At 29 years old, my favorite compliment is being told that I look like my mom. Seeing myself in her image, like this daughter up top, makes me so proud of how far I’ve come, and so thankful for where I come from.
The development of AMG is a big deal, but it's not the biggest fundamental change. For the first time in the car's history, the new SL will offer all-wheel drive - not only available, but also standard. In addition, for only the third time in SL's history (but for the first time in the United States), the new one will have a back seat. The R107 offers rear seats as factory accessories, and the R129 has an optional rear seat in Europe, but each version of the new R232 SL will be equipped with a two plus two configuration. The new SL will also re-use the fabric roof, eliminating the folding hard top settings of the past two generations. Rear axle steering will also be available for the first time.
Although no one at Mercedes will confirm any specifications or details of the SL I am riding on, there are many that are visible - and audible. This is an SL63 (possibly SL63 S) with AMG's proven twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 engine, square rectangular exhaust pipe and carbon ceramic brakes with gold calipers. The underlying SL will be the SL53, which will use the AMG's turbocharged in-line six-cylinder hybrid engine, and should have a high-power plug-in hybrid model that shares the GT63 E Performance powertrain.
In the first impression, the new SL looks great. The front and back ends of this matte white prototype are wrapped in light camouflage, along with small details such as badges, but nothing else is covered. The shorter length of the new car is immediately apparent, and the SL features a super squat position, shark-like front end, short overhang, smooth side, wide fender and tapered back end with active spoiler. It's also one of the rare soft-top convertibles that looks really good when filled.
Mercedes revealed the SL's interior a few months ago, so it's completely exposed here. This black leather covers almost every surface, with white stitching and several carbon fiber trims. It immediately feels less hasty than the AMG GT and is more modern than the outgoing SL. The large central touch screen is as good as the new S-Class sedan, and the electric tilt function does protect against glare. The rear seat is tight and has an upright seat backrest - I can barely fit in at 5ft 8in - so it really only suits kids or luggage, like the back seat of a Porsche 911.
Moritz Stockmeier, Senior Manager, Software, and Driving Performance at AMG Powertrain, took me through the mountains around Denver. The test route is at high altitudes on absolutely stunning roads, but I can also experience rougher roads and some highway stops from the passenger seat. This Colorado test is actually Mercedes' final validation run, and the team is basically fine-tuning. In other words, the prototype is about 90% complete.
Stockmeier never really had a chance to open the SL, except a few times through the tunnel and on the highway, but the convertible felt as fast in the passenger seat as the V8 Power GT. With 20-inch wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tyres, the front wheel size is 265/40ZR20 and the rear wheel size is 295/35ZR20, cycling is stable but comfortable and calm even in Sport Plus mode. The rear axle steering will be available for the first time, helping with mobility and high-speed stability, and I can see and feel it working in narrower corners. Even without a windscreen, it's easy to talk from top to bottom and up the window.
"It's always a different approach if AMG does a car from scratch all by ourselves," Stockmeier tells me. "The fact that the board of management gave AMG the task to develop the next SL said something. It starts with the bodywork and the chassis, where we can already start saving weight and increasing stiffness." Handing development to AMG allows for a lot more focus on dynamics and performance, as the team isn't working off an existing Mercedes model. "We want to make it a big change from the predecessor, when you give a car to AMG you know what's happening."
Stockmeier says the team is looking for inspiration from the original 300SL, and the R232 will certainly be much more fun driving than the previous SL. But AMG doesn't want the new SL to be too lively to alienate existing customers - in fact, Stockmeier thinks it could be the next car for those buying the now-decomposed S-Class convertible. "Of course, we know the car's heritage, and we know the customers of the car today, and they'll be lucky enough to buy a new car, " he said. "90% of the customers will never go to the track, and they want to have a comfy car as well, and that's what we need to provide. These are very valuable customers and we want to have them with us." However, it also appeals to enthusiasts who want high-performance cars, which is what the new SL really appeals to.
"We wanted to have a car that has a great bandwidth between Comfort and Race mode, we didn't want to make it a super stiff and sporty car all the time," Stockmeier adds, and that's not an easy task. "The bandwidth was definitely one of the things we took an eye on during development to have all the possible customers satisfied." Major parts of the car, such as body structure and wheel and tire settings, are fixed, so adaptive dampers, engine programming, transmission shift mapping, and other electronic devices vary from drive mode to vehicle. "These things have to be seen as a whole system that changes at once," Stockmeier said, explaining that what helps make driving patterns more unique are the sense of touch, such as the intensity of the shift and the weight of the steering.
Similarly, Stockmeier's favorite place to like the new SL is its variability. "It's like Jekyll and Hyde," he says. "You can have the roof open or closed, you can use it in winter and summertime, you can have a smooth ride downtown in Comfort mode and then take it to a racetrack and use Race mode." While he admits it's not a family car, he says the SL needs to be a good day-to-day driver.
All in all, this first impression makes me eager to drive a new sports car. It's a marked departure from the outgoing SL and GT convertibles, taking advantage of the best of both and adding a more modern finish. The new SL will be available at the end of this year and then in the first half of 2022 - although given Mercedes' current V8 situation, we may only be able to buy the SL53 at first.