LOS ANGELES -- Mercedes Benz is looking to add some California fun to its formula of German engineering.
At the Los Angeles Auto Show, the premium car maker unveiled a new 2017 SL roadster -- a pure fun-to-drive car that the company expects to sell for more than $100,000 and hold strong appeal to upscale customers on the west coast.
The new model is amped up in almost all aspects, offering more horsepower than its predecessor, a nine-speed transmission, five driving modes and enhanced driving dynamics as well as an automatic drop top that can fold away even while the car in moving up to a speed of 25 miles per hour. It also sports a new diamond grille and a long muscular hood.
Mercedes revealed the car in Beverly Hills, around the corner from the posh shops on Rodeo Drive, a location representing the types of customers the German automaker is after, said Steve Cannon, CEO of Mercedes Benz USA.
“This is a California car. It’s a performance car. It’s about driving enjoyment,” Cannon said. “In California there’s a very healthy car culture, so there is a place for cars like this here.”
The U.S. is the largest market for the SL, and California is the source of a big chunk of its U.S. sales, Cannon noted. It is expected to compete against cars such as the Porsche 911 and the Aston Martin Vantage.
But selling the car will pose some challenges. The luxury roadster segment collapsed when the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009 wiped out billions in net worth of upscale car buyers. As a result of the new economic reality, ostentatious displays of wealth -- like buying a $100,000 car -- became less socially acceptable, more so in Germany but also in the U.S., Cannon acknowledged.
Sales of pricey, two-seat roadsters like the SL have not yet rebounded, despite the recovery of the broader U.S. auto market. In the first 10 months of this year SL sales are down 18 percent, at 3,384 units. A decade ago, in 2005, Mercedes sold more than 10,000 SLs in the U.S. market.
Cannon said he’s not sure when the roadster segment might recover, but added that the SL serves as a “dream car” that draws customers to other lower-priced models like its CLA entry car and the C-class compact.
“The importance of the SL in our portfolio is not connected to its volume,” Cannon said.
The SL also gives Mercedes an updated model priced over $100,000 -- a range the German automaker aims to dominate.
The 2017 SL is available with a 3.0-liter V6 or 4.7-liter V8 engine, offering 362 and 449 horsepower, respectively. AMG versions are fitted with either a 577-horsepower, 5.5-liter V8, or a massive 6.0 liter V12 with a dizzying horsepower rating of 621.
The car can operate in eco, comfort, sport or sport plus, or an individual mode in which the driver can customize the suspension settings and other driving dynamics.
The diamond radiator grille teased by the German luxury carmaker earlier this month comes standard on all models, as do the redesigned LED headlights that automatically adapt to light and driving conditions.
“The SL is an all-season vehicle that is fully suited for daily use, but above all it is a dream car for those special moments as a couple,” said Ola Källenius, a member of Daimler AG’s management board, in a statement. “Whatever its owner desires -- it fulfills the expectations with technical perfection.”
Front end inspiration
A sportier front end is among the roadster’s more notable updates and features a “diamond” grille, of which similar designs appear on the S-class coupe and A-class compact car. The new LED headlights wrap around the side of the car.
Inspiration for the front-end’s appearance “came from the legendary 300 SL Panamericana racing car with its steeply raked radiator grille,” a Mercedes press release said.
The large, rear taillights are also retouched, and 19-inch, five-spoke wheels come standard on the roadster.
Two new colors -- brilliant blue and designo selenite grey mango -- will also be available for the 2017 model.
The interior, which appears to be largely similar to the 2016 model, can now be customized with “saddle brown” leather, joining Nappa and Exclusive Nappa leather.
The SL comes equipped with Active Brake Assist, known as Collision Prevention Assist Plus in other model series, which can cause the car to automatically brake when a potential collision is detected.
The last major redesign for the SL came during the 2013 model year.