EXCLUSIVE! Merc and AMG’s sports car future
WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM THE GT Twinned with the next-generation GT coupe, 2020’s new SL roadster will combine 2+2 seating, a canvas roof and mild hybrid power
MERCEDES’ ENTIRE sports car portfolio is about to undergo a radical reinvention, led by AMG: the next SL roadster will be bigger and switch from a folding hardtop to a classic soft-top, the GT sports car becomes more agile and driver focused, and the smaller SLC roadster (previously badged SLK) will be sent to the great scrapyard in the sky.
Mercedes’ performance division AMG, which is developing the 2020 SL and 2022 GT, now has increased responsibility within Mercedes’ R&D structure, taking charge of all V8 and V12 engine development, while beavering away on this year’s Project One hybrid hypercar and AMG GT 4-Door coupe. It also had significant input into the all-new G-Class (driven on p37).
But sports cars are AMG’s brot und butter, so it makes sense that Tobias Moers, AMG’s ambitious CEO, got the nod to lead the project. The next SL – codenamed R232 – will be so transformed that it’s very likely to be marketed under the MercedesAMG banner – or potentially solely as an AMG.
It will grow from housing two people to being a 2+2-seater, mirroring the Ferrari Portofino’s layout. It will also ditch the folding hardtop roof used on the last two generations, adopting the classical canvas folding roof instead.
A longer wheelbase is necessary for the two extra seats, but ditching the bulky roof will save weight and improve boot space. The all-new, aluminium-intensive architecture houses six- and eight-cylinder engines in a front/mid-engined position.
Together with rear-wheel steering, the engine location should make the SL more nimble than its size suggests. Active anti-roll bars and 4Matic all-wheel drive also promise to strike a good compromise between sportiness and comfort.
The SL will have a 48-volt battery electrical system to power various functions and provide mild-hybrid capability, including energy recuperation and 20bhp of additional power, while the flagship SL will run a twin-turbo V8, not a V12, with an e-motor capable of punching out 204bhp and plug-in battery charging. The full line-up is set to comprise a 435bhp SL43 with a turbo 3.0-litre six and 48-volt mild hybridisation, two flavours of hybrid-boosted, twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 (a 522bhp SL53 and a 612bhp SL63) and a range-topping SL73 plug-in hybrid summoning 800bhp from its V8 and e-motor working in concert.
All 43/53/63 powertrain combinations will be available to the SL’s sister car, the AMG GT replacement codenamed C192. However, the plug-in hybrid is not currently earmarked for the coupe – AMG could be waiting for the ‘EQ Power +’ boost system that’s under development. If this proves viable, it will pair the combustion engine with two small yet powerful e-motors left and right of the transaxle transmission.
The GT will retain today’s transaxle layout, where the transmission is sited at the rear, but that doesn’t mean the second-generation GT won’t undergo big changes elsewhere. Although its architecture is shared with the new SL, it will have a shorter wheelbase than the upcoming convertible, but will still be more spacious than today’s GT. And, crucially, it will be lighter and more agile than both. No convertible versions of the strictly twoseat AMG are currently planned.
The new SL was initially set to share its architecture with a new-generation SLK/SLC rather than the GT. But the dwindling popularity of the SLC and rivals such as the BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster encouraged Mercedes to prioritise the AMG GT as a partner for the SL. And when talks to buddy up with Nissan for the next Z-car or Renault for a version of the Alpine failed, Mercedes decided to abandon the segment altogether.
The two-door S-Class models are equally under threat. With the roomy E-Class coupe and cabriolet nibbling away at them from below, and the new SL expected to be similarly spacious thanks to its extended wheelbase, the case for S-Class spinoffs is looking decidedly shaky. What’s more, Mercedes could develop a fixed-head SL off this platform if required...
The SLC roadster will be sent to the scrapyard in the sky as part of this major AMG-led revamp
2022’S AMG GT
Shares the new SL’s architecture but will have a shorter wheelbase. AMG says it will be more spacious and agile than the current GT, though it won’t have a convertible version –
that’s SL territory.
Gone is the old hardtop roof in favour of lighter, more compact canvas which helps create more space in the back – it’ll be a 2+2. The range-topping SL73 features a twin-turbo V8 and e-motor putting