Mercedes-Benz SL-Class: The new-generation SL-Class: sportier than ever before

Mar 4, 2008
  • New design idiom with unmistakable sporty overtones
  • New, dynamic direct-steer system
  • New, particularly free-revving sports engine
Mercedes-Benz is continuing its long-standing tradition of producing legendary sports cars with the new-generation SL-Class, which is celebrating its public premiere in Geneva. No other sports car in this market segment offers such a perfect balance of sportiness, safety and comfort. These three qualities are the cornerstones of thrilling, active motoring that provides a profound sense of well-being – for hallmark Mercedes refinement at the highest, sportiest level. The world's most successful premium roadster in its class now features a new look which gives the car a distinct air of sportiness and effortless assurance.
When it came to developing a concept and design for the new-generation SL‑Class, the Mercedes-Benz engineers set out with the aim of accentuating the roadster's sporty attributes even more strongly than before. This aspiration is reflected in the new front-end design, featuring as its centrepiece a wide and, therefore, very imposing radiator grille, whose arrow shape symbolises sporty virtues such as the car's go-getting performance potential.
A horizontal fin adds visual width to the radiator grille and thereby emphasises the muscular appearance of the SL's front end, which consequently seems surprisingly new yet, at the same time, reassuringly familiar. By using expressive stylistics in this way, the Mercedes designers are able to forge a link with the SL's history and create a front-end design that is reminiscent of the earlier SL roadster models, which also expressed their poise and assurance through wide, very distinctive radiator grilles. Hence the front-end design of the new-generation SL shows Mercedes-Benz taking the styling of the legendary sports car to the next level.
The designers also pay homage to the forefather of the SL model series: the two powerdomes on the bonnet and the gill-style air outlets in the front wings are unmistakable hallmarks of the 300 SL from 1954 and have been given a modern interpretation for the new Mercedes sports car.
These classic design features drawn from five decades of roadster tradition are
in stylish harmony with new elements of the modern Mercedes design idiom, including the distinctive V-shape of the front section and, above all, the headlamps, which are drawn deeply into the flanks, thus further emphasising the impression of breadth at the front end. As well as giving the SL a highly contemporary look, this striking headlamp design also sees the roadster continuing its traditional role as a trendsetter. Just like its predecessors, the new‑generation SL features a front-end design that will serve as a template for future Mercedes passenger cars.
At the rear, too, the new-generation SL demonstrates its sporty nature even more clearly than before. This is achieved first and foremost by a new, diffuser-look bumper which adds a motorsport touch. In conjunction with the equally new trapezoidal exhaust tailpipes this design element emphasises the width of the body, further symbolising the power just waiting to be unleashed by the roadster.
Direct-steer system: consummate sporty driving pleasure
The SL name is synonymous with driving pleasure as well as design. These Mercedes sports cars have always offered a scintillating driving experience that does not deal in compromises – neither in terms of handling dynamics nor by any means when it comes to comfort or safety. It was under this premise that the Mercedes engineers modified and perfected the SL technology, one example being the new, optionally available direct-steer system, which is as simple as it is ingenious and provides a whole new driving experience when cornering.
This new development is based on the familiar standard-fit speed-sensitive power steering system whose principal benefit is the lower steering forces when driving slowly, manoeuvring or parking. The difference is the variable rack ratio, which adjusts in line with the steering angle, increasing sharply as soon as this reaches five degrees. All of which means that, compared to a steering system with a constant ratio, the driver does not have to move the steering wheel as much when cornering. The car's response is therefore noticeably more direct, allowing the driver to steer in a more spontaneous or, in other words, sportier fashion.
When driving slowly or parking, the new technology combines with the speed-sensitive power steering to provide even more comfort than before as the large ratio further reduces the steering effort required.
In addition, the SL still offers some of the very finest chassis technology available in the shape of a four-link front suspension and multi-link independent rear suspension. Meanwhile the Active Body Control (ABC) system, included as standard on the SL 500 and the SL 600, remains a unique masterpiece. It compensates for the body's pitching, rolling and lifting movements, and adapts the suspension settings automatically to suit the current driving situation. This makes for excellent agility on the one hand and optimum driving stability on the other, without compromising the car's supreme levels of comfort. Mercedes‑B enz has further fine-tuned the ABC shock-absorber settings for the new-generation SL in order to bring a whole new quality to this unique blend of sportiness, comfort and safety.
