Vehicle: Vision SLA
When: January 2000
Where: North American International Auto Show, Detroit
What: Compact roadster
Drivetrain: Four-stroke, four-cylinder petrol engine, 1.9 litre displacement, 92 kW (125 hp), front-wheel drive, five-speed manual transmission
Lightweight hybrid bodywork consisting of aluminium sections and panels and high-grade plastics
LED rear light clusters
Introduced 2003 in the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (C 199)
LED turn signals Introduced 2003 in the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (C 199)
Carbon fibre bucket seats
Introduced 2003 in the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren (C 199)
‘Arousing curiosity … firing the emotions … thinking ahead … anticipating the future and translating new ideas into reality – the designers at the Mercedes Technology Centre in Sindelfingen certainly have an interesting job. Their “present” is the future. And sometimes they give us glimpses of that future by bringing out concept cars – cars which show us how we will be getting around in a number of years’ time. The new Vision SLA is one such glimpse.’
This was how Mercedes-Benz introduced the Vision SLA when it made its public debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2000. A small roadster based on the A-Class, the Vision SLA’s aim was to translate the appeal and driving enjoyment of the SL series into an altogether smaller segment.
Reflecting its A-Class parentage Vision SLA had compact dimensions, with an exterior length of 3.77 metres promising a nippy driving experience – the SLK (R 170) was 20 centimetres longer, the SL (R 230) no less than 73 centimetres longer. Key design features of the compact roadster concept included powerfully sculpted fenders, a sharply raked windshield, large doors and a gently slanting rear in the style of the legendary Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows. Two particularly innovative features were a prominent front fin and a V-shaped nose borrowed from the SLR high-performance sports car, which incorporated a centrally positioned Mercedes star.
The bodywork sheltered advanced Mercedes-Benz engineering. A 1.9 litre engine developing a maximum output of 92 kW (125 hp) and maximum torque of 180 newton metres at 4000 rpm translated into an attractive performance , with a 0-100 km/h sprint time of 7.9 seconds and a top speed of 209 km/h. High active safety standards meanwhile were provided by the A-Class-derived, slightly modified chassis with Electronic Stability Program (ESPÒ) and Brake Assist.
With the bodywork, the staff from the advanced engineering and research departments had broken new ground. The Vision SLA had an innovative hybrid body structure consisting of aluminium sections and panels and high-grade plastics. This lightweight construction allowed Vision SLA to tip the scales at just 950 kilograms (DIN unladen weight).
The A-Class influence could be seen in the safety concept too. Although the open-top two-seater wasn't built on the sandwich principle, in the event of a serious front-end impact it used the same bright idea as the A-Class of shunting the engine out of the way underneath the passenger compartment. The positioning of the engine at an angle ensured that in an impact it would slide down along the sturdy front floor panel without intruding into the passenger compartment. This gave Vision SLA the same high safety standards as larger Mercedes-Benz sedans. Roll-over protection was provided by sturdy roll-over bars behind the seats and by a reinforced front windshield frame.
Once again, lighting was an important development focus. At the rear, 30 high-performance LEDs, with prisms to disperse the light, provided a more effective rear warning system than conventional bulbs, particularly in conditions of poor visibility. It took the form of vertical bands. The powerful LED turn signals, housed on fins inside the light housings, were likewise innovative and designed to attract attention. High-performance LEDs were also used for the brake lights, which were mounted in the rear bumper and in the rear crossbar on the trunk lid. Evenly dispersed road illumination and a long beam range were provided by state-of-the-art xenon projector-beam headlamps which used two separate headlamps for the dipped beam and the high beam.
At the front, the transparent ends of a frontal fin spanning the full width of the car incorporated yellow high-performance LED turn signals, which were supplemented by repeater LEDs in the exterior mirror casings.
Inside, the accent was on lightweight design. The technical aspects were woven neatly together with styling features suggesting lightness and transparency, such as perforated sheet metal, aluminium rotary controls and aluminium instrument cylinders. Carbon fibre bucket seats, adopted in slightly modified form from the Vision SLR, continued the theme – they were approximately 25 per cent lighter than similarly specified conventional car seats.
The cockpit recalled sports cars and tourers of earlier years. The chronometer-style instruments normally supplied data only on speed, rpm, oil pressure, and fuel level. However, other displays appeared behind the dials when needed, in the event of a malfunction.
In all respects Vision SLA put the accent on a natural and unfiltered motoring experience. This was at the heart of this roadster’s charm and was reflected in the interior design. Carpeting and fabric upholstery had been dispensed with in favour of painted metal surfaces and dark brown, specially supplied saddle-quality leather. This leather was tanned using only vegetable matter, thus helping to preserve its very special character. A natural material with a strong air of quality, hard-wearing and also very breathable, it was used on the dashboard, on the insides of the doors and in areas exposed to frequent occupant contact, such as the steering wheel, the seat surfaces, the armrests in the doors and the floor. The cut edges were deliberately left visible, with light-coloured stitching providing a colour contrast and hand-finished effect.