The Mercedes-Benz SL roadster was first launched in 1957 as a lightweight, grand-touring convertible. The SL designation stands for “Sport Leicht,” or Sport Lightweight, which has traditionally been the recipe behind SL Class cars.

As Chris Harris explains, a W198 300SL from 1957 made some 225 horsepower, which was good enough to give the car a top speed of 150 mph. Like the 300SL Gullwing coupe from which it was based, the W198 300SL roadster was probably the most sporting of the series, with more focus on speed than passenger comfort.

The W113 series of SL, launched in 1963, began to change the focus of the SL from sports car to grand touring roadster. Known as the “Pagoda Roof” variant, the 230SL driven by Harris is better suited to cruising a beach road than it is for a high speed run through the canyons or hot-lapping a race track.

Perhaps the most iconic of the SL series cars is the R231, first launched in 1971. Produced for 18 years, this version continued the SL’s evolution away from performance and handling towards ever-increasing passenger comfort.

The new SL seems to blend the best of both worlds, even in base SL 550 trim. It’s got plenty of power, and Harris seems to indicate that it may even have more than the chassis can comfortably handle.

Is the new, 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL the best one yet? Harris seems conflicted about that, but one thing is clear: the new SL still gives a nod to the past, while looking towards the future.