When I drove the SLS AMG roadster in the South of France during a media event last fall, I was enchanted by its performance, its exclusivity, and its sumptuous cabin, but I was also alarmed by its width. It was all my co-driver and I could do to thread the SLS through the narrow streets of Monaco and along twisty ribbons of asphalt that cling to the mountains high above the Mediterranean without clipping a sideview mirror. Here in wide-open Michigan, I had no such qualms, although I was reminded of my French SLS roadster experience when I pulled into the drive-through lane at my credit union in Ann Arbor. Happily, the SLS fit fine, and while I waited for the teller to process my transaction, I chatted with a young man who pulled into the adjacent drive-through lane and excitedly gushed to me that “This is, like, my favorite car in the whole world!!!”
The SLS was also popular with my July 4th BBQ guests, who crowded into my garage to admire it, stroke it, and pose for pictures while sitting in it. I played to the crowd by sitting in the driver’s seat, pushing the start button, making sure the transmission was in park, hitting the AMG button, and blipping the throttle — hard. It’s a great parlor trick, or garage trick I suppose it should be called. The ripping and ricocheting of the exhaust around the garage was almost as entertaining as the fireworks that were sprouting in the sky. I raised the hood, which seems like it’s about ten feet long, to expose the engine, and even the women in the group gasped in awe at how cool it looks. It’s completely behind the front axle line and it’s positioned quite low, which was made possible by its dry-sump lubrication that makes it more compact. I pointed out the plate mounted to the top of the engine with the signature of the man who built it, a well-known feature of every AMG car. In our tester, the name was Torsten Oelschlaeger.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I’m pretty confident I could drive the Mercedes SLS AMG roadster for the rest of my life and never get bored with it. Such is the glamor, performance, and overall beauty of the giant convertible. The SLS roadster grabs attention everywhere you go. People stop and stare and roll down their windows in traffic to ask questions. I was perplexed when one stranger asked, “What is that, a Chrysler?” given that the Mercedes badge on the grille is about the size of a vinyl record.
Although I pined for the super-cool gull-wing doors that are present on the hardtop SLS AMG, our roadster looked particularly elegant in its Sepang Brown paint. The rumbles and growls from the 6.2-liter V-8 are intoxicating, especially when you have the roof down, and fortunately drown out the whining from the dual-clutch transaxle. The design of the aluminum spaceframe means you must climb over a considerable sill to get into the cabin, but once you do it’s a wonderful place to sit. The interior is pretty special to begin with, but it’s highlighted by two cool features: the engine start/stop button that glows red, and the unique, loop-like metal shifter.
Driving the SLS in Ann Arbor was quite nerve-wracking because it’s tough to see the edges of the long, wide hood. The fear of scraping a $200,000 car was on my mind all the time, as were worries that other drivers would door-ding the Mercedes. I crept out of driveways and made sure to park as far away from other cars as possible. If it sounds like I babied the SLS AMG roadster, that’s about right: I truly doted upon this fabulous car.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
There are many elements of the SLS AMG roadster that I adore. The awesome-looking wing is probably my favorite detail — it really transforms the look of the car’s rear end, from sleek and sexy to angular and aggressive. The long hood that anchors your forward view from the driver’s seat is a close second because it constantly reminds you that you’re driving a supercar. The sonorous engine’s burble causes you to drive around in unnecessarily low gears just to make more noise, attracting a lot of attention of onlookers. I also really like the responsive dual-clutch automatic gearbox — and even this car’s metallic brown paint.
If I had a million dollars, though, I wouldn’t buy an SLS AMG. The main reason–the plastic rectangle housing the lumbar controls is positioned at the end of the seat cushion such that it juts into the back of my right knee (or forces me to bend my right leg uncomfortably to the left). Make sure you test-drive before you buy (as with any car, in fact). Second, I love convertibles, but the original point of the SLS was its gull-wing doors, which obviously are lost here. A Mercedes-Benz SL does the two-seat M-B convertible thing well enough for basically half the money. Mainly, though, I’d rather spend my $211K on a convertible from more of a boutique brand, such as Aston Martin or Maserati. A lot can certainly be said, however, