2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Class First Ride Review: A New Spark
Mercedes-Benz wants to return the SL-Class to its motorsports roots, and it has entrusted the car’s engineering development entirely to the AMG team to make it happen. The R232 SL arriving next year will strive to channel the racing roots of the storied W194 Gullwing SL, and we’re promised it’ll deliver more S (sport) and L (lightness). But we’re also told it will ride on a wheelbase lengthened to accommodate rear seats, which certainly muddies the messaging. To help give us a taste of what the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Class will be like, the company invited us to ride along in a prototype undergoing final verification drives in the Rocky Mountains. “Our” car was one of a half-dozen brought in for a few weeks of final verification testing in hot-weather environs around Phoenix and at high altitudes in Colorado.
Sport und Licht Baked In, Not Bolted On
All previous SL models have been developed by Mercedes-Benz, though the first iteration was done by its racing department. In recent generations, the AMG performance team has occasionally adapted its own powertrains, chassis calibrations, and appearance items to these Benz-engineered SLs. We’re about to find out how much sportier and lighter a bespoke AMG SL can be, because starting with the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Class, the Affalterbach team has full responsibility for the model.
It purportedly started with a blank sheet of paper—much as Mercedes’ rennsport team did when it developed the original direct-injected 300-hp SL Gullwing race cars. Gestating an SL with such embedded sporting character means “organs” that don’t contribute to the sporting mission don’t develop. Like a retractable metal top, for instance. (The cloth one saves some 80 pounds from up high.) Computer optimization of the unibody, which is now composed of aluminum, magnesium, steel, and carbon fiber, yields a design that’s 280 pounds lighter with a lower center of gravity. It’s also 50 percent stronger in bending and 18 percent more rigid in torsion.
The AMG badges splashed liberally across the body, wheels, tailpipe outlets, and interior telegraph the promise that the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Class can, in a pinch, be employed for racing. The car features a full-on Race driving mode that has been meticulously vetted on famous German tracks like Hockenheim and the Nürburgring by actual racing drivers. But Mercedes-AMG dares not alienate repeat SL500 customers who expect comfort, and it promises that the Comfort mode delivers a noticeably cushier ride than the Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster. (Mercedes and AMG spokespeople swear on a stack of press kits the latter shares virtually nothing with the new SL.) So we can expect the overall driving mode bandwidth from Comfort to Race to be considerably broader than before. And although wheel sizes are expected to be 20 inches and up, the tires on the prototype vehicle we rode in still used the same sidewall profile as the SL450’s 18-inch rims (40 series front, 35 series rear), making the sidewalls slightly taller on the new car.
How the Modes Differ
When switching from Comfort to Sport, the throttle tuning and shift strategy map become more aggressive, but the “shift haptics,” or smoothness, remains unchanged, and there’s no fuel expended on those throttle-overrun sound effects. The Sport+ setting sharpens the shift feel, adds those overrun pops, and provides an even more aggressive throttle map. Race mode couples the aggressive shift haptics and shift strategy with exceptionally linear throttle response, which pro drivers value over maps that might facilitate tail-out antics.
Chassis characteristics also sharpen with each click of the steering-wheel-mounted drive mode switch. The interrelation between these effects is one of the things the development engineers were still fine-tuning on our drive, such as the impact the damping rate has on perceived harshness during gear shifts, particularly in the Sport+ and Race modes.
Will the 2022 SL Be Raced for Real?
No official factory-backed racing programs are planned at this point, and there’s not an obvious fit for it in mainstream racing series, but if privateers wanted to campaign an SL in some modern re-creation of the Carrera Panamericana or Mille Miglia, Affalterbach would probably reply to their emailed requests for suggested modifications.
How Does the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL Drive?
We were as eager as you to learn. Sadly, we spent our hour in the car entirely in the passenger seat during a gentle ride around the smoothly paved curving and hilly roads between the Red Rocks amphitheater and Mount Evans, adhering assiduously to speed limits. The difference in shift feel in a few modes was demonstrated convincingly, but any real sense of how well the chassis and suspension cope with bump impacts, or how effectively the carbon brakes shed speed when approaching a corner will have to wait until we can take the wheel. The same goes for how the staggered 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires (265/40 front, 295/35 rear) hang on through an apex and how 4Matic AWD helps claw the car through the exit. We can’t even definitively confirm a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 powered our test ride, though this much seems reasonably certain.
About Those Rear Seats
Our chaperones for the 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL ride along couldn’t fully explain the reasoning behind fitting rear seats to this SL. One thing’s for sure: Nobody will be comfortable sitting back there, except infants and toddlers in child seats. The backrest is bolt-upright and thinly padded, and any potential “legroom” must be granted by occupants of the front seats. This area is primarily a well-cushioned place for golf clubs and duffel bags that appears to be larger than the similar stowage areas behind the seats in every previous SL since the Gullwing. This added space plus the generous trunk make the SL a much better all-day cruiser/daily driver than its two-seat Mercedes-AMG GT siblings.
Yes, this new 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL-Class may have what it takes to attack the private racing circuit at an owner’s car-condo complex, but everyday usability will make or break this car. We look forward to fully assessing both aspects of this race-bred but domesticated new AMG SL.
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