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But the past decade has seen German carmakers on a seemingly endless hunt to fill every niche with a car. To make a model suited for the lifestyle of every man, woman, child, and dog on Earth. This trend has led to stilted hunchbacks (the X6), sedans turned to into coupes turned into sedans (the Gran Coupes), and the rethinking of naming structures across the board to accommodate all of our new mechanical friends.
So with the recent spy shots of the upcoming E-Class convertible and debut of the showstopping Mercedes-AMG GT Roadsters, I think it's time for a roadster roll call - an accounting of all the open-top cars Mercedes has on the plate for the second half of this decade. All six of them.
First we have the SLK. I mean SLC. I mean - wouldn't SLA make more sense? It seems to be more of an "A" car (A/CLA/GLA-Class) to me size-wise, but with an introductory $48k for the SLC300, decidedly not price-wise. Anyway, the SLC-Class is ostensibly a mini-SL born out of the 90s' love affair with the Miata. Even though it's a low-volume model, this two-seater seems to have its role in the Mercedes lineup fairly secured. It's the smallest drop-top from MB, and plays to the fans of tiny roadsters of the past, but who value leather and gadgets over adding lightness.
Based on the AMG GT, the Motor Trend Best Driver's Car competition winner from last year, the next and possibly most exciting tan-accelerator of the bunch is the AMG GT Roadster. Brand new and thus far not reviewed by journalists, it's almost assured to be a hit based on what we already know about the coupe versions. This is a sports car through and through, and is sure to be the most ruthless roofless set of wheels in the lineup. Performance before luxury, but with double helpings of both. Possibly the spiritual successor to the original SL?
The next two spots on the list go to the (upcoming) C-Class and (outgoing) E-Class convertibles, which approach and crest 4,000 lbs respectively. These are not sports cars. They both have four seats, and they're based on models that also exist as sedans, coupes, and station wagons. There are no specs available specifically for the upcoming open-air E, but for every interior passenger measurement, the outgoing E-Class convertible has less space than the upcoming C rag-top. Interesting. A fairer comparison will be possible in a year or so, when the latest open-air E-Class should better be able to split the difference between the C drop-top and our next star-gazer, the S-Class convertible.
Starting at a hair-frizzying $131k and overtaking a quarter-million dollars for the V12-sporting S65 variant, this is the king of the hill for two-door luxury at Mercedes. They pulled out all the stops for this one, equipping it like the brand-wide flagship S-Class sedan it's based on. The S is a long, wide, sleek operator, even if it's lost a bit of the visual appeal of its coupe sister. It truly lives up to its S-Class name, and competes not with the likes of BMW or Audi, but arguably with Bentley and Rolls-Royce.
So where does that leave the longest running member of this club, the SL. It shares its engines with the S-Class hairdo-assassins but with a twenty grand reduction in cost across the board, and a V6 entry model at 87 grand which the S does not have. Is the S-Class the new SL? Is the AMG GT the new SL? In different ways, they both are. The AMG GT is Mercedes's ultimate expression of two-door performance and the S-Class is the same for luxury, though the middle section on those Venn diagrams would be as rotund as Jeremy Clarkson's.
There will be people who buy an SL because they've always bought an SL and that's enough for them. It has a historical nameplate and it's not like that because the open-roof Mercedes marketplace is crowded that any one of them has become an undesirable or substandard option. Even if it's widely agreed that the recent SL is the most, ahem, "challenged" in the looks department.
And personally, I think the AMG GT Roadsters are more likely to bring outsiders into the brand than cannibalize SL sales as Mercedes hasn't recently had an open-top car like the GT. But the S-Class convertible is similar to the SL. Yes, the de-ceilinged S550 has 900 lbs and 16 inches of length on the SL550 but are the acceleration figures significantly different? Not at all. Is parking going to be harder in the S than the SL? That's what valets are for.
I think, when presented with the facts and when charmed by their looks, it's the S-Class convertible that's unequivocally assumed the role of two-door luxury flagship in presence, price, and opulence. Compared to it, the SL seems like a black sheep.
So how many roofless two-doors are too many? The real answer to that question lies in sales numbers, I imagine. Did Mercedes really need to take a can opener to three different four-seaters in addition to their three two-seat roadsters? They do if they're profitable! And any car Mercedes has fit a V12 into lately is a textbook example of that very thing. Let's revisit this topic in a few years to see how all six cousins have fared, if all of them have made it, and who's on top. For now, though, that throne has been abdicated by the SL. The King is dead! Long live the King!