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Monday 26th September 2011

Driven: Mercedes- Benz SLS AMG Roadster

Bye-bye gullwing doors, hello more of that AMG V8 noise



If you want to get under the skin of mega rich supercar owners there's no place better to experience £176K's worth of Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster than the streets of Monaco. Unfortunately if you want to actually drive said supercar, there's actually no place worse.


The streets are narrow and the SLS Roadster quite obviously isn't. It's busy. And the distractions, of all kinds, are plentiful.

Launching the SLS Roadster in these surroundings has the potential to backfire on Mercedes a bit. After all, it's easy to assume this drop-top SLS is more about the pose.

There's a certain amount of previous too. When the 300SL Roadster launched in 1957 it boasted comparable performance to the 300SL Gullwing but was unashamedly more Riviera-friendly. This was still a 300SL, just a tad more accessible and a little less scary thanks to revised rear suspension. It also out-sold the Gullwing by a considerable margin, saying much about the real tastes of the super rich who bought it.


History repeats with the SLS Roadster then? Well, there's new suspension, new optional Ride Control dampers now offering SLS customers an extra button to twiddle and three options of ride quality. Coupe buyers will be able to choose this as an option now too.

For a 200mph car (actually limited to 197mph but who's counting...) that'll nail 0-125mph in 11.3 seconds the SLS Roadster is as reassuringly easy to drive around town as any SL, size notwithstanding.

Proportions that would have even Peter Perfect blushing in the Turbo Terrific take a little getting used to but other than that it's simple matter of basking in the Cote d'Azur sunshine and soaking up the murmurs of approval from the supercar savvy locals. Six months down the line they won't bat an eyelid but, right now, this is the freshest bit of exotica on the block and the SLS is enjoying its moment in the sun. And bagging a few sales into the bargain.


Like the millionaire guest at our event hotel. He's got a collection of cars back home in the States, including a Porsche 959. Spotting the new SLS line-up ranged outside the hotel he's interested and chats with the AMG guys. But does he want to know about the 6.2-litre handbuilt V8? The sub 100m/s gearshift times? The fact that opting for ceramic brakes saves 40% in unsprung weight? Nope. He wants to know if he'll be able to fit his golf bag in it. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what matters in the world of supercars. Hell, even Ginetta desgined the pint-sized G40 to make sure there was space for a set of sticks.

With this fresh in our minds and the trip computer still showing a depressing average speed of 36km/h nearly two hours into our test drive, it's fair to say opinions towards Monaco and its supercar culture are not especially charitable. Gearbox and suspension selectors have remained untroubled and, as it stands, comfort mode reveals the SLS to be, well, just that.


Sulks at the coffee stop relay station are swiftly forgotten with the arrival of another enthusiastically driven SLS. Is the AMG 6.2 one of the best sounding V8s ever? It's got to be in with a shout. Naturally the SLS gets the most aggressive iteration of this mighty engine, dry-sumped, souped-up and turning out 571ps and 479lb ft just like the coupe. That these figures arrive at 6,800rpm and 4,750rpm is a hint at where the real drama lies. But, with 6.2 litres to play with, there's never any hint of a flat spot and the snap, crackle and pop on the overrun - computer contrived or not - means there's charisma to equal the power too.

The engine dominates the SLS, the ability to enjoy it al fresco just 11 seconds after pressing the appropriate button all the more exciting. For all the tech there's a pleasing old-school vibe too, the SLS offering up a hint of back to basics TVR Griffith fun, remixed for the modern age and with a Merc star on the front.


Up here in the hills it's looking like we might actually get to extend the SLS Roadster beyond its boulevardier comfort zone too. Not before time.

Traditionally of course the soft-top version of a favourite sports car tends to be something of a flaccid compromise. But, curse their German logic, AMG realised there was going to be a roadster version of the SLS from the start and actually engineered the body in white as an open-top car. Easier from there to add a roof and chop a bit of weight out than decapitate it and then add a ton of ironwork to make up for the loss of structural integrity.

Straight-lining across the cambers of a snaking stretch of mountain road would, were there any, show up any inherent flex in the body but there's absolutely none. And what of the inevitable extra weight? A mere 40kg, the SLS 150kg lighter and a whole lot stiffer than its most obvious rival, the Aston Martin DBS Volante.


This little test also shows off quite how impressive the damping is too. With your bum pretty much over the rear axle you get a pretty good sense of what's going on, and though Comfort mode does allow a degree of body movement it's all tied down very well indeed. The AMG guys reckon Sport mode on the Ride Control dampers equates more or less to the standard fixed-rate set-up. They expect a high take-up rate and though purists may prefer the more natural feel of the standard dampers, as our millionaire golfer proves, supercar buyers aren't necessarily purists.

Any thoughts that the SLS Roadster is simply an AMG SL with ideas above its station disappear at the first hairpin bend too.

An SL63 is carrying another 310kg of flab for a start and no regular Merc, AMG'd or not, has ever had such an alert feel at the wheel. The SLR McLaren went the other way with an alarmingly twitchy front end but the SLS, with or without roof, pairs superb natural balance with a fast, well-weighted rack that - motoring hack cliché alert - really does contribute to making the SLS feel smaller than it is.


A feeling that survives until our arrival back in Monaco and an encounter with an oncoming local in the middle of an already narrow street. It's a harsh choice between offside panelwork and nearside wheel and, ultimately, the kerb claims a nibble of AMG forged alloy. Damn. So much for the perfect place to be enjoying an open top SLS.

And those golf clubs? They'll fit. But going by the amount of heat soak from the exhausts into the boot our millionaire friend would probably open it to find a puddle of very expensive molten metal where his set of clubs had been. Who says the Germans don't have a sense of humour.



Dan Trent
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Author Discussion

Numeric

Original Poster:

343 posts

31 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
Of course these days who'd have the 300 cab over the gull wing (though I'd love the choice)and look at the price differential? Lovely car and I'd be happy to have the keys - but somehow for me the doors are what gives me that wow factor and a hard roofed car is for the drivers of the world.

g4ry13

5,955 posts

135 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I don't think it works as a convertible. Given the choice i'd go for the hard top every time.

smartypants

21,140 posts

49 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
Doesn't work, not a good looking car at all.

The gull-winged SLS is gorgeous.


JohnG1

2,412 posts

85 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
That V8 is awesome and flat out upshifts are a thing of beauty.

But if it's anything like an SL63 AMG it's just a big fat heavy barge. I know the text mentions a loss of 310kg but the SL63 is so lardy anyway...

vescaegg

3,105 posts

47 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
These look awesome in the flesh.

I saw a convoy of 7 in Monte Carlo last week! cloud9, with an Aston Cygnet following close behind nono
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Ozzie Osmond

15,638 posts

126 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
IMO this is THE most desirable, practical and cost-effective supercar on sale today! Much preferable without the gimmicky gullwing doors.

But if I had the money I'd still be torn between this and a F458....

Chilli

16,715 posts

116 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I had this car (the hard-top) pull along side doing nailed on 100kmh for a speed camera. A couple of seconds later he was gone. The noice was incredible, the only other car that has left that much of an impression was the SLR, who I had a similar encounter with, although the SLR "just came past". Sounded like thunder.

Stunning cars.

JohnG1

2,412 posts

85 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
Ozzie Osmond said:
IMO this is THE most desirable, practical and cost-effective supercar on sale today! Much preferable without the gimmicky gullwing doors.

But if I had the money I'd still be torn between this and a F458....
Desirable is obviously a matter of taste.

But practical? Cost-effective?

911 turbo surely for cost-effective?

911 with 2+2 for practical? Although no room in the boot for golf clubs.

Personally I don't want practical or cost-effective in any car I own but each to their own!

smartypants

21,140 posts

49 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I was going to say, if you want practical then a 911 Turbo takes some real beating. I can't see that being at all practical smile


y2blade

52,418 posts

95 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I bet that sounds amazing cloud9

alfav6

28 posts

121 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I saw a coupe version in my local Tesco's car park the other day. Not the kind of environment I'd expected to see one in, but SLS owner's gotta eat too I suppose!

K50 DEL

5,764 posts

108 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
My boss already has the hard top and has just bought a new California to bridge the gap until this arrives in Dubai (next March apparently).... I quite like it and if it drives like the coupe then I can't wait to have a go!

Chilli

16,715 posts

116 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
K50 DEL said:
My boss already has the hard top and has just bought a new California to bridge the gap until this arrives in Dubai (next March apparently).... I quite like it and if it drives like the coupe then I can't wait to have a go!
Del, I really do hope you boss is one ugly SOAB...or has the package of a 5 year old boy.

Dagnut

3,242 posts

73 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I think the problem for the SLS is the rest of the Merc range...the fact you can get that engine in a car 1/3 of the price.

kambites

38,195 posts

101 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
Dagnut said:
I think the problem for the SLS is the rest of the Merc range...the fact you can get that engine in a car 1/3 of the price.
Can you? I didn't realise that version of the engine was used in anything else.

Ozzie Osmond

15,638 posts

126 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
JohnG1 said:
But practical? Personally I don't want practical or cost-effective in any car I own but each to their own!
I meant practical in the usable and enjoyable sense - not 5 seats and room for the golf clubs!

Compared, for instance, to the new Noble this must surely be bargain of the week. Anyway, each to our own.

Gatsods

292 posts

48 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
kambites said:
Can you? I didn't realise that version of the engine was used in anything else.
It isn't, the basic block was used in all of the "63 AMG" models until late last year when AMG switched to a 5.5litre Twin Turbo (in some applications) V8. The only cars this is now used in is the SLS Coupé & Roadster and the updated C63 AMG range.

Even then the SLS version has considerably different tuning as it's version puts out 563bhp in comparison with the C63's 451bhp.

And about the practicality thing... yes the 911 Turbo has 4 seats if you spec it correctly, but they are only useful if you have dwarfs you need to regularly transport. Or children I suppose. An SLS will have a vastly more useful boot, especially in Coupé guise. The only way I see the 911 being greatly more practical is in the snow, if we keep getting such terrible winters. I wouldn't fancy taking my brand new SLS down the B roads used to get to my village if they were coated in snow and ice!

Ozzie Osmond

15,638 posts

126 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
kambites said:
I didn't realise that version of the engine was used in anything else.
Yes, but those cars all have their performance/enjoyment blunted by excess weight. With a bit of luck SLS should be incredibly reliable for a supercar.

Schnellmann

1,578 posts

84 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
I like this is as good-looking as the coupe and has the benefits of open-air motoring (and hearing that engine more clearly).

But it is very expensive and there are lots of other very desirable cars that would fight for my attention.

One thing that does strike me is how big it is. When I see pictures of the car by itself it doesn't look so bad but when you see someone in the driving seat they look somehow too small (almost like they have been shrunk - or Richard Hammond is always driving). Odd.

George H

12,066 posts

44 months

[news] 
Monday 26th September 2011 quote quote all
Looks so much better for not having the stupid gull wing doors. Is it still as cramped inside as the coupe?
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