Mercedes-Benz extensively redesigned the R 230 series in the spring of 2008. The new generation was introduced at the International Motor Show in Geneva. The proven SL 350, SL 500 and SL 600 were supplemented with the SL 280 with a 3.0-litre V6 engine, giving the range two six-cylinder models. The engine in the SL 350 was radically redesigned. Both engines had the same foundation and had the same engine model number, M272. The range also included the very sporty models SL 63 AMG and SL 65 AMG.
The redesign of the vehicle's front end was the most striking: The new front brought the SL in line with the brand's current design and put the focus on the wider and therefore more prominent radiator grille. A horizontal louver optically elongated the radiator grille in the width, emphasizing the power of the SL, giving it a new and yet surprisingly familiar look. The Mercedes-Benz designers used expressive style elements to build a bridge in the history of the SL, for example, by taking the front design of the earlier roadsters in this series, whose sophistication was expressed by a wide and very distinctive radiator grille.
The designers also paid tribute to their forefather: The two power domes on the bonnet and the gill-like air intakes in the front wings were among the unmistakable features of the 1954 SL 300, which were reinterpreted for the refreshed SL. In addition to the arrow-shaped front, other design elements included the headlights, which extended far into the wings, enhancing the already impressively wide body.
The redesigned rear of the SL emphasized its sporty character even more with a new bumper with diffuser look that strengthened its ties with racing. Combined with the new, trapezoidal exhaust tips, this design element emphasized the body's width.
The SL also underwent significant enhancements in the areas of driving dynamics, safety and comfort. An example is the optional direct steering; a simple and yet ingenious technology that provided for an entirely new cornering experience. The new technology was based on the standard speed-sensitive parameter steering (parameterization) and was particularly valued for its low steering forces at low speeds, for example, when manoeuvring or parking. New was the rack and pinion steering ratio that varied across the steering angle. The ratio increased sharply from a steering angle of 5 degrees, meaning that the driver didn't have to move the steering wheel as much as with constant ratio steering. The car's response was much more direct. At low speeds or when parking, the new technology, together with the speed-sensitive power steering, guaranteed even more comfort than before because steering became easier as the ratio increased.
The four-link front suspension and the multi-link independent rear suspension were part of the innovative chassis technology the SL was equipped with, which also included the Active Body Control (ABC), which was part of the standard equipment in the SL 500 and SL 600. ABC compensated the body's pitching, rolling and vertical movements and adjusted the suspension automatically to the actual driving situation, making the car more agile and stable without compromising on comfort. Mercedes-Benz fine tuned the ABC's shock absorbers, giving a new meaning to this unique blend of sportiness, safety and comfort.
255/45 R 17 wide-base tyres and 17-inch light-alloy wheels were part of the standard equipment in the SL 280 and the SL 350. The SL 500 V8 roadster was equipped with 18-inch wheels and 255/40 R 18 tyres. On the SL 600, 18-inch light-alloy ten-twin-spoke wheels with 255/40 R 18 tyres at the front and 285/35 R 18 tyres at the back underlined the exclusive character of the 12-cylinder model.
The six-cylinder engine in the SL 280 had an output of 170 kW (231 hp), developed a maximum torque of 300 Nm at 2500 rpm, and accelerated the roadster from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.8 seconds. The NEDC fuel consumption was 9.4 litre per 100 km.
For the SL 350, the engineers developed a V6 engine that truly deserved the description 'sports engine': The engineers' sweeping changes to the technology quickened the temperament of the 6-cylinder engine and considerably improved its peppiness. The engine spontaneously followed the driver's foot on the accelerator and revved up to 7200 rpm if it needed to use its reserves. Compared with the previous 3.5‑litre engine, output increased by 16 percent to 232 kW (316 hp) at 6500 rpm and the maximum torque improved by 10 to 360 Nm. This powertrain accelerated the SL 350 from 0 to 100 km in just 6.2 seconds, making it 0.4 seconds faster than the previous SL 350. At 9.9 litres per 100 km, the reworked SL 350 consumed 0.4 litres less (NEDC) than its 200 kW (272 hp) strong predecessor.
The distinctive sporty character of the V-6 powertrain was also audible. Its powerful, sonorous sound was the result of the sound designers' work. The standard 7-speed automatic transmission also played an important role on the one hand by allowing rapid, multiple downshifts while accelerating, and on the other hand by providing a new double-declutching function that activated during manual downshifts. This function not only produced a sporty sound, it also provided comfort and safety because the double clutching matched the rotational speeds of the crankshaft and transmission. The advantage: Smoother gear changing and fewer load transfer effects.
The SL 500 was also available with an eight-cylinder engine, which produced an output of 285 kW (388 hp), and the SL 600 was available with a V12 engine that, thanks to a twin-turbo charger, produced an output of 380 kW (517 hp). The engineers' efforts further reduced fuel consumption by up to 0.4 litres per 100 km.
Mercedes-Benz's tradition of making sports cars with the highest level of safety focused for this SL generation on driving safety at night and in fog. The engineers outfitted the sports car with high-intensity Bi-Xenon headlights, which were more powerful and energy efficient than comparable LED headlights. The optional Intelligent Light System (ILS) offered five different light modes that were tailored to typical driving situations and weather conditions: Country mode, motorway mode, enhanced fog lights, and active curve illumination. The variable Bi-Xenon headlights activated the different light modes automatically. Motorway mode was activated in two stages at 90 km/h, increasing the driver's visibility by up to 60 percent.
Active curve illumination followed the steering angle and pivoted the headlights to the side when entering a bend, enabling the driver to see some 25 metres further into a long curve than with conventional dipped beams. Cornering light was automatically activated at speeds below 70 km/h when the driver steered or indicated. This mode not only increased safety when cornering or turning at crossings, it was also active when cornering at low speed and illuminated the side of the carriageway. The enhanced fog lights illuminated the verges, making it easier for drivers to get their bearings.
Inside the vehicle, the instrument cluster was entirely redesigned. The speedometer and tachometer were given a classic chronometer look with a new and incredibly accurate instrument dial. Switching on the engine was enough to catch the driver's attention: The red needles on the speedometer and the tachometer rotated once around the dials from their six o'clock position to their maximum values and returned to their zero positions.
A rich range of colours and materials enabled drivers to furnish the passenger compartment to their individual taste. Two types of leather, five different trims in aluminium or exotic wood, and five colour combinations were available. The passenger compartment looked particularly classy and luxurious in the new natural beige/black colour composition combined with the equally new shiny walnut trims.
The SL 600 underscored its excellent standing in the SL range more than ever before. Inside the car, passengers were treated to exquisitely soft Napa leather and fine poplar trims. V12 emblems on the backrests, centre steering wheel spoke and door sills, and the uniquely designed door panels rounded off the 12-cylinder's refined ambiance. Outside, the flagship SL model stood out with its exclusive 18-inch ten-twin-spoke light-alloy wheels and discreet yet highly effective details such as the side air outlets' matt-silver louvers and the centre divider in the trapezoidal exhaust tips. Mercedes-Benz upgraded the already extensive standard equipment package by adding the KEYLESS‑GO system and a remote-locking boot lid.
Another innovation was added to the SL's long list of comfort systems: AIRSCARF®. Developed and patented by Mercedes‑Benz, the neck-level heating distributed warm air through the head restraints at the level of the neck, enveloping the driver and passenger in an invisible 'scarf', which is why is was called AIRSCARF®. This invention extended the open-air driving season into the winter months because AIRSCARF® gave passengers the warmth they needed.
The engineers enhanced the optional heating system, which premiered in the SLK roadster in 2004, in the refreshed SL generation. Blowers and heater were integrated in the head restraints of the integral seats: Two small vents drew in air from behind the head restraints and guided it through an electrical heating element. Warm air quickly flowed out through special vents in the front of the head restraints, warming the occupants' head and neck. The driver and passenger could preselect the heating temperature with a three-stage switch in the door panel. When the roof was open, the system would automatically regulate the temperature based on the travelling speed.
The new SL generation was also future-ready in terms of information, entertainment and communication technology: Mercedes‑Benz had enhanced the COMAND system and added new functionality. The multimedia device now combined the dual-tuner car radio, telephone controls, CD/DVD changer and a slot for SD memory cards. New were also the Bluetooth interface that connected mobile phones wirelessly to the standard hands-free system, and the large colour display (6.5 inch) that improved user friendliness and also served as a high-resolution screen for DVD playback (for safety reasons, DVD playback was deactivated when the car was moving).
The optional COMAND APS gave Mercedes-Benz customers even more high-tech electronics to play with. COMAND APS was equipped with a Pan-European navigation system that calculated routes at the speed of a rocket because the data were stored on a hard drive. Music could be played back from the integrated six-disc CD/DVD changer or the Music Register, which stored some 1,000 MP3 tracks. Song titles and artists were recognized by a database (Gracenote) and automatically displayed on the colour display.
The standard COMAND APS package also included the latest LINGUATRONIC voice-control system, which could be used to control the navigation, telephone and audio systems with words. The benefit: Drivers no longer had to spell out their commands, but could speak their destination, radio station, or the name of a person in the telephone book.
iPods, USB sticks and other external audio devices could be connected to the COMAND system for the first time thanks to a newly developed, optional universal media interface in the centre console, which was more than just an electronic 'socket'. The Universal Consumer Interface (UCI) included a control device that linked external music storage devices to the SL's on-board electronics and control system. Songs on the iPod would also display in the instrument cluster and on the COMAND display in the centre console, and were easy to browse and select using the buttons on the multifunction steering wheel. The device's battery was also charged while it was plugged into the UCI.
For a lavish in-car music experience, Mercedes-Benz optionally equipped the new-generation SL with the Harman Kardon® Logic7® sound system, which was also installed in the S-Class and whose qualities were proven in numerous tests. The sound system had an output of 510 watts and transformed the inside of the SL into a mobile concert hall - even when the vario roof was open - thanks to ten high-performance speakers and state-of-the-art surround-sound technology.
The new top-of-the-range sports models SL 63 AMG and SL 65 AMG were introduced in the spring of 2008. The SL 63 AMG had a naturally aspirated V8 engine (M 156) with an output of 386 kW (525 hp) and a torque of 630 Nm. New in this model was the AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 7-speed sports transmission, which had a wet start-up clutch instead of a torque converter, connecting it directly to the transmission. MCT stands for 'Multi-Clutch Technology', indicating that the gears were shifted exclusively by coupling elements. With this drive combination and its new, fine-tuned and even more agile AMG sports chassis with Active Body Control, the SL 63 AMG set new standards in the open-top sports car segment.
The new AMG DRIVE UNIT was the heart of the AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT and all of the driving dynamic functions. Gears were changed with the leather/carbon AMG selector lever or shift paddles on the AMG steering wheel. To the left of the selector lever was the electronic rotary switch, which was used to select the four driving programmes and activate the new race start function. Below that, there were three more buttons with additional functions: The first button controlled the ESPÒ, the second the ABC. The third button with AMG logo was used to store the selected drive programme and the chassis setup. A short press of the button displayed the configuration options, a longer press enabled the desired setting to be configured. The race start function took driving dynamics to an entirely new level: It enabled the driver to call on maximum acceleration, while ensuring the best possible wheel traction.
Optimal deceleration was guaranteed by AMG's high-performance front-axle brake system with internally ventilated and perforated composite brake discs (360 x 36 mm) with 6-piston aluminium fixed callipers, and on the rear axle internally ventilated and perforated composite brake discs (330 x 36 mm) with 4-piston fixed callipers.
The body design also displayed the SL 63 AMG's special standing. The striking front apron was more arrowed, had a black-coated radiator grille, enlarged cooling air intakes and a black-coated lower strut bar. The distinct AMG bonnet was a clear indication of the unique drive package it contained. Clouded, framed Bi‑Xenon headlights as well as large, round, outward facing, fog lights set in chrome emphasized the vehicle's width. The hot air produced by the additional engine cooler in the wheel arch escaped through the side air outlets in the front apron. Additional highlights included the door mirrors with LED indicators in arrow look and the matt-silver coated AMG trims on the front wings with '6.3 AMG' lettering. The side skirts and the brawny AMG rear skirt with the large black diffuser were also part of AMG's styling. The AMG sports exhaust and two chrome-plated twin tailpipes were optical and acoustic head turners. The rear lip spoiler guaranteed that uplift was reduced especially at high speeds.
In the passenger compartment, the new AMG ergonomic 3-spoke sports steering wheel with aluminium AMG shift paddles was the centre of attention. The specially shaped grip area was covered with perforated leather. A silver clasp embellished the vertical spoke. Behind the steering wheel was the new Napa leather AMG instrument cluster shroud with '6.3 V8' lettering on the tachometer and decorative double stitching above the dials. The main menu that was integrated in the instrument cluster not only showed the current gear and upshift recommendations, the 'RACETIMER', which displayed lap times, and information about the temperature of the engine oil and the battery voltage, but also the active driving programme with Race Start and the selected ESPÒ mode.
The standard equipment included beautiful Napa leather upholstery, carbon-graphite trims as well as the electrically adjustable AMG sports seats with multi-contour and memory function, seat heating, AMG-exclusive perforation, special seat pattern and AMG insignia.
A year later, the SL 63 AMG was paid a special tribute when it was nominated the Official F1TM Safety Car for the 2009 Formula One season.
The SL 65 AMG was also introduced in 2008 at the same time that the SL 63 AMG was nominated. With an output of 450 kW (612 hp) and 1000 Nm strong AMG 6-litre twin-turbo engine (M 120), the V12 offered an unparalleled driving experience. It accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.2 seconds and its maximum speed was 250 km/h (electronically limited). The SL 65 AMG's transmission was handled by the AMG SPEEDSHIFT 5-speed automatic transmission. The limited-slip differential with a 30 percent lockup guaranteed optimal traction.
Optically, the top-of-the-range AMG V12 distinguished itself from the SL 63 AMG by a matt-silver coated lower strut bar in the front apron, 'V12 Biturbo' lettering on the matt-silver coated embellishments on the front wings as well as the AMG sports exhaust with two chrome twin tailpipes in typical V12 design. The new AMG styling, which included the AMG bonnet and AMG lip spoiler, were part of the 12-cylinder's standard equipment. The new forged 19-inch AMG twin-spoke light-alloy wheels with titanium-grey polished surface were equipped with 255/35 R 19 tyres on the front axle and 285/30 R 19 tyres on the rear axle.
A generously dimensioned AMG high-performance composite brake system was fitted on both axles. The front was fitted with 390 x 36 mm brake discs, while the rear handled the deceleration with 360 x 26 mm brake discs.
The SL 65 AMG's sports seats and door panels were fitted with exclusive Napa leather in the new AMG V12 diamond pattern. The new AMG instrument cluster was embellished with 'V12 Biturbo' lettering on the tachometer. Like its brother, the SL 65 AMG was equipped with the AMG ergonomic 3-spoke sports steering wheel with aluminium shift paddles.
In the summer of 2008, the brand presented the special SL 65 AMG Black Series. It had an AMG 6-litre V12 twin-turbo motor with an output of 493 kW (670 hp) and a torque of 1000 Nm. Its features are described in a separate article.
In January 2010, Mercedes-Benz introduced the special SL Night Edition with a stylish interior. This special edition cost an additional €3,700 to €5,200 based on the chosen engine. The optional, new and specially developed matt paint 'magno night black' (surcharge: emphasized the car's sports look. Two-tone, high-sheen 19-inch AMG five-spoke light-alloy wheels with sliver-coated brake callipers on the front axle with Mercedes-Benz logo, and smoked headlights and rear lights underlined the special edition's exclusive character. An emblem on the wing identified the Night Edition.
Inside, black Napa leather and shiny chrome trims created striking and exciting contrasts in many of the details. The redesigned seats had tapered seams and silver contrast elements. The sports steering wheel, selector lever and roof lining were all in black. The trims on the wind deflector were shiny and the AIRSCARF® vents silver, which enveloped the driver with warm air at the neck level when driving with the top down in cool weather.