Opinion: new SL has to move the needle for Mercedes, but not by much
The 2018 Mercedes-Benz SL
The German firm has to pitch the next SL just right to attract new buyers without alienating the car’s current fan base
As Mercedes-Benz’s range has grown over the years, the positioning of some of its models has become increasingly blurred. It’s the classic conundrum of offering buyers as much choice as possible without having your own models competing with each other.
It’s a consistent problem for Mercedes because it has the largest number of different body styles on sale in the UK, at 28 (including all estate and coupé variants of existing models). That’s not counting the enormous variety of powertrains and trims on offer, including various faster and more hardcore AMG variants.
Alongside other market factors, the proliferation has had an effect on the prominence of cars such as the SL. The iconic roadster has evolved throughout its 64-year history from a racing-inspired sporting model to a flagship luxury GT. In that time it has been a coupé with gullwing doors, a fabric-roofed convertible, and more recently, has featured a folding metal hard-top.
However, the current generation has sat in no-man’s land since the introduction of the roomier and more luxurious S-Class Cabriolet and the faster, more hardcore Mercedes-AMG GT. Newer rivals such as the Bentley Continental GT have also muscled in, while the same decline in two-seat cabriolet sales that means a replacement for the smaller SLC is unlikely has also affected the SL.
Its repositioning as a more sporting model makes sense, then, and there’s no denying buyers will be intrigued with the idea of a car that shares a platform and many crucial parts with the AMG GT range, but can be bought for a significantly lower cost. The ditching of the complex and heavy metal roof will be key to this because it will dramatically reduce kerb weight and lower the centre of gravity, offer potential for the car’s handling to be enhanced.
What concerns me, however, is that it could become too hardcore for the SL’s traditional customer base. A more sporting focus with AMG’s input is fine, but Mercedes needs to balance this with the long-distance comfort and refinement that long-standing buyers expect, and is offered by much of the competition.
Source: Autocar Online