Mercedes-Benz’s secret plans for a front-engined sports car positioned beneath the SLS have progressed to a decisive phase, according to officials from the German maker.
They’ve confirmed to Autocar that the new V8-powered two-seater has been granted an official codename — traditionally the first step towards intensive development and a production future.
The new sports car is scheduled for launch in 2014 and has a projected price of £75,000. The evocatively styled two-door has been conceived in a joint exercise between Mercedes-Benz’s regular passenger car department and its performance car division, AMG.
AMG is set to assume responsibility for the car’s engineering, development and testing in a move mirroring that of the SLS coupé and its forthcoming roadster sibling.
High-ranking Mercedes-Benz officials already refer to the new model as the SLC — a name last used on a fixed-roofed version of the fourth-generation SL, produced between 1971 and 1981.
Unlike that car, though, the modern-day SLC is set to receive its own unique exterior and interior design. The coupé version, depicted here, will be followed in 2016 by a fabric-roofed roadster variant.
However, in a move aimed at ensuring that its development and production costs are kept in check, the new SLC is earmarked to share various mechanical and electrical components with next year’s seventh-generation SL.
Buoyed by the success of the SLS — both commercially and in terms of image building for the rest of the range — Mercedes-Benz’s management sees the SLC as the next logical step in cementing plans for a two-tier line-up of performance cars wearing the three-pointed star: those based on regular models and a more exclusive line-up of dedicated cars.
One of the key rivals for the SLC will be the Porsche 911. Members of the AMG engineering team involved in the early development strategy describe the 911 Carrera S as being an obvious dynamic benchmark. But they’ve also revealed that the Aston Martin V8 Vantage is among a group of cars already pinpointed as competitors. In the UK, the 911 Carrera S is priced at £76,172.
There was speculation that Mercedes had ditched early plans to provide the car with a front-engined layout in favour of a mid-engined architecture. However, this has been strenuously denied by high-ranking sources.
“Mercedes-Benz has no history of mid-engined road cars,” said an insider. “We have occasionally toyed with the idea in various concept cars. But when you look back, the company is defined by its front-engined sports cars, such as the original SL.”
The styling of the SLC has been developed by a close-knit group of in-house designers at the company’s Sindelfingen studio near Stuttgart. Among those involved is British-born designer Mark Featherstone, who was part of the team that worked on the forceful looks of the SLS.
Described as being “contemporary retro” in appearance, the SLC is expected to adopt the visual tone of the original SL, with a distinctive cab-back silhouette that features an elongated nose section and a relatively short rear. It is also expected to have wide tracks and exaggerated wheel arch treatment.
Despite obvious similarities to the SLS, the SLC is said to be more compact overall, with length running to not much more than 4.5 metres.
We’re unlikely to see the SLC or a concept car hinting at its appearance for at least another two years, but those privy to its design suggest that it is every bit as arresting as the SLS.
“It is going to make the 911 seem old-fashioned,” said one source, describing not only its appearance but also its construction, which centres around a lightweight aluminium structure similar to that used by the SLS.
The body of the new coupé is expected to include a combination of aluminium and carbonfibre panels, which should give it a kerb weight considerably lighter than the 1620kg of the larger SLS.
Power for the 911 rival is expected to come from a naturally aspirated version of AMG’s latest ‘M157’ engine. This 90-degree 5.5-litre V8 is said to be good for at least 420bhp in standard guise. That is 149bhp less than the naturally aspirated 6.3-litre V8 used in the SLS, but it is still sufficient to trump the latest version of Porsche’s naturally aspirated 3.8-litre flat six, as launched in the 911 GTS, by 16bhp.
Even so, it will be the high levels of torque at low engine revs that will likely define the rear-wheel-drive SLC’s on-road character. Expect something in the region of 405lb ft. By way of comparison, the 911 GTS has a more modest 309lb ft.
It is still conceivable that Mercedes will opt for the older 6.2-litre ‘M156’ engine — but stringent EU6 emissions regulations mean this is now the less likely option.
The transmission will be a reworked version of the SLS’s six-speed, dual-clutch transaxle gearbox, equipped with a lighter aluminium housing and revised electronics for quicker shifts.