Size 255/45 R 17 wide-base tyres and 17-inch light-alloy wheels are fitted as standard on the new SL 280 and SL 350 models, whereas the V8-powered SL 500 roadster will now run on 18-inch wheels shod with 255/40 R 18 tyres. And the exclusive character of the twelve-cylinder SL 600 model is accentuated by 18-inch ten-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels with 255/40 R 18 tyres at the front
and 285/35 R 18 tyres at the rear.
Engines: new, extremely sporty six-cylinder powerplant
Mercedes-Benz is extending the SL-Class line-up by introducing an attractive entry-level model in the shape of the SL 280 developing 170 kW/231 hp. The six‑cylinder powerplant delivers its peak torque of 300 Nm from 2500 rpm and propels the roadster from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.8 seconds, whilst fuel consumption on the NEDC driving cycle is just 9.4 litres per 100 kilometres.
For the SL 350, the Mercedes engineers have developed a V6 powerplant that brings the sporty qualities of the new SL generation right to the fore. The term "sports engine" could not be more apt: through a process of meticulous engineering, the Stuttgart specialists have further enlivened the temperament of the six-cylinder unit, enhancing its free-revving response dramatically. The engine responds instantaneously to movements of the accelerator pedal, and can rev up to 7200 rpm in order to make full use of its power reserves in certain driving situations. Compared to the previous 3.5-litre engine, the output has been boosted by 16 per cent to 232 kW/316 hp (at 6500 rpm), while the peak torque has been increased by 10 Newton metres and now stands at 360 Newton metres. This powerplant accelerates the new SL 350 from 0 to 100 km/h in a mere 6.2 seconds, making it 0.4 seconds faster than the outgoing SL 350.
In this case, however, the extra power does not come at the expense of fuel economy: at 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres, the new SL 350 is 0.4 litres more economical than the preceding 200-kW/272-hp model on the NEDC driving cycle.
The sporty character of the V6 power unit is also clearly audible. Its powerful, sonorous sound is the result of meticulous work carried out by sound designers, whose specialist skills also contribute to the sense of sporty driving pleasure. In this respect, the standard-fit seven-speed automatic transmission also has an important role to play: on the one hand by allowing fast multiple downshifts when accelerating, on the other by providing a new double-declutching function that is activated during manual downshifts.
Quite apart from producing an exceedingly sporty sound, this function also enhances comfort and safety as the double-declutching equalises the rotational speeds of the crankshaft and transmission. This set-up gives the driver the advantage of even more harmonious gear changes. Plus, there is a noticeable reduction in load-alteration effects.
The flagship engines in the SL line-up remain the eight-cylinder unit in the SL 500 developing 285 kW/388 hp and the V12 powerplant in the SL 600, which develops 380 kW/517 hp helped by its twin turbochargers. The Mercedes engineers also worked meticulously on these models to further reduce fuel consumption by up to 0.4 litres per 100 kilometres.
Safety: lights for every driving situation, whatever the weather
For five decades, Mercedes sports cars have been setting the pace when it comes to innovative developments in active and passive safety for open-top cars. The new-generation SL continues this tradition, the main focus of the engineers' efforts this time being to improve driving safety at night and in fog. Hence the sports car is equipped as standard with high-intensity bi-xenon headlamps, which are considerably more powerful and energy-efficient than comparable LED headlamps. In addition, the optionally available Intelligent Light System provides five different lighting functions designed specifically for typical driving situations and weather conditions: country mode, motorway mode, enhanced fog lamps, as well as the cornering light function and active light function. The variable-control bi-xenon headlamps activate the various light functions automatically. Motorway mode is activated in two stages when the speed exceeds 90 km/h, increasing the driver's range of vision by up to 60 per cent.
The active light function causes the headlamps to pivot to the side in line with the steering angle when the driver enters a bend, allowing him to see around 25 metres further into a long bend than is the case with conventional dipped beam. The cornering light function is activated automatically at speeds below 70 km/h when the driver steers and/or indicates. This means that, as well as enhancing safety when turning at junctions or intersections, this light function is also active when cornering at low speed and improves illumination of the areas at the side of the carriageway. The enhanced fog lamps ensure better illumination of the verges, making it easier for drivers to get their bearings. The intelligent headlamp technology installed in the SL can therefore make a vital contribution to road safety.
