a heavily updated version of the R230 that used an all-aluminium body for the first time.