With the switch to a new generation in summer 2001, the SL remained true to its successful tradition of combining power, comfort and safety, and was also significantly enhanced in terms of technology, design and equipment. The world premiere of the new SL (R 230) in Hamburg opened a new and exciting chapter in the history of the SL. Optionally available were innovative assistant systems such as the autonomous intelligent cruise control DISTRONIC or the COMAND display and operating system. In contrast to its predecessors, this SL carried its rigid roof with it at all times. The Varioroof could be opened and closed in under 16 seconds at the touch of a button – even by remote control – and whether open or closed it gave the car an extremely elegant appearance. Thanks to the sophisticated folding mechanism, the three-part roof was stowed economically and hidden from view in the upper part of the luggage compartment.
To begin with only the SL 500 was available at market launch, followed in 2002 by the SL 350. In January 2003 Mercedes-Benz presented the SL 600, featuring a 500 hp (368 kW) 5.5-litre V12 biturbo engine. Equipped with a V8 power unit, the SL 55 AMG offered the SL customer the same output and a hitherto unprecedented level of dynamic driving.