FOUR-WHEEL-DRIVE. Twin-turbo V8s assembled by hand. A clever cocktail of magnesium and aluminium to create a lighter, stiffer body. This sounds like the stuff of supercar builders – but in fact it’s the recipe behind what ought to be the world’s most conservative roadster.
Every Mercedes-Benz SL I’ve ever driven has been at least a little bit boring, but that’s not a problem because it’s not supposed to be in any way pulse-raising. A couple of years ago I took an old 280 SL over the Buttertubs Pass, one of the best roads in North Yorkshire, and while it did absolutely nothing to involve me in the drive it did at least treat to me to a little dial letting me know how efficiently I was undertaking the journey (not very, as it turned out). A couple of years later I borrowed its Nineties successor, the 300 SL-24, and while it was a consummate technical masterpiece it felt like an S-Class without a roof. Largely because, for better or worse, it was.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been exciting SLs over the years, as anyone familiar with some of the ludicrously powerful AMG or Brabus versions will testify, but as a general rule of thumb the SL is meant to be sumptuous, sober and safer than staying in bed.
Only it seems that the chaps in Stuttgart didn’t get the memo this time. In fact, technically it isn’t even a Mercedes-Benz anymore.
The SL is now a Mercedes-AMG, meaning that the legwork has now been entrusted to its in-house tuning division, and they’ve started by launching it with a choice of two V8s (although there will, in time, be a hybrid option too). Clearly the performance boffins have been hard at work, because the new SL doesn’t share a single component with the old SL, or other AMG offerings like the GT Roadster. It’s also more aerodynamic and equipped with a lower centre of gravity than the outgoing roadster, but the real headline is that for the first time in the SL’s 70-year career the power will be going to all four wheels.
All of which means that this latest model is shaping up to be exciting to drive and agile through the bends – and that just won’t do. Naturally, Mercedes has kitted it out with just about every driver aid imaginable, including sensors, cameras and radar systems lifted straight out of the latest S-Class, but even they I suspect won’t be able to stop the new arrival's custodians from smiling if they peel off the motorway and take the back roads for a change.
The SL sounds like it’s being let off the leash for a change. The world’s most conservative roadster just got interesting…
David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly