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Mercedes SLA details surface

Blueprint: The production SLA will differ from the Vision SLA Roadster Concept (left) that was one of the stars of the 2000 North American International Auto Show, but it will adopt similar compact proportions.

Front-drive two-seater ragtop to give Benz its best ammunition against the Audi TT

26 Aug 2011

MERCEDES-BENZ is preparing a bona fide foe for the popular Audi TT Roadster in the shape of the long-awaited SLA.

Due in 2013 and priced from about $65,000, the two-seater soft-top convertible will be based on the new B-class architecture, meaning front-wheel drive for the first time in a Mercedes roadster.

Among the expected technologies will be all-new 1.6-litre turbo-charged direct-injection four-cylinder petrol engines, mated to Mercedes’ upcoming seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, as well as a six-speed manual transmission.

New 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel models are also thought to be on the SLA agenda, although whether Mercedes-Benz Australia would consider these is yet to be determined.

To help keep weight as well as prices down, a fabric roof will be the only type of weather protection offered.

Differing markedly from the Vision SLA Roadster Concept that was one of the stars of the 2000 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the production SLA will nevertheless adopt similar compact proportions, to give it a familial link with the SLK, SL and SLS convertibles.

While that concept car flagged the company’s desire to build a light convertible based on the outgoing A/B-class architecture, the unique sandwich floor construction that was originally devised to house fuel cell hardware meant that higher-than-ideal weight distribution would have killed any sporty pretensions of a resulting SLA offshoot.

4 center imageLeft: Mercedes-Benz B-class, SLK-class, Audi TT.

While Mercedes will neither confirm nor deny the existence of a sub-SLK roadster destined for production, the company acknowledges that the Audi TT has carved an attractive little niche in the $65,000 to $85,000 end of the sports car market.

Mercedes-Benz Australia senior corporate communications manager David McCarthy said the Audi TT had grown the segment, especially the base 1.8 TFSI model.

“It has attracted the sort of people who would not have considered that sort of sports car before,” he said.

The SLA will be the fourth body variant to come off the new-generation B-class’ MFA platform, following on from the five-door hatchback to debut at Frankfurt next month, a shorter A-class hatch and an all-new three-box four-door sedan.

The latter is destined to be a big seller in the North American and Asian markets where the old B-class would have met with too much buyer resistance as a result of its monobox silhouette.

A compact SUV sprung off the B-class architecture is also thought to be in the pipeline for a 2013 or 2014 release.

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