German manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has caused history to repeat itself with the release of the SLS AMG Coupe in 2009 and its Convertible sibling in 2011. The trend of releasing a convertible model based on their range-topping sports car continues with the brand new 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster.
Finally, we got the chance to test drive the new roadster. Unfortunately the weather spoiled all the fun of driving open-top, but nevertheless we got the option to drive and experience the roadster variant of the gullwing. Awaiting our arrival and parked in front of us for a single day was a designo mystic white SLS AMG Roadster trimmed with a two-tone red/black designo leather package and a red soft-top. There are worse combinations possible, and some would call it a bit tacky, but at least we were easily noticeable in local traffic.
In terms of design, there are some differences with the Coupe. You may have noticed there are no gullwing doors anymore. They were dropped by the Germans in favor of more traditional units, meaning the Roadster doesn’t have the gimmick that sets it apart from its competition. Instead there is a power-operated triple-layered fabric roof that can be raised or lowered automatically in about 11 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h. Mercedes-Benz says the Roadster and Coupe were designed together from the start, which is why boot space remains relatively unchanged (173 liters for the Roadster against 176 for the Coupe) despite stowing a folding roof between boot and occupants.
The powerplant at the front resembles its coupe family member. The same AMG-engineered, hand-built 6.2 liter V8 producing a total of 563 horsepower and 650Nm of torque. As expected, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with paddle shifters on the steering wheel has been paired to the wonderful sounding powerhouse. The rear-mounted automated manual transmission is bolted directly to the front/mid positioned engine via a torque tube running down the center of the car.
The transmission has four driving modes: “C” stands for controlled efficiency, in which the car sets off in second gear. “S” (sport) rips off shifts that are 20 percent faster, while “S+” (sport plus) is again 20 percent quicker. “M” (manual) is fully 50 percent faster than “C” . In addition, it features a race start function, but the gearbox never made us completely happy. It’s a bit too slow and lacks responsiveness. Still S+ is the best option.
The performance of the convertible has not been influenced by losing the roof. Additional chassis members front and rear restore the rigidity lost by removing the hardtop roof and account for the 40kg weight increase over the 1620kg Coupe. A reasonably small weight difference just because Mercedes-Benz choose a folding three-layer fabric roof, which is a much lighter solution than a folding metal roof construction. It manages 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds, while the top speed is set at 317km/h, all similar to the Coupe.
So where did we spot the differences in comparison to the characteristics of the gullwing? Firstly, opening the roof means providing yourself front-row seats to one of the nicest mechanical symphonies currently available. The AMG engine soundtrack is so much more prominent behind your ears than in the Coupe and it fine-tunes your ability to hear in a way you notice many tiny details in the exhaust note, more than ever before. It increases the fun level, replacing what you lose without the gimmick of the doors.
The handling is identical to the gullwing SLS. Losing the doors did not change anything to the driving dynamics, on the contrary even! The Roadster feels less top heavy, generating less roll than the Coupe. It offers better turn-in direction changes and feels slightly more nimble, providing you with a bigger smile on your face while the standard AirScarf system warms your neck.
The most noticeable and positive difference was the brand new adjustable suspension system fitted to the Roadster, an option available for both versions of the SLS. The AMG Ride Control sport suspension with adaptive damping almost instantly varies the damping characteristics and automatically reduces the body roll angles. Pressing the shock absorber symbol on the center console allows individual adjustment of the damping characteristics. There is a choice of three modes: Comfort, Sport and Sport plus. The system is better suited to the sports car than the standard setup or the AMG Performance suspension.
The interior trim offers hardly any difference with respect to the coupe. Of course, there is a button to control the automatic cloth roof and some differences with respect to the doors, but the cabin is still simple, uncluttered and classy. The seating position is quite low, but good. You look out over that long, bonnet, bordered by the high graceful wings. In front of the driver there are big twin instruments, four turbine-look dash air vents and numerous controls. The stock trim offers stitched leather, Alcantara and short-pile carpeting. A carbon fiber interior trim is available as an extra.
The AMG Performance Media Track Tool is a new gimmick providing real time data on the Command screen. The measurements include metrics on lateral G-forces, brake, throttle, horsepower and torque. You can even record acceleration times (0-100km/h and quarter-mile) or lap times. The blind spot assist is the final addition to the SLS option list. This visual and acoustic warning system uses the close-range radar sensors of the standard Parktronic system to recognize vehicles where visibility is restricted. Quite a handy feature for a wide and long car like the SLS.
Concluding our story, we can say that the elegance, luxury, and sportiness of the SLS AMG Roadster is on a higher level than the Coupe. These key ingredients are combined with a striking appearance and effortless acceleration. In any of the seven gears, at any speed, you get bucket loads of oomph. The SLS AMG truly excels when it comes to performance, accompanied by an astonishing sound track at higher speeds. The SLS’s sonorous voice is heaven to a rev-head’s ears, even with the roof closed.
Like the coupe, the Roadster is an accomplished all-rounder even if you take the limited interior space and the expensive price tag into consideration. The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster compensates these with an urge of elegancy and driving appeal fitting the Mercedes-Benz brand identity, much more than the Coupe. Would we buy one? Only as our ultimate two-seater cruiser for the Mediterranean.