The gull-wings are gone, so instead of visual flair, this six-figure, super sports car is all about a symphonic aural experience - and high-speed
Disclosure: Travel to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France, accommodations, meals, test vehicles and a pre-determined driving route were provided to the writer by the automaker.
I sat staring at my blinking cursor for a long while before writing this. What we have here is a very special super Mercedes, so a witty and/or insightful lead seemed the order of the day. There was a coffee break, a derailment to YouTube and a chat on the phone with my mom - and still nothing materialized.
Then, an epiphany: There really are no pithy prose that can properly introduce this SLS AMG Roadster. Edited down, we are on about a $200,000-plus, open-top, two-seat, hand-built exotic with an eye-bugging 571 horsepower on tap. No Thesaurus-wielding car scribe is up to the task of encapsulating this much automotive awesome into a couple of paragraphs. Moving on then…
The SLS AMG Roadster is of course, a follow-up to the flagship high-performance coupe launched in 2009 to much fanfare. When we first heard of the ragtop's impending arrival, there were more than a few eyebrows raised around the office. Against worthy rivals from Audi, Aston Martin and Lamborghini, the SLS' big esthetic trump was those trademark gull-wing doors, which made for the grandest of entrances. Now they'd been looped off and analog units installed. The result is decidedly much less dramatic to gaze upon.
Then we pressed the start button.
The big win for this SLS AMG Roadster over its coupe counterpart is the aural experience at the wheels. Its powertrain growls, roars, pings and pops with guttural allure. If a Grammy-award winning automotive soundtracks is your want, this is a super sports car concerto that contests even Ferrari.
Credit goes to the front-mid-mounted 6.3-litre V8 stuffed under the AMG's hood. It's unchanged from the fixed-roof SLS and still makes - whoa - 571 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Power from the hand-built engine, which uses dry sump lubrication just like a racing car, is sent rearward via a lightweight carbon-fibre driveshaft. The gearbox is still rear-mounted to keep the Benz's tonnage balanced and is that familiar seven-speed dual-clutch design. It's one of the best on the planet in terms of how quickly it swaps cogs and manages aggressive downshifts when you click those paddle shifters. A launch control algorithm brings 0-100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds (identical to the coupe's number) and a where-the-heck-can-I-hit-this in Canada? top speed of 317 km/h.
Bowing in on the Roadster is the new, optional AMG Ride Control system, which swaps out the standard aluminum double wishbone suspension for a setup with three-level, electronically controlled, damping. Mix this with the gearbox's four different driving modes and the SLS can go from cruiser to bruiser via some fancy computer controllers. An automatically extending rear spoiler, optional ceramic brakes and forged wheels round out the sporting components.
Some critics have complained that the SLS AMG coupe never drove with the precision promised by Mercedes-Benz. I never found the car lacking in the handling department, but for what it's worth, the AMG Ride Control system does seem to dial the car in a degree more for the hardcore driving enthusiast.
Because the SLS Roadster was developed alongside the Coupe, there was no need for band-aid solutions to stiffen the drop top’s aluminum spaceframe body once the roof was sawed off. Still, there's new bracing in the side skirts, behind the dashboard around the soft top’s storage well and behind the seats, all meant to "rigidify," the Benz. The ragtop's only 40 kg (88 lbs.) heavier than the coupe and exhibited little shake, rattle or roll over the admittedly smooth roads of the Côte d'Azur.
Climbing in and out of the SLS Roadster can be done with a modicum more grace without having to maneuver around those gull-wing doors, but this is still an intimate cabin with a lowdown view out over that acre of aluminum hood. What's more, with the roof up, sightlines rearward are basically hopeless - we'll take the optionally available Blind Spot Assist warning system, thanks.
Since first driving the SLS coupe, I've always thought the interior was a mixed blessing. On the plus side, it's comfortable, the controls are pretty straightforward and it’s easy to find that just-right alignment behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel. Plus, there are genuine materials throughout, including nappa leather, metal and carbon-fibre. That said, the executions seemed a tad lowbrow for a six-figure cars. AMG reps on hand in France hinted that there was much the same feeling internally and have launched the AMG Style Package to remedy the hiccup. It's a major boost to the cabin's looks and quality, with stunning quilted leather seats, among other upgrades. It's optional for 2012 models but should be standard fare by 2013.
Over dinner, we questioned Thomas Rappel, head of product management at AMG, over why the nearly quarter million dollars SLS Roadster is missing features like cooled seats and an electronically closing trunk. "Because it's a true sports car, not a luxury car," said he. "Those features are more for the SL. The SLS is about 300-400 kg (600-800 lbs.) lighter than an SL." Wow.
That said, the AMG drop top does adopt the optional Airscarf system from the SLK that winds warm air over your neck when driving with the roof down and a very capable Bang & Olufsen BeoSound AMG surround sound system.
The soft-top on the SLS Roadster is a three-layer affair, that folds compactly behind the seats in just 11 seconds and at speeds up to 50 km/h. Thankfully, the well to stow the roof make the already-tiny trunk only slightly small. The fabric lid is available in black, red or beige to compliment the nine standard exterior and six interior colours. For the record, Rappel added that the SLS has had more custom paint and trim orders than any previous AMG model. Apparently, there have even been ladies asking for hues to match handbags.
Statisticians and weekend track warriors will dig the SLS' new AMG Performance Media system. Integrated into the centre display it can measure and record everything from lateral and linear acceleration to engine data, lap times and 0-100 runs, all of which can be extracted via a USB stick for examination on your laptop. "Hmm… it appears I pulled particularly high corner G's at that Starbucks drive-thru…"
Sigh… according to Rappel, the SLS AMG Roadster will the fourth of fifth car in a household, especially as a toy for those with a 911 Turbo as a daily driver. I feel poorer just writing that, folks…
There are a luck few people in Canada that can afford a machine like this (AMG's only sold about 100 SLS coupes in Canada this year). I'm officially envious of their financial clout and will gladly drive about in the SLS Roadster while they're commuting in that, err, lowly Porsche…