Interior: sporty ambience and hallmark Mercedes comfort
A look inside the new-generation SL shows what Mercedes designers mean when they talk about the "balance of sportiness and comfort". The integral seats, the new-look three-spoke leather steering wheel and the completely restyled instrument cluster immediately make it clear that this is a thoroughbred sports car. Everything fits like a glove, all the controls are easy to see and within just as easy reach. The speedometer and rev counter sport a classic chronometer design with new-look dials that promise unerring precision.
As soon as the ignition is switched on, the cockpit instruments grab the driver's attention: the red speedometer and rev counter needles are aroused from their "six o' clock position”, rotate once around the dials to their maximum values and then revert to their zero positions. The message these needle movements convey to the driver is unmistakable: "start your engine".
The SL 600 underlines its top billing in the SL line-up even more clearly than before. Inside the passengers are cosseted by extremely soft Exclusive nappa leather and trim elements in exquisite poplar wood. V12 emblems on the seat backrests, on the centre steering wheel spoke and on the door sills, as well as the uniquely designed interior door panels round off the refined twelve-cylinder ambience perfectly. On the outside, the flagship SL model is distinguishable by its exclusive 18-inch ten-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels and discreet yet highly effective detailing such as the matt-silver-painted louvres of the side air outlets and the centre divider in the trapezoidal exhaust tailpipe trims. Mercedes-Benz has upgraded the already extensive standard-equipment package by adding the KEYLESS-GO system and a remote-locking boot lid.
AIRSCARF: Mercedes invention extends the open-air season
The long list of systems that help to provide an outstanding level of comfort in the roadster includes a further innovation in the new-generation SL. AIRSCARF – the neck-level heating system developed and patented by Mercedes engineers – is so called because it distributes air at just the right temperature through the head restraints, forming a warm, invisible "scarf" around the driver and passenger.
This Mercedes-Benz invention allows its customers to enjoy open-air driving pleasure for longer and even more often than before. The roadster season now lasts until well into the winter months as AIRSCARF provides the SL occupants with all the warmth they need.
Infotainment: latest multimedia technology in the centre console
The new-generation SL is also fit for the future when it comes to information, entertainment and communications: Mercedes-Benz has further modified the standard-fit COMAND system, equipping it with additional functions. The result is infotainment par excellence: the multimedia device combines a car radio including a dual tuner with telephone controls, a CD/DVD changer and a slot for SD memory cards. Further new additions include a Bluetooth interface, which connects a mobile phone to the standard-fit hands-free system wirelessly, and a large colour display (6.5"), which enhances user-friendliness and serves as a high-resolution screen for playing DVD films – although not whilst the car is being driven, for obvious safety reasons.
Even more high-tech electronics are available ex factory, as Mercedes customers can also order the optional COMAND APS system. Its additional features include a Europe-wide navigation system whose data are stored on a hard disc and therefore allow extremely fast route calculations. For playing music, there is an integrated six-disc CD/DVD changer and a Music Register for storing around 1000 MP3 tracks. A saved database enables automatic recognition of the music tracks and their artists. This information is then posted on the colour display.
The standard COMAND APS package also includes the latest-generation LINGUATRONIC voice-operated control system, which controls the navigation, telephone and audio systems based on its ability to recognise entire words. This system is of great benefit as drivers no longer need to spell out their commands. Instead, they simply say what they want, whether it be a destination for the navigation system, a radio station or a name stored in the phone book.
For the first time, it is also possible to connect an iPod, USB stick or other external audio device to the COMAND system thanks to a newly developed, universal media interface in the centre console (optional). This UCI (Universal Consumer Interface) is more than just an electronic "socket", however; it also includes an ECU that links the external music storage device to the SL's on-board electronics and control system. In this way, the iPod audio tracks also appear in the instrument cluster and on the COMAND display in the centre console, and can be simply called up by using the buttons on the multifunction steering wheel. The audio device's battery is charged for as long as the portable music player is connected to the car via the UCI.
For a complete in-car music experience, Mercedes-Benz can equip the new-generation SL with the Harman Kardon "Logic7" sound system (optional extra), which is also used in the S-Class and whose abilities have been confirmed in numerous tests. The sound system has an output of 510 watts and converts the SL interior into a mobile concert hall – whether the vario-roof is up or down – courtesy of ten high-performance speakers and state-of-the-art surround technology.
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, SL 350, exterior
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, SL 350, exterior
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, SL 350, exterior
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, SL 500, exterior
Mercedes-Benz SL-Class, SL 500, exterior