First Drive: 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

 

Please welcome Billy “Snap” MacGillicuty, a guest contributor who recently drove the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster and then wrote about it.

“First, I’ll Win the Power Ball Lottery. After I Buy that Dream Double-Wide then I’m Gonna’ Buy Me a…”

Yes, the SLS AMG coupe was and still is a thrilling space ship landed on Earth. But it’s clear that the real SLS AMG to lust after and loathe is this remarkably sexy roadster.

This is a weird experience, for me at least. To begin with, a car is first introduced in 2009 with a fixed roof and the overall shape of that car I find a bit off in its proportions, particularly when viewed in profile. Then in 2011 this essentially very same car is shown to me with its roof chopped off and it is suddenly one of the most proportionately beautiful creations of all modern times. And especially when seen in profile.

Is it a matter of Jekyll and Hyde? Good twin, evil twin?

The Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster is a revelation of a car. For my left and right brain halves both, it is the sexiest thing exploding down any road right now. Sexy in a slight Rubenesque way, yes, not sexy like the one-night stand dangerous Italian girl I might meet at the discotheque outside of Rome. This sexy is classy sexy with layers and layers of pleasing aspects that reveal themselves only over the span of a long and famous relationship. And, no, I am not all bent out of shape about the car just because the weather was perfect all along the suddenly traffic-free southern French coast during the after-lunch hours on a Friday. Well, not totally at least.

If the SLS Roadster just needed to look right, it would already be one of the top ten cars of the last fifty years on my list. But it also has to perform like an impeccably well mannered pitbull. It’s a muscle car and super car and socialite leisure car all wrapped into one with the right portions of each in the recipe. I can cite the Mercedes SL 65 AMG with its raging old school three-valve V12 as most likely competitor, or the SL 63 AMG as well, but the Aston Martin DBS Volante can also be tossed in to this elite fray of burly yet elegant long-legged rabble rousers.

Everything about the powertrain is the same in the roadster as on the coupe. I get 563 horsepower peaking at 6,800 rpm as well as 479 pound feet of torque stretching out wide and finding its max in the upper mid-range meaty part of the band at 4,750 rpm. The governed top speed is still 197 mph and the SLS Roadster accelerates to 60 mph in a “declared” 3.6 seconds. If this roofless beast can’t get to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds or less, I’ll eat my motorcycle helmet.

Ah, yes, and perhaps most important of all, the twin gaping exhaust barrels in back and the system from which they bloom are still supplied by the company Proto Technik in Germany. Just as with the coupe, I found myself deliberately searching through the gearbox and the rev range in coastal tunnels around Nice and elsewhere for the sweet full-open exhaust roar – made all the sweeter here all day long by the absence of the fixed roof. What a damned voice the M159 6.2-liter V8 gives off with even just the slightest throttle play through my right foot.

But it’s not only a Côte d’Azur fun show here; the SLS Roadster gets around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in just 7:43 according to director of engine development at AMG Friedrich Eichler. The coupe can do it in 7:36 officially, so the roadster doesn’t just fall apart into a wet noodle for want of a solid roof and adding 88 pounds of curb weight. Even though the actual structural weight added to the space frame aluminum chassis is only 4.5 lbs, the stiffness suffers only minimally when I start hammering it through the many famous curves of these coastal roads. I was definitely prepared for the infuriating waggle of the frame I always hated on the SLR McLaren Roadster. But it honestly doesn’t happen here. There is just a bit of give in the structure here and there, but nowhere near what happens on an SLR or Aston DBS Volante.

Up to around 130 mph, I am comfortable with the noise and wind movements with both the roof and windows fully down. This is not so common an experience in these cars and it is superb to be able to have it. Besides, thus wide open, it makes tunnel hunting that much more fun a sport. At fullest highway speeds with everything sealed tight, the wind noise is roughly half of what I recall on all other competitors in this pricey league.

And, yes, we need to talk about the standard doors versus the spectacle gullwing doors on the coupe. To be honest, I really do not miss the bird doors one bit. Everything is better here with the very lightweight aluminum doors measuring exactly 47 inches long. The shoulder line established by the front and rear ends finally looks complete and beautiful with these less C.O.A. doors. I noticed while driving that I did need to sit up higher in the cockpit, since lurking down low makes visibility in congested areas of town a bit difficult, even for my nearly six-foot tall body.

Two new features introduced with the roadster are: the AMG Ride Control adaptive damping with Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes and AMG Performance Media for high performance data monitoring via the onboard Comand system. The former makes a load of difference versus the SLS coupes I’ve driven up until now with their one-setting default strut suspension. Everything is feeling more sophisticated now, dialed in to the mood I’m in as I cruise along the winding coast line or push the car hard over the Grande Corniche to hear the car’s exhaust sing off the immense sheer rock walls.

The interface for the Media software feature couldn’t be any easier to use, even during a four or five hour first encounter like this. After numerous drives in Sport Chrono equipped Porsche 911s, I still cannot really use it much, but Mercedes’ AMG Performance Media could be the model for all performance car builders. My favorite feature is the g-force matrix that is accessed through the Race tab on the APM interface; too much fun and very enlightening. Both of these better options will be made available for the coupe as well once the roadster starts customer deliveries worldwide at the end of October. U.S. roadsters should start landing early-mid November.

The roof is a fairly straightforward triple-layer fabric number that folds up in a three-section Z manner into a dedicated cradle welded above the trunk space area, so cargo room suffers only a 0.1 cubic foot loss of space versus the coupe. Total time for the simple system to open or close is eleven seconds and the lever at my right hand on the console makes it even simpler. When closed, too, the roadster still looks better than the hardtop coupe to my eyes. Wind noise is low, visibility is equal to that with the fixed roof, and insulation from the cold is reportedly just fine for skiing trips and worse. You can also open or close the roof at speeds up to 31 mph while cruising around town and with minimal multitasking distraction.

The primary challenge of driving any SLS AMG model really hard as though shooting for the best lap time is the ready tendency of the car’s rear tires (Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT 295/30 ZR20 101Y) to slide while exiting turns as I apply the throttle. After a few long and exciting drives on demanding circuits and roads now, I believe I’m getting close to the best way to work on throttle. You cannot punch the throttle here unless you’re on a long straight, or else the SLS AMG Roadster will get squirrelly too easily. But the throttle is so sensitive that it doesn’t take much, and this is particularly so in my favorite setting for the AMG Speedshift dial on the console of Sport+. The Manual mode is bunches of fun, too, though I tend to stick with S+ for about two-thirds of the time since it actually is the faster way to go and, let’s face it, these new age “manual” modes with the flappy paddles are not really that manual.

In a similar way to how many of us seasoned folk got pretty good at modulating our braking moments on cars without ABS back in the days before penicillin, it takes time to find the right throttle technique on any SLS, especially if the ESP is all switched off on a track. On the road, I stick with the ESP Sport middle setting. But then the challenge is avoiding the throttle intervention of the Mercedes ESP system which can really suck the life out of some great driving moments. It’s a fine balance of picking the right line for the car, feeding in throttle, and keeping the tires as hooked up as possible, but one that’s worth finding. My day in the roadster proved it.

The price of admission for one of these is still not defined for the U.S. but the MB USA chiefs are telling me “right around $200,000”. And this strikes me as a small price to pay when I think of all of the alternatives out there available now that can cost a bunch more. My car this day had everything on it when it comes to options, including a special Designo leather two-tone interior. The must-have ceramic brake discs cost roughly $12,750 and I am of the philosophy now that any car that can do what this SLS Roadster can do is a dangerous weapon without ceramic discs to significantly rein in all these horses and momentum.

Once the SLS AMG coupe and roadster are selling side by side, the prediction is that nearly two-thirds of sales will be roadsters with the other third having fixed roofs. This is sensational since, according to Mercedes-AMG board member for vehicle development Tobias Moers, in the initial plans for all this SLS fun there was no talk of even building a roadster version. Crazy.

Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster

Price: ±$200,000 + all taxes and fees

Motor: 6,208 cc, 4-valve

Power: 563 hp @ 6,800 rpm

Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 4,750 rpm

Transmission: seven-speed AMG Speedshift MCT dual-clutch sport automatic w/paddles

Fuel capacity: 22.5 gallons (+ 3.7 gal reserve)

City/hwy combined mpg avg. (mfr. est.): 17.8 mpg (LOL)

Performance: 0-60 mph 3.6 seconds, top speed 197 mph

Length x width x height: 182.6 x 76.3 x 49.6 in

Wheelbase: 105.5 in

Curb weight: 3,660 lbs

Cargo space: 6.1 cu. ft.

[Words by: Billy “Snap” MacGillity; Photos Source: “Snap” & Mercedes-Benz AMG]

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  • Anonymous

    Amazing pictures and great review – I don’t think it gets any better than driving an SLS on the coast of Nice. However, I’m not as forgiving about the lack of gullwing doors. That is a huge part of what makes the car special – it is a throwback to the old SL gullwing. At that price point, the less powerful but more beautiful AM Vantage V12 Volante would start to be tempting.

    – Bill (http://youarewhatyoudrive.blogspot.com)

  • JBsC5

    Excellent review! Although I have to mention this looks like its an evolution of the Viper convertible with a dose of luxury and technology. rumor has it that this chassis was supposed to be the next viper and when mercedes left…..they took the chassis development with them… I like the convertible SLS even more than the gullwing coupe.

  • Mchudnoff

    Just sold my SLS coupe with 2700 miles and am waiting to receive the roadster this Nov. The coupe is a spectacular car however I found myself somewhat uncomfortable in the cabin, perhaps a touch of claustrophobia, who knows. This time I made sure I spent a little seat time in the roadster and it was, for me, a significant improvement. When one compares the Benz product to AM or Ferrari I would advise that one would do well to consider the bullet proof history of the Benz. These cars look good, feel good and don’t leave you stranded by the side of the road.

  • http://twitter.com/JBsC6 Jonathan Brown

    Interesting what BMW has to offer in a somewhat similiar product. Here is the autoextremists.com opinion of the 6 series convertible

    They’d call it the Bismarck if they could get away with it. The BMW 650i convertible at the Detroit show was a monstrous leap into irrelevance by BMW, comfortably retaining its title as the most wildly Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde car company existing on the face of the earth. The car is massive – and it looked even more so in person – and instead of screaming “drive me, I’m fun!” it screamed “help me, I’m an idiot.” How this company could produce such a ponderous, unappealing, battleship-sized, craptastic convertible is beyond us, especially when the new 1 Series “M” class is so damn good.