Mercedes-Benz has today unveiled the fifth generation of its SL-Class (pictured below), which features an innovative new high-strength folding roof.
The roof is split into three sections, the aluminium roof panel, strengthened C-pillars and the rear windscreen, made of four millimetre thick safety glass. When opened or closed the rear screen rotates to reduce the amount of boot space taken by the folded roof. Opening or closing takes 16 seconds, compared to 25 seconds for the current SLK-Class roadster.
An optional glass-topped 'panoramic roof' will be available from the end of 2002.
A second innovation is the Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC), the world's first 'brake by wire' system fitted to a car. The brake pedal is connected electrically to the main brake cylinder removing the need for a vacuum-powered brake booster. So the driver still 'feels' the brakes, a simulator uses spring pressure and hydraulics to give pedal pressure. SBC gives quicker reaction times than a conventional system, therefore shorter stopping distances (3% quicker at 70mph says Mercedes). In wet conditions SBC will gently apply the brakes to dry the discs to improve performance. The function isn't noticeable to the driver.
The first SL to be launched is the 306bhp five litre V8 engined SL 500. It will be available in the UK from April 2002, followed later in the year by the SL 55 AMG. A V6 will follow at the end of 2002, with a bi-turbo V12 in mid 2003.
UK prices are likely to be 5% higher than current models.
Mercedes expects to sell 1,400 SL's in 2002, mainly SL 500s, with volumes increasing to 1,800 annually.