(© Rick Dole)

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL

Mercedes-Benz has some good momentum at the moment, having just recorded the highest yearly U.S. sales (264,460 vehicles) in its 125-year history — impressive considering it did so in a shaky economy.

It also launched six new vehicles in 2011, including volume sellers such as the C-Class and halo cars such as the SLS AMG Roadster. That's the most new vehicles Mercedes has ever launched in a single year.

It doesn't look as if Mercedes is going to slow down in 2012, as it unveiled three new models last night here at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As is typical, the German automaker is playing simultaneously to opposite ends of the market by unveiling a pair of hybrid sedans next to a sporty convertible. It's an appropriately diplomatic strategy for a luxury car company, which must uphold performance standards while pursuing better fuel economy and lower emissions.

View Pictures:  New Mercedes-Benz SL


  (© NAIAS 2012)

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SL

Click to enlarge picture2013 Mercedes-Benz SL (© Rick Dole)

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL

Click to enlarge picture2013 Mercedes-Benz SL (© Rick Dole)

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL

Click to enlarge picture2013 Mercedes-Benz SL (© Rick Dole)

2013 Mercedes-Benz SL

What is it? One of Mercedes' most important cars in terms of corporate image. Since the original debuted in 1952, this 2-seat convertible has enhanced the brand's mystique and filled country-club parking lots everywhere. But it's not a hard-core sports car like a Ferrari or Porsche; this drop-top is more of a boulevard cruiser, unless an AMG badge is on the trunk.
What's hot? The car's underlying structure and body panels are made almost entirely of aluminum. The frame for the folding hardtop is magnesium. Compared with the previous model, which used steel for much of its structure, the 2013 SL550 weighs 275 pounds less, yet is nearly 2 inches longer and more than 2 inches wider. The car's twin-turbo V8 is more powerful than the engine it replaces and — thanks to technology such as a start/stop function, which powers the engine down during temporary stops — it's also more fuel-efficient. The engine puts out 429 horsepower, a 12 percent increase. Torque is up 32 percent, to 516 lb-ft. A fancifully named Magic Sky Control glass roof panel is optional and switches from transparent to opaque at the push of a button.
What's not? As Mercedes pursues younger customers with bolder design, it appears to be shedding some of the understated elegance that has long been a hallmark of the SL roadster.
How much and when? The SL550 will hit dealerships this spring. Pricing has yet to be announced, but it will probably cost about what the 2012 model, which starts at $103,650.
MSN Autos' verdict: The new SL upholds Mercedes' trend-setting tradition. Although high-end cars have used aluminum in their construction for some time, no production car thus far has used it so pervasively — barring exotic sports cars that cost more and are made in fewer numbers. But the new SL has much more going for it than just weight savings. It will be a hit.


2013 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Hybrids

Click to enlarge pictureMercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid (© Rick Wait)

Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid

Click to enlarge pictureMercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid (© Rick Wait)

Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid

Click to enlarge pictureMercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid (© Rick Wait)

Mercedes-Benz E300 BlueTEC Hybrid

What is it? Two new hybrid versions — one gasoline, one diesel — of Mercedes' midsize sedan.
What's hot? The E300 BlueTec Hybrid has a 4-cylinder diesel engine good for 201 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The electric motor adds 27 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. That means this fuel-sipping luxury car has impressive performance credentials: 228 horsepower and a mind-boggling 553 lb-ft of torque, all told. That last figure is worthy of a supercar, for crying out loud. The E300 BlueTec Hybrid should get 15 percent better fuel economy than the E250 diesel currently sold in Europe.

The E400 Hybrid uses a V6 gasoline engine that puts out 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. With the same electric motor as in the E300 BlueTec Hybrid, total output is 329 horses and 457 lb-ft of torque. Estimated fuel consumption is 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway/27 mpg combined. Neither of the two hybrid models compromises passenger or cargo space to incorporate the electric motor and battery pack.
What's not? Hybrids bring added cost and complexity to get better fuel economy, although Mercedes says, "The extra cost involved is only moderate."
How much and when? The gas-powered E400 Hybrid will go on sale sometime in the second half of 2013. No word yet on pricing or whether the U.S. will see the diesel hybrid.
MSN Autos' verdict: Mercedes is looking to muscle in on Lexus' monopoly of luxury hybrids. On paper, the Germans have a performance advantage. How much that plays into converting Lexus loyalists and current Mercedes owners that drive something other than a hybrid will be interesting to watch.

Matthew de Paula wanted to be an automotive journalist ever since reading his first car magazine in grade school. After a brief stint writing about finance, he helped launch ForbesAutos.com and became the site's editor in 2006. Matthew now freelances for various outlets.