Question: What’s the longest-running nameplate in the history of Mercedes-Benz? Answer: the SL, going all the way back to the W194 from 1952. You’d be forgiven, though, for thinking the two-seater, big-dollar roadster was no longer around.
Overshadowed by both the soon-to-be-discontinued S-Class Cabriolet and the AMG GT Roadster, the current-generation, ugly-is-bone-deep R231 SL has been a major sales disappointment for the men and women behind the three-pointed star. Only 1,791 people loved this underwhelming GT enough to buy one in 2019. Toyota sells more Land Cruisers. But fear not, Super-Leicht faithful, help in the form of a new SL is arriving next year.
Billed as the 2022 SL, the new convertible will be on sale by the latter half of 2021 and will be given the internal designation of R232. Returning to the model’s roots, we expect the SL to be much sportier than the current luxo-barge.
In fact, there may not even be a Mercedes-Benz SL, only a Mercedes-AMG SL. This assumption is bolstered by the fact that the next SL will be entirely designed by Mercedes’ in-house hot rod division, AMG. In fact, the R232 will be built on the next-generation AMG GT platform.
Spy shots indicate that the new SL will lose its now-traditional folding hardtop and instead go with a canvas roof. Seems as if the SL will grow from a two-seater to something like a 2+2 (not quite a four-seater, but plenty of duffel bag space behind the front seats), not only to differentiate it from the GT (a problem the current two-passenger car has vis-à-vis the current two-passenger GT) but also to fill the hole left in the lineup by the retired four-passenger S-Class Cab.
Powertrain choices will be many, starting with a RWD car (SL 43) perhaps powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. (We doubt Mercedes would port its archaic 3.0-liter V-6 to a 2022 model year product, though stranger things have happened.) Next would be an AWD model (SL 53 4Matic+) motivated by the brand’s M256 48-volt mild hybrid 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, plus something called the SL 73e 4Matic+.
Breaking down that last moniker, the 73e refers to a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 in conjunction with a hybrid motor good for (probably) more than 800 horsepower, whereas 4Matic+ means all-wheel drive with Drift mode. There will also, of course, be an SL 63 4Matic+, as well as something called SL 55 S 4Matic+. We’re assuming that the SL 55 S will be a high-output version of the M256, i.e. an AMG-tuned inline-six. It’s looking like only the base SL 43 will be RWD-only.
You might expect every SL to use a version of Mercedes’ nine-speed automatic transmission. However, the current AMG GT uses a dual-clutch transaxle. We have to imagine that in order to keep up with the Joneses (Porsche 911, mid-engine Corvette), the GT will retain its dual-clutch and transaxle.
Therefore, it makes sense that the next SL will feature a dual-clutch transmission mounted behind the driver. But that would mean AWD SLs would need a second, long driveshaft returning from the transmission to power the front wheels, Nissan GT-R style. We think not.
Could the SL have an automatic while the GT retains its dual-clutch transaxle? Maybe, but super doubtful, as that’s overstretching a platform. AMG boss Tobias Moers has said that the SL is returning to its sporty roots, so maybe a dual-clutch transaxle for the rear wheels and the front wheels are powered by electricity?
Obviously, we have much to learn about the new Mercedes-Benz SL, including its price. But $100,000 seems like a logical place to start.
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