The SL lineage had earned its cultural wages by being a primary definition of elegant droptop motoring since the 1954 190SL and the 1957 300SL roadster. The 1963 230SL, otherwise known by the hallowed moniker “Pagoda Roof,” followed that devastating first act. Come 2008, the last year of the R230 series, the fundamental proportions of the SL63 AMG were almost fine enough to justify redesigning the Fibonacci spiral.
The R231 Mercedes-Benz SL that arrived in 2013 had just one conspicuous fault: the way it looked. Because of this, it meant there was everything wrong with it. In our First Drive of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL, we opened the discussion of its overhauled face with the gentle phrase “a dramatic rework,” then laid straight into bare-knuckle boxing with “we can’t avoid the elephant in the garage: styling.” Not everyone agreed on what kind of beast had taken up residence in the carport, but even Mercedes knew it had scored ein Eigentor – an own-goal.
For 2017 the fix is in, mainly a revised front end that repairs almost all the damage. The grille opening flips 180 degrees to form a conventional trapezoid shape. By having corners that converge upward, the inner edges of the headlights present natural, parallel edges with the central opening. Those alterations, plus the smooth sheetmetal, eliminate the crisscrossing angles and geometric leftovers from the previous-generation SL. The dual LED headlights are also wider than the retiring single-lamp units, the stretch routine making for a more balanced face. The width is accentuated with new lines in the lower bumper, as well as a wide, narrow “A-wing” spread between larger, square-ish intakes. While still not supremely graceful when viewed dead-on, it is a huge and welcome improvement.
Alterations ’round back are limited to the bumper, which gets air extractors along the edges and more rakish trapezoidal tailpipe finishers flanking a diffuser-like insert. The cosmetic efforts increase the convertible’s length from 181.6 inches to 182.3, and drop its height from 51.8 inches to 51.2.
Interior revisions include a new steering wheel design with a round center section, two more ambient lighting options, plus an all-black color scheme for the instrument cluster and dash-mounted analog clock. Saddle brown leather hides join the options list; two USB ports join the connection options in the center console storage area.The nine-speed transmission earned high marks for being so finely tuned that we largely ignored it. The common foible of multitudinous gearsets – dithering through the cogs at low speeds or partial throttle –didn’t occur. A squeeze on the accelerator unlocked a quick drop of two gears, and applying full boot got the transmission to descend three or four gears in a single leap.
Otherwise, the 2017 variant is all SL all the time during cosmopolitan jaunts. A powered wind deflector deploys with a button press but you’ll need to hike the windows to truly calm the cabin. You can raise and lower the roof at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, but the operation must be initiated from a standstill. German law requires the license plate be visible if a car is moving, and the trunk flips back to accommodate the top panels, briefly obscuring the plate, so the result is a compromise between Mercedes and the German federal authorities. A new electronic trunk separator lifts and lowers depending on the roof position to make the most of the 8.5 cubic feet of cargo area.
Perhaps most importantly for the SL buyer, the blue chip convertible still attracts lots of looks from lots of eyes wherever you take it. This time, however, especially among those in the know, it’s for all the right reasons.