2018 MERCEDES-BENZ – SL-CLASS & AMG GT ROADSTER
While Mercedes-AMG’s new GT roadster picks fights with Porsches, the recently refreshed SL-Class keeps its 60-plus-year bloodline.
By Steve Siler
Dozens of models brandish Mercedes-Benz’ vaunted Three-Pointed Star on their hoods, but none is as steeped in auto-motive lore as the SL-Class roadster. The direct descendant of the 300SL gullwing and roadster of the 1950s, the SL-Class is as legendary as a great many of the privileged men and women who have owned one. For 2018, however, a second six-figure roadster may be found next to the stately and luxurious SL in the Mercedes showroom: the Mercedes-AMG GT roadster. Low, sleek and extroverted, the new GT Roadster is a purpose-built sports car that captures the spirit of the original 300SL even better than the actual SL. Certainly, each of these Teutonic two-seaters is utterly delightful to drive, but visually, dynamically, and conceptually, they’re extremely different creaturesone for drivers who like to chill, the other for those who like a thrill.
2018 MERCEDES-BENZ SL-CLASS
(BASE PRICE RANGE: $89,195—$222,995)
As the beneficiary of over 60 years of continuous improvements, the 2018 SL-Class is an exceedingly evolved automobile, engineered to deliver all the benefits of convertible ownership while eliminating most of the known drawbacks.
The Nappa leather on its splendidly comfort-able seats, for example, is heat-resistant so as not to fry one’s thighs after it’s been parked in the sun. For top-down driving on cooler nights, Mercedes’ nifty “Airscarf ” seat vents gently blow heat upon your nape. And of course, instead of a fabric top, the SL-Class utilizes a retract-able hard top with a transparent center section, with a trick Magic Sky Control panel optionally available to electronically darken the overhead glass with one button. New for 2017 is the ability to raise or lower the top at speeds up to 25 miles per hour; also, the cargo separator in the trunk is now powered.
That said, the SL is graying at the temples. Its design dates back to 2013, and, like an aging starlet, it entered its mid-life years with a new nose and a butt tuck, thus bestowing a more youthful, if somewhat less distinct, visage upon all SL models from 2017 on. And indisputably luxurious though it may be, the cabin is peppered with buttons and
dials that appear to have come from another era altogether.
True to its name—or half of it, anyway (SL officially stands for Sport Leicht, or “Sport Light,” in German)—the SL is remarkably lightweight despite the considerable mass of its complex retractable hardtop. It’s not terribly sporty, however, even with the optional active suspension that actually leans into turns like a motorcycle. The SL450’s quiet, smooth, 362-hp V-6 is perfectly sufficient, I think, though the SL550’s 516-hp V-8 is throatier and obviously quicker. Even more go-power comes in with the AMG SL63 with its rowdy 577-hp V-8 or the AMG SL65, with its prodigious 621-hp V-12.
Prices start under $90K for the SL450 and top out at an eye-watering $223K for the SL65. For better or worse, those lofty prices, combined with a softening market for high-end coupes and convertibles in general, ought to ensure that new SLs will remain rare.
2018 MERCEDES-AMG GT ROADSTER
(BASE PRICE RANGE: $125,395—$157,995)
As the market for luxurious grand tourers like the SL dries up, six-figure sports cars are selling just fine, thank you. Until recently, Mercedes watched enviously as its cross-town rival in Stuttgart, Porsche, sold
$100K-plus 911s as fast as it could build them, but since 2015, Mer-cedes has challenged the prolific Porsche with a gorgeous, all-new sports coupe called the Mercedes-AMG GT. Three years later, the long-awaited Mercedes-AMG GT roadster has arrived, giving 911 Cabriolet buyers a shapely new alternative with a big personality.
In pictures and especially in person, the GT roadster is achingly beautiful. Its extreme, long-nose proportions nod to early 300SLs without copying them, and its toothy “Panamericana” grille treatment looks so good it will appear on nearly all Mercedes-AMG models moving forward. The 469-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 that powers the base, $125K GT roadster would be enough to satisfy pretty much anyone on earth if only Porsche didn’t offer the 911 in some 22 different body styles and powertrain combinations. To face off against the faster 911s, then, is the stupefyingly fast, $158K GT C roadster, which bristles with 550 hp underhood while receiving a raft of AMG-developed chassis upgrades and an exhaust note sent down from the gods. Meanwhile, the GT C ratchets up the visual drama with two additional inches of rear width.
As with the SL, the GT Roadster’s seats come standard with Airscarf, but the seats themselves split the difference between conventional sport seats and racing shells, with thin frames, aggressive bolsters and truly beautiful craftsmanship. Mercedes-AMG has packed a lot of design into the roadster’s snug cabin, including huge round air vents in the dashboard and a center console that’s home to an octet of round but-tons and dials for quick adjustment of the various AMG performance bits. With its rich mix of materials, it feels no less luxurious, however, than the SL—somewhat of a surprise and an indicator of how master-fully Mercedes-AMG combines performance with panache in its sen-sational new ragtop. The GT coupes and roadsters may take a while to establish themselves in the sports car world, but in the Mercedes world, they’re already a hit.
To test drive one of the models reviewed here, visit Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables, 300 Almeria Ave., Coral Gables, 305.445.8593; mbcoralgables.com.