At Mercedes, the SL used to be most popular high-end two-seater, but this role has long been adopted by the lighter and less expensive SLK. Time then, to give the upmarket Merc SL a shot in the arm with this 2012 newcomer.
Although America and China are supporting the SL, crumbling residuals and cut-throat lease schemes are underming its image. Not surprisingly, the competition is facing similar problems. Audi has scaled down the R8 output from over 30 to under 10 units per day, BMW is counting the days until the new 6-series hits the market, Aston Martin is still busy clearing old stock, and the ageing Jaguar XK must soldier on for three more years.
Joachim Schmidt, Mercedes-Benz board member in charge of sales and marketing, is convinced that 'fresh product is the best remedy in this volatile market where customers are particularly keen on the latest, most advanced technology.'
Mercedes-Benz SL (2012): welcome to the R231
Codenamed R231, the next SL is new from bottom to top. Loosely based on the rear-wheel drive components set of the E-class, the roadster-coupé gets a longer wheelbase to facilitate entry and egress for the greying clientele.
While the 2012 SL offers more space for passengers and luggage, the fuel tank will reportedly shrink from 80 to 75 litres. The retractable hard top can be fitted with a variable-tint glass roof named Magic Sky Control to darken those pesky sunsets and paparazzi flashguns.
What does the new SL look like under that disguise?
The L-shaped headlamps give way to more conventional rectangular lights in keeping with the new Merc design philosophy, and the wideband grille will be positioned more upright for superior pedestrian protection.
The rear end is dominated by XXL wraparound taillights inspired by the CLS coupe. Inside, we find a more user-friendly cockpit with better ergonomics, extended memory functions and new seats developed and built together with BMW.
Mercedes Magic Ride Control: in detail
The most revolutionary technical innovation in the new SL is the active suspension named Magic Ride Control. An evolution of the ABC active body control device, MRC employs a camera which scans the road for potholes and other irregularites. The findings are relayed to the ABC computer which can respond within fractions of a second and with an accuracy of one millimetre.
The advanced road reader looks 20 metres ahead and remains fully active up to a speed of 60mph when it gradually gives way to a tauter fixed setting. Not stiff enough? Then go for the sports pack which firms up the chassis software for about 10 seconds before assuming a more spine-friendly calibration. When you pay a bundle, you might as well feel the effect...
New Merc SL (2012): the engine line-up
Mercedes has plug-in hybrid applications of the new SL in the pipeline, but it won't offer a diesel. The new SLK we're about to see launched in spring 2011 will offer derv, but the R231 SL won't. The range looks like this:
• 306bhp SL350, 3.5-litre V6
• 435bhp SL500, twin-turbo 4.6-litre V8
• 571bhp SL63 AMG, 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8
• 630bhp SL65 AMG, V12
Today's seven-speed autobox will eventually be replaced by an even more efficient nine-speeder with integrated hybrid module. If the DCT twin-clutch 'box does make the transition from SLS to new SL, it will reserved for the AMG variants.