2022 Mercedes-AMG SL prototype first driving report: back to its roots

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    The 2022 Mercedes SL was developed exclusively by AMG.

    Mercedes-AMG

    New Mercedes-Benz SL Roadsters are not often found. Each of the SL generations lasted an average of about 12 years before a new one hit the market, and for the past five decades the SL has been more of a comfortable GT car than a racing-derived sports car like the original 300SL. But with the brand new one 2022 SL, that should change.

    A change is already taking place in the name: instead of Mercedes-Benz SL, the new generation will be the Mercedes-AMG SL. Like the AMG GT, the new SL was also developed from the ground up by AMG. Mercedes commissioned the AMG team to make the SL smaller, lighter and much more athletic, while channeling the spirit of the original model. It rides on a new platform – one that’s shared with the next-generation GT Coupe – and the SL will essentially take up the space that’s about to be discontinued AMG GT Roadster.

    AMG development is a big deal, but not the biggest fundamental change. For the first time in the model’s history, the new SL will also be available with all-wheel drive – and not just, but as standard. In addition, the new one will only have a back seat for the third time in the history of the SL (but for the first time in the USA). The R107 was available as a factory accessory with a rear backup bench and the R129 had an optional rear seat in Europe, but every version of the new R232 SL comes with a two-plus-two configuration. The new SL also relies on a fabric roof and replaces the foldable hardtop setup of the last two generations. For the first time there will also be rear-axle steering.

    The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL Roadster is a fundamental change

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    While no one from Mercedes will confirm any specs or details about the SL I drive in, there is a lot that is visible and audible. It’s an SL63 (maybe a SL63 S) with AMG’s proven 4.0-liter V8 biturbo engine, square exhaust tips and carbon-ceramic brakes with gold brake calipers. The base SL will be the SL53, which will use AMG’s in-line six-cylinder turbocharged hybrid engine, and there should be a powerful plug-in hybrid model that supports the GT63 E performance’s Powertrain.

    At first glance, the new SL looks damn good. This matte white prototype has a lightweight camouflage film that covers the front and rear, as well as minor details like the badges, but everything else is exposed. The shorter length of the new car is immediately noticeable, and the SL has a super squat stance with a shark-like front, short overhangs, smooth side surfaces, wide fenders and a tapered rear with an active spoiler. It’s also one of those rare convertible top convertibles that looks really nice with the top down.

    Mercedes has unveiled the interior of the SL Months ago so it’s fully revealed here. This one has black leather with white stitching covering almost all surfaces with some carbon fiber trim. It immediately feels less cramped than the AMG GT and much more modern than the outgoing SL. The large touchscreen in the middle is just as beautiful as in the new S-Class, and the electric tilt function is dazzling. This back seat is cramped and has an upright backrest – my 5-foot, 8-inch self barely fits in – so it’s really only suitable for kids or luggage, like the back of a Porsche 911.

    This prototype is a SL63 model with a V8 drive.

    Mercedes-AMG

    Moritz Stockmeier, AMG’s Senior Manager for Powertrain, Software and Driveability, drives with me through the mountains around Denver. The test track is at a great height on absolutely breathtaking stretches of road, but I also experience rougher road surfaces and some motorway stints from the passenger seat. This Colorado test is actually Mercedes’ final validation run where the team is basically fine-tuning. In other words, this prototype is about 90% complete.

    Apart from a few tunnel breakthroughs and a junction with the Autobahn, Stockmeier never really gets a chance to open the SL, but the roadster feels just as fast from the passenger seat as a V8-driven GT. It has 20-inch wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires in the dimensions 265 / 40ZR20 at the front and 295 / 35ZR20 at the rear, and the ride is firm, but comfortable and confident, even in Sport Plus mode. For the first time ever, rear axle steering will be available that supports both maneuverability and stability at high speeds, and I can see and feel it in tighter turns. And when the convertible top is closed and the windows open, you can have a conversation without a wind deflector.

    “It’s always a different approach when AMG builds a car from scratch,” says Stockmeier. “The fact that the Board of Management has commissioned AMG to develop the next SL says something. Handing over development to AMG allows a lot more focus on dynamics and performance, as the team is not working on an existing Mercedes model. “We want to make a big change to the predecessor, when you give AMG a car, you know what’s going to happen.”

    It is smaller, lighter and stiffer than the previous SL.

    Mercedes-AMG

    Stockmeier says the team took inspiration from the original 300SL, and the R232 will definitely be a lot more fun than previous SLs. AMG does not want the new SL to unsettle existing customers by being too racy – Stockmeier even believes that it could be the next car for those who have bought the now-dead S-Class convertible. “Of course we know the legacy of the car and we know the customers of the current one, and they’ll be happy too when they buy the new car,” he says. “90% of customers will never go to the racetrack and they also want a comfortable car and that is what we have to offer. These are very valuable customers and we want them with us.” However, it will also attract enthusiasts who want a performance car, and therein lies the real appeal of the new SL.

    “We wanted a car that had a wide range between comfort and race mode, we didn’t always want to make it super stiff and sporty,” adds Stockmeier, and that’s not an easy task. “The bandwidth was definitely one of the things we looked at during development in order to satisfy all sorts of customers.” Critical parts of the car like the body structure and wheel-and-tire setup are fixed, so things like adaptive dampers, engine programming, gear shift mapping, and other electronics vary between driving modes. “These things have to be seen as a whole system that changes all at once,” says Stockmeier. Haptics such as the intensity of the gear changes and the weight of the steering contribute to the differentiation of the driving modes.

    In a similar way, Stockmeier appreciates the variability of the new SL. “It’s like Jekyll and Hyde,” he says. “You can have the roof open or closed, you can use it in winter and summer, you can have a smooth ride around town in Comfort mode and then take it to a racetrack and use Race mode.” Although he admits it’s not a family car, he says it was necessary for the SL to be a good everyday driver.

    All in all, this first impression makes me curious about driving the new roadster. It feels noticeably different than either the outgoing SL and the GT Roadster, which takes the best out of everyone and adds a much more modern finish. The new SL will debut at the end of the year before launching in the first half of 2022 – though given The current V8 situation from Mercedes, we may initially only get the SL53.

    The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL Roadster is a fundamental change

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