The SL is a defining vehicle for Mercedes Benz. It represents the core values of comfort, style and effortless power, and was for many years the default choice for successful lawyers and lucky lottery winners. With the outgoing model, introduced in 2003, Mercedes somehow lost its way. Over time the "Sports Light" model had gained significant weight and lost design coherence. As a consequence of the ludicrous Daimler/Chrysler merger costs were slashed, build quality suffered and the electronics were notoriously quirky. Fortunately Mercedes has turned that ship around and after the successful launch of the flagship SLS it's time to introduce a completely new, and it must be said, strikingly handsome version of the iconic SL.

Being a designer for Mercedes Benz these days is like being a Renaissance architect. The technology of the age wrapped in layers of meaning and reference. Mercedes' current design language is a complex and deep creature with multiple references to past glories whilst reflecting today's more aggressive and organic styling. The present E and CLS class vehicles are a triumph, the new M and B class, not so much. One suspects that a great deal of time and effort was expended on the design of the new SL considering its importance to the Mercedes brand and it seems to have paid off.

The compound surfaces are elaborate but retain coherence from front to back. There are hints of the glory days of the "pagoda" SL's of the 60s and 70s but unsurprisingly the most obvious elements are from the SLS - in the form of side and top air intakes complete with metallic 'strakes'. The air vents and general 'jewelry' in the interior are also directly from the SLS. The prominent upright grill and rear wheel-arch "muscle" are consistent with the house styling for Mercedes' more expensive vehicles and the overall effect is luxurious, desirable - almost decadent, in a way that perfectly reflects the SL's mission.

While the SLS is wild, fast, loud and hardcore, the SL is comfortable, smooth, and elegant. While the SLS provides a choice between a hardtop or a light(ish) fabric convertible roof, the SL provides the best of both worlds without compromise - plus a large trunk for the weekend luggage or set of golf clubs. The exterior styling is also practical, providing class-leading aerodynamic efficiency according to Mercedes.

Of course, none of this is of any consequence if the technology under the skin hasn't advanced. As explained in our previous article a month ago, the headline is that the Super Light has finally lost a bit of weight through the extensive use of aluminum. In fact most of the chassis and body is made from the stuff, bonded together using a number of exotic welding techniques. The front and rear are plastic for pedestrian safety and the screen surround is in steel for strength but that's it - resulting in a significant weight saving of over 130 kilos (290 lbs) whilst increasing rigidity over the previous generation.

Motivation is provided in the SL350 by the latest version of Mercedes' 3.5 liter V6 providing 302 bhp (225 kW) and 273 lb ft (370 Nm) while averaging 41.5 mpg UK (6.8 L/100km / 34.5 mpg US). In the SL500 is the new twin-turbo 4.7 liter V8 that generates 429 bhp/516 lb ft (320 kW/700 Nm) and is percolating throughout Mercedes' luxury range. Both engine choices are mated to the standard 7-speed auto box and acceleration figures to 62 mph (100 km/h) are 5.9 and 4.6 seconds respectively. Significant options available are a fully active chassis control system and an "electro-chromic" roof that can be switched electronically between transparent, light shade and dark shade.

There are two new technologies on the car that Mercedes seem particularly proud of. Frontbass uses the rigidity of the front bulkhead to mount bass speakers for increased sound quality and Magic Vision Control integrates water jets into the screen wiper blades that leads to greatly improved visibility.

The cars will be on display in Detroit in January at NAIAS 2012 and order books are being opened now with delivery in the summer. These are likely to be very popular machines so supply will probably be constrained during 2012. Following swiftly by the end of the year will be AMG variants with the familiar SL63 V8 and SL65 V12 designations - it will be interesting to see how Mercedes differentiates these from the SLS as they are going to become very close in price and performance. One suspects the SLS will just get even more expensive.

Here's a little YouTube action of the vehicle from Mercedes-Benz.