Hip and sleek, the SL is no lightweight

FOR a couple of decades, the Mercedes-Benz SL nameplate was one of the great misnomers of the automotive world. German for sport leicht, or ''sport light'', the car actually tipped the scales at more than 1800 kilograms. That hasn't stopped a score of notable drivers from getting behind the wheel.

Since its launch in 1953, the SL has been the preferred mode of transport for Frank Sinatra and Alfred Hitchcock, Stirling Moss, Jeremy Clarkson, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. The list goes on. Indeed, Steve Jobs famously bought a new AMG version twice a year, in order to subvert a California registration loophole requiring plates once a car reaches six months of age.

Once, a gleaming new SL was a relative rarity on Australian roads. Just a handful of the famous 300SL Gullwing - maybe the most celebrated Mercedes of all time - and the beautiful and elegant SL Pagoda of the 1960s were imported for wealthy clients.

The resources boom, coupled with the economic woes of Europe and Japan, have since elevated Australia to become one of the key global markets for Mercedes-Benz. Australia ranks as the third-largest market for the company's exclusive AMG range, and the new SL is pitched directly at Australia's mining millionaires.

Indeed, such is the demand from the west that one of the only two new SL demonstrators in the country is permanently based in Perth.

There may be no better marker of the nation's changing financial fortunes.

Perth Glory owner and mining magnate Tony Sage is among those waiting to test the new car. His current car is an SL63 AMG. ''Growing up, all I wanted was a Ferrari,'' he told Executive Style. ''I eventually got one, but then I drove one of these and pretty much sold the Ferrari straight away. The ride is better, the lines are beautiful, but you can also get through a congested city in it. Quite simply I love it, and am pretty keen to have a look at the new one when I get the chance. It seems they've kept the aggressive lines that most SL drivers like.''

One of the few Australians to drive the latest SL is five-time world Moto GP champion Mick Doohan, who is a long-time AMG ambassador.

Doohan ranks the latest incarnation as the best he has driven. ''The looks are great, but it's the driving of it I love. Whether it's a drive on a favourite bit of road, or pulling up outside a five-star hotel, when you do it in an SL you know you have arrived.''

For the 60th anniversary of the SL, Mercedes has revisited the sport leicht origins of the company's oldest nameplate. The new 2013 model has shed more than 100 kilograms on the old model, thanks to all-aluminium and the use of magnesium in its construction.

According to the managing director of Mercedes-Benz cars, Horst von Sanden, the new SL ''pays homage to its predecessors'', but the DNA of the car remains the same.

''It's a two-seat convertible that doubles as a coupe and delivers a driving experience that is both sports and luxury,'' he said.

''In AMG form it's a wickedly rapid machine that is just as happy doing shopping duty as it is on the open road.''

There are a number of innovations on the latest car, such as washers mounted on the wiper blades to reduce overspray into the interior with the roof down. A retractable glass roof and hardtop changes the SL from a snug coupe to a sybaritic open-air tourer, with airscarf on each seat to keep your neck warm on those cold mornings.

According to Mercedes-Benz communications manager David McCarthy, the SL is among the most important releases of the year for the company.

''We are the inventor of the motor car, and this is our longest-running nameplate, which just happens to be the longest continuous car nameplate in production,'' he told Executive Style.

''The SL has remained the benchmark for a two-seat sports cars that mixes luxury, design, technology and the sort of prestige and presence that is timeless. But the SL has also featured some notable firsts with the first application or direct fuel injection in a road car and, of course, the iconic Gullwing doors.''

This article Hip and sleek, the SL is no lightweight was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.