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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.



Author: Dan Trent
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