A New Mercedes SL Stresses Horsepower and Verve

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Under the long hood is a sophisticated and potent engine. The small cabin is just right for two adults. The tapering trunk is roomy enough to carry golf clubs, or the accouterments for a long weekend in Monaco or Montecito. A convertible top completes the package.

This formula dates to 1954 for the Mercedes SL, a two-door roadster that is the longest-running nameplate in Mercedes-Benz’s production car history. (The initials stand for super leicht, or super-light, a German superlative for sportiness.)

Mercedes recently unveiled an all-new SL, the seventh generation of this model, true to its roots, but with significant modern updates.

“At Mercedes, an SL is pretty much the biggest icon we can get,” said Gorden Wagener, the global chief design officer for Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. “Next to the S-Class, it is at the core of the brand — probably even stronger than the S-Class,” he said, referring to the brand’s benchmark luxury sedan.

This new SL is the first to include all-wheel-drive, as well as four-wheel steering, enhancing stability, performance and maneuverability. It is the first to be developed from the ground up by Mercedes’s go-fast subsidiary, AMG, which helped design the chassis and will provide, at introduction in the United States, a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V-8 with output of 480 horsepower (in the SL 55) or 560 horsepower (in the SL 63). Pricing for the SL 55 is expected to start just around six figures, and the extra horses should cost about 20 percent more.

The new generation is also the first to promise a plug-in hybrid option, which will arrive later in the product cycle and be based on Benz’s Formula 1 race technology, privileging performance over efficiency. And it is the first in decades to feature a power-folding fabric top, instead of a space-robbing retractable hardtop. This freed up room for another long-lost SL feature, a two-plus-two seating configuration, with small rear buckets appropriate for…