The Mercedes-Benz SL has some fabulously successful styles in its past, and some more subdued looks tucked a little deeper back in its closet. The sensational gullwings and pagoda-roof SLs have been balanced out over time with duller efforts like the Dallas-era cars, and the Sacco-penned bank vaults from the early 1990s. The timeless pieces in the collection are immediately obvious when you see the entire range on display in one place, as Mercedes provided for us on a first drive of the 2013 model.
The newest generation fits somewhere in the middle, since it corrects some of the bigger faults of the recent past. New European regulations for pedestrian crash protection require taller front ends--which on the SL means the restoration of a more prominent front end, one more directly linked to those Sixties SLs, one that turns its profile more formal. It's more imposing, but doesn't get too weighty. The negative spaces of the wide grille and deep air inlets relieves some of that, and some of the tension wrinkled in by all the creases at the corners is ironed out by wide angles of LED running lights. Best from the front quarters, the SL's doors are stamped with straked C-scoops that pierce the door handles. From the rear, the SL has a lot in common with the SLK and SLS coupes and roadsters: with the top up, the slope of the roofline and teardrop-shaped taillamps are out of balance with the front end, but with the top down, they fall more smoothly into line.
Inside, the two-seat cockpit feels more technical, more masculine in its execution than the former SL. Four gimbaled vents are chrome-tipped with four-pointed stars, and they anchor the dash, split up here and there by a pair of cut-tube gauges, a large TFT screen, an optional hooded analog clock, and a band of warm polished wood--unless it's been upgraded to a lighter tone, or stained a darker color, or changed out entirely for aluminum. The leather's stitched with twin needles, the steering wheel's gone slightly flat at its bottom, there's enough metallic trim to embarrass an Audi, and most noticeably, the shifter has shrunk to a nubbin. Who needs another power totem at this price point?