If any car out there has good genes, it’s the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. Descended from classics like the iconic race-bred 300SL of the 1950s, the rolling sculpture “Pagoda” SL of the ’60s and early ’70s, and the evergreen angular fourth-generation car of the ’80s and ’90s, those two letters conjure up some pretty strong feelings for Mercedes fans. Unfortunately, the SL-Class has seemed to lose the plot this century. After the fifth-generation car’s styling went a little too far down the Mercedes-McLaren SLR rabbit hole for some, the underwhelming styling of the past eight years has failed to capture the magic of its predecessors.
That isn’t to say that carmaker’s flagship grand tourer is by any means a bad car. On the contrary, we drove a 2015 SL63 AMG earlier this year and were utterly blown away by it. Our Collin Woodard said:
I’m not one to instrument test cars, but I can absolutely tell you that the SL63 AMG was extremely fast. It was the kind of fast that even impressed a car writer who’s jaded from riding motorcycles. On the highway, all I had to do was put my foot down, and it would still jump forward like a lion pouncing on a zebra. In my head, I knew I shouldn’t have so flagrantly disregarded the speed limit, but feeling it accelerate made it too much fun to rein myself in.
Our SL63 (while at the top of the SL price range) was fast, luxurious, and $170,000. At that price, not only is it competing in-house with the AMG S 63 coupe, but also the brand’s performance halo car, the AMG GT S. Once you factor in the near-exotics like the Porsche 911, BMW 6-Series, Nissan GT-R Nismo, and Aston Martin DB9 that can be had for that kind of coin, suddenly the SL seems to get lost in the shuffle.
But now, it seems like Mercedes is bringing the SL-Class back from its decade-and-a-half in the woods with a refresh that brings it closer into line with the marque’s current stable. It plans to officially take the wraps off the car at next week’s Los Angeles Auto Show — and we’ll be bringing you updates live from the show floor — but from the single teaser image we have right now, the new SL looks very, very good.
From our limited look at the facelifted 2017 SL, it looks, well, like a Mercedes. But bear with us here because this in itself is a major improvement. Back in the ’50s, the original 300SL had a clear stylistic connection to the bubble-fendered “Ponton” cars in the rest of the lineup. Ditto in the ’60s, when the Pagoda’s ovoid bezels connected it to everything from the 200-series cars to its world-beating 600 Grosser. And let’s be honest — the ’80s-’90s cars may have aged better than most, but for a GT car, it sure had a lot of styling overlap with the sedate E-Class.
And yes, the current car does look like a Mercedes, but it’s almost as if a competitor were asked to come up with a Mercedes-esque design. Aside from the dated front and rear fascias, busy aero and side strakes seem to be a messy leftover from the previous generation car. If it bears any resemblance to anything else in the brand’s current lineup, with its upright front fascia and gaping grille, it’s probably the full-size GL-Class — and even that’s being phased into the GLS-Class for continuity’s sake. The new front fascia, however, is like a current “best-of” from the brand; mixed in with the S-Class coupe and GT S is also some CLA and E-Class, thrown in for good measure. Once again, the SL-Class will be a Mercedes of its time, not one that’s struggling to keep up.
Based on recent spy photos, it doesn’t look like much is changing from the A-pillar back, though we expect a mild refresh out back and inside too. Still, a new face could be all the car needs to get back to the front of its class. After all, it’s hard to argue with 577 horsepower and 577 pound-feet of torque in SL63 trim — that’s nothing to sneeze at. With this makeover, it’ll give us plenty to look at too.