It’s been nearly six decades since Mercedes-Benz introduced the then-revolutionary SL, those letters short for “sport” and light.” Like all too many other products introduced in the decades since, the SL roadster has gotten bigger and bulkier. But the all-new model making its debut at Detroit’s Cobo Center this week takes the Mercedes 2-seater back to its roots.
Think of the all-new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL as “sportier” and “lighter.”
To get there, the maker has completely redesigned the SL, reverting to a modern take on the original car’s aluminum tube frame that shaves as much as 300 pounds off the 2013 Benz, depending on the specific model.
“Decreased weight means increased agility,” said Mercedes brand boss Dieter Zetsche at a sneak preview the night before the official opening of the 2012 North American International Auto Show. “Saving weight,” he added, “means saving gallons.”
Visually, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL is familiar, but a closer look reveals a number of cues borrowed from the German maker’s flagship SLS supercar, including the more upright grille and headlamps – though you might also perceive a few subtle details lifted from the small Mercedes SLK.
The hood and body side panels are more deeply sculpted than the outgoing SL, with the overall look meant to portray a car that is more nimble, as well as elegant. The maker says it put a premium on aerodynamics, as well as weight, which should mean improved performance, better mileage and, it claims, interior noise levels “virtually on a par with a closed sedan.”
The driving strategy behind the development of the new SL was simple, proclaimed Zetsche, who also serves as CEO of Mercedes’ parent, Daimler AG, “the best or nothing.”
While we’ll have to wait for a test drive to see if the maker achieved its goals, it clearly did more than just dress up the old SL platform in a new skin. The 2013 roadster development program aimed to take weight out wherever possible.
“The effect is as if a large passenger has stepped out of the car” says Dr. Thomas Rudlaff, responsible for the aluminum bodyshell. “The result is perceptible and measurable. Less weight means improved performance and efficiency. In other words, the driving pleasure increases and the environmental impact decreases.”
Only a small few components are made of steel – high-strength steel tubing used in the A-pillars, for example, for rollover strength — and they were counter-balanced by the integration of even lighter magnesium for such key pieces as the cover panel behind the fuel tank and roof.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 will feature a 4.7-liter V-8 making 429 horsepower – about 12% more than the 8-banger in the outgoing roadster, even though it’s 0.8 liters smaller in displacement. Paired with a 7-speed adapative automatic gearbox it will also adopt fuel-saving Stop/Start technology as standard equipment. On the performance side, Mercedes claims 0 to 60 times have been cut nearly a full second to 4.5 seconds.
The SL will offer two different suspensions, the Agility Control package the standard feature. An Active Body Control, or ABC, suspension is optional. The new SL also will adopt a new electromechanical Direct-Steer system that can vary its ratio depending upon steering angle.
Mercedes claims two firsts for the new SL, including FrontBass, which mounts a subwoofer in the floor in front of the driver, rather than in back, and Magic Vision Control. That system eliminates the normally messy windshield wiper sprayer, fluid instead flowing out of the wipers directly onto the windshield.
The new 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 will roll into U.S. showrooms by spring, almost precisely 60 years after the launch of the original car, which was initially put to use on the track. The first street-legal coupe was launched at the New York Auto Show in 1954, with the SL in today’s familiar roadster form following three years later.