Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster
Our Rating

5/5

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

AMG's first complete car, reviewed here in soft-top form.

Ever since the demise of the 300SL "Gullwing" back in 1957, when it was superseded by the 300SL Roadster, car nuts the world over have been willing Mercedes to create a successor. Not just a coupé with radical styling, but one that features gullwing doors.It took until 2009 before we got our wish, with the introduction of the SLS AMG coupé. For some, the whole point of the SLS is those doors, and you can see why. As top-end car makers have rushed to introduce an array of door designs, such as beetle-wing, scissor and that bizarre layout unique to Koenigsegg (just what do you call it?), the gullwing style seems to have fallen out of favour. Maybe we can blame DeLorean for that.But keen to cash in on its heritage, Mercedes has revisited the design, twenty years after canning its C112 concept and closer to forty years after its various C-111 design studies failed to reach production. Except if you buy an SLS AMG Roadster, you still don’t get to savour those gullwing doors – instead you have to settle for conventional items.It's a sacrifice worth making, though, because not only does the SLS AMG Roadster have as much style as its tin-top sibling, but you also get to enjoy the engine and exhaust noise that much more.When you've got a 6208cc V8 up front, there's plenty of sound to enjoy, most of it emanating from behind. Nail the throttle and the bark from the exhaust is utterly addictive, but on the over-run it's no less enjoyable thanks to much popping and banging that gives the rag-top SLS a genuine racecar feel. The unyielding suspension also gives the SLS the demeanour of a track special; on broken tarmac you feel every scar in the road.Our test car came with the optional AMG Ride Control, with a choice of Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus settings. But don't be fooled into thinking that the adjustable dampers are capable of cosseting you, as even when set to Comfort mode the ride is firm. At least in this mode your spine isn't in danger; select Sport Plus on typical broken UK roads and after a long journey there's a good chance that you'll never walk again – this mode is definitely one for the track only.It's easy to make the assumption that slicing the roof off a coupé will have an adverse impact on bodyshell stiffness, and consequently the handling too, but there are no such issues with the SLS. Even on badly scarred roads there's no trace of scuttle shake, with tight, even shut lines the order of the day.That'll come as no surprise; the SLS was unveiled in tin-top form initially, but a roadster was on the cards from the outset, which is why an open version required no compromises to be made. The result is a soft-top that always fits perfectly, along with handling that remains predictable even when pressing on over poor surfaces. That solid structure also allows the roof to be opened and closed on the move, at speeds of up to 31mph.As with the SLS coupé, the Roadster features a naturally-aspirated V8, rated at 571bhp and 479lb/ft of torque. Predictably, it's a magnificent unit, with a rich seam of twist action available from tickover all the way to the 4750rpm peak. Such a generous displacement and a choice of seven ratios to choose between means you're never wishing for more grunt; there's no scenario that'll leave you feeling shortchanged.That seven-speed transmission is Merc's Speedshift DCT unit, which will swap cogs for you in as little as a tenth of a second, depending on which mode you're in – because in typical Merc fashion, you get to press buttons. Those buttons allow you to choose between Controlled Efficiency, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual, with a race start function if you need to get away from the lights in a particular hurry.Unless you're on the track, there's no need to use anything more aggressive than the Controlled Efficiency option; gearshifts are smooth and swift enough whether you're pressing on or enjoying an amble.The same goes for the braking system, which on our test car was just the standard all-steel offering. Unless you're driving like an absolute loon you're just not going to run out of stopping power, but there is a ceramic option if you're loopy or like to put in some track time – you'll need to find £8140 to pay for it though.The triple-layer roof is something of a work of art, as it robs just three litres of boot space compared with the coupé, and it takes just 11 seconds to raise or stow. Even at high speeds with the roof up, refinement is excellent; you still get that delicious burble from the exhausts, but it's never intrusive. As you’d expect from Mercedes, even the roof is weight-optimised, the magnesium, steel and aluminium frame ensuring a low centre of gravity.If you're reassured that the dynamics of the SLS aren't lacking in any way, but you're still not sure because you’re worried about spoiling your hair-do, fret not. Mercedes has honed the aerodynamics to ensure that the cabin remains calm at high speeds, partly thanks to the glass wind deflector that sits behind the seats, between the roll hoops; it's surprisingly effective.There's also an electronic speed limiter fitted, so you can't exceed 197mph; presumably your bonce is safe up to this speed but in danger above it.It's no surprise that the SLS is so brilliantly resolved in every way. That three-pointed star offers huge reassurance once more, after a period in the doldrums a few years back.But what should really inspire confidence is that the SLS is the first car to come from Merc's AMG sub-division – until this car arrived, the tuning operation had only ever breathed on Merc's existing products. With so much at stake, could you really see Mercedes – or AMG for that matter – releasing a car that couldn't slaughter the opposition? Because that's what the SLS Roadster is capable of. Engine 6208cc, 8 cylinders Power 563bhp Transmission 7-speed automatic Fuel/CO2 21.4mpg / 308g/km Acceleration 0-62mph: 3.8 seconds Top speed 197mph Price £176,925 Details correct at publication date

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