By Thomas Shambler
Having fixed the stylings and included a bigger, better engine under the hood, is the latest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz SL the best yet?
The original 300SL was launched in the 1950s, and has been a motoring icon ever since. It went on to inspire the elegant 190SL, along with the later more compact Pagoda version.
The R129, which debuted in 1989, was a statement of the times. It was the epitome of sleek modernism, and quickly became the car to be seen driving in. However, the most recent update to the SL line in 2013 caused quite a stir among Benz-faithful. There was something not quite right about it, prompting pundits to call it 'awkward' (Mercedes design chief Peter Pfeiffer has since retired).
Take one look at the refreshed 2017 model and you can see that Mercedes-Benz took heed of the commentary. It includes a few mechanical updates, but the star of the show is certainly the SL's design.
It's been streamlined and cleaned-up as much as possible, and now sports a much sleeker look. From the front, re-shaped headlights and an entirely new grille give the car a face that is distinctive and elegant at the same time. Indeed, the grille was inspired by the look of the 300SL that won in the 1952 Carrera Panamericana. Not too much has been changed on the back of the car.
The oversized taillights remain, with large cosmetic air outlets along the side. Still the SL is undoubtedly a better looking car than its soon-to-be-outdated brother.
The entry-level model – the SL450 – gets the most significant changes of the line. It features a twin-turbocharged V6 engine, with a few extra horsepower (329 to 362), and is now bolted to a nine-speed automatic gearbox. That gives the cheapest of the SLs a zero-to-100-kilometre time of 4.9 seconds (again, up from the previous 5.1).
The top-of-the-line SL550 boasts a 4.7-litre twin-turbo V8 (with 449 horses under the hood), as well as the nine-speed automatic. AMG models were largely untouched. The SL63 and SL65 keeps the same powertrain, however the 'speedshift' automatic gearbox has been tweaked for quieter shifts. The excellent Active Body Control suspension, which makes the SL lean in to corners, also remains standard.
Of course, comfort is key in any grand tourer, and Mercedes-Benz has never had a problem with that. The SL will now open the automatic roof at speeds of up to 40-kilometres. When activated, the retractable hardtop moves backwards towards the trunk. A new plastic cover (that moves to a different position whether the top is up or down) has also been added. Ambient lighting has been upgraded, now offering red, white or blue hues. The new SL is expected to hit the market in 2016.