Special Coverage

Geneva
Auto Show

In contrast to the many green, fuel-efficient vehicles expected at next month’s Geneva auto show, Mercedes-Benz will formally introduce its decadent ’09 SL roadster.

Expected to launch in the spring in Europe and later this year in the U.S., the new SL continues as one of the highlights of the Mercedes lineup, with styling cues taken from the new C-Class sedan, an upgraded interior and enhancements to its active-suspension system.

Highlights of the ’09 model include a new single-bar grille, standard bi-xenon headlights and a new hood with twin power bulges reminiscent of the original ‘54 300SL. Larger side mirrors improve visibility, while a new rear diffuser, trapezoidal exhaust tips and standard 18-in. alloy wheels add flair to the SL’s stance.

Of note are the new L-shaped headlights, which can be equipped with an Intelligent Light System option with five different settings for varying driving conditions: country mode, highway mode, enhanced fog lamps, corner/curb lighting and active lighting.

In addition, all North American models will feature an aggressive AMG bodykit as standard equipment, the auto maker says.

The SL’s retractable hardtop carries over and can be raised or lowered in 16 seconds. Trunk storage measures 10.2 cu.-ft. (289 L) with the top up, 7.2 cu.-ft. (204 L) with it down.

Inside, the gauges, seats and 3-spoke steering wheel have been revised with new designs and improved materials.

For more comfortable motoring in cooler temperatures, the new SL also adopts the Airscarf heating technology introduced on the smaller SLK roadster.

The system uses a barium-titanate heating element with vents incorporated into the seats to blow warm air around the occupants’ necks. Standard on the SL600 and AMG models, Airscarf has automatic settings and a 3-position switch for control.

Also new is an optional Harmon Kardon Logic 7 premium sound system with 510 watts of power, 10 speakers and a 4-GB hard drive for storing 1,000 MP3 tracks. Bluetooth, iPod and USB connectivity are included, as well, with control managed through the standard COMAND navigation system and 6.5-in. (17-cm) display screen.

In an effort to improve driver control and chassis performance, Mercedes developed a new direct-steer system for the ’09 SL.

Essentially an active-steering technology, similar to that used by BMW AG, direct-steer utilizes speed-sensitive assist and a variable-ratio steering rack to reduce the amount of rotation needed to turn the wheel from lock-to-lock.

The electro-hydraulic Active Body Control (ABC) system, which governs body roll from the 4-link front and multi-link rear suspensions, also is revised for the new car with retuned shocks and electronics.

Mercedes says ABC curbs body roll 68% in normal mode and 95% in the sport setting without impeding comfort or safety.

Powertrains for U.S. models are mostly unchanged and include a 388-hp 5.5L V-8 in the SL550, 517-hp 5.5L turbocharged V-12 in the SL600 and 604-hp 6.0L turbocharged V-12 in the SL65 AMG. V-12 models continue with a 5-speed automatic transmission, while all other engines are mated to Mercedes’ 7-speed automatic featuring revised programming and rev-matching downshifts.

Although outputs carry over, Mercedes says it moderately improved fuel economy for the V-8 and V-12 powerplants.

In addition, two V-6 models will be offered in Europe, including the all-new 231-hp SL280 and the improved 316-hp SL350. Both engines are mated to the 7-speed automatic gearbox, with the SL350’s 3.5L V-6 sporting a 7,200-rpm redline, better fuel economy and significantly more power than the 272-hp ’08 model.

Absent from initial details is the much-anticipated SL63 AMG featuring the AMG-specific 6.2L DOHC V-8 and 7-speed automatic. The 500-plus-hp sport model will replace the supercharged SL55 AMG and receive numerous performance and luxury upgrades over the standard models. Specifics are expected closer to the car’s March unveiling.

Meanwhile, reports indicate a new ultra-high-performance model, the SL65 AMG Black Series, will join the lineup later this year.

Similar to previous Black Series editions of the SLK and CLK coupe, the track-ready SL variant will be considerably lighter and more powerful than the regular models, with a top speed close to 200 mph (322 km/h).

Power is expected to come from a 670-hp version of the SLR McLaren supercar’s 5.5L supercharged V-8 mated to a unique 7-speed Sportshift automatic transmission, CAR Magazine says.

Extensive use of carbon fiber, such as a fixed-roof hardtop and fenders, will permit larger wheels and tires for improved stability, while also shaving nearly 573 lbs. (260 kg) from the curb weight.

HWA AG of Germany, which builds Mercedes race cars for the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) series, reportedly is helping develop the car and will assist in assembly once the SLR McLaren ends production later this year.

Only 400 examples will be built, with pricing expected to be above that of the standard SL65 AMG’s nearly $200,000 sticker.

msutton@wardsauto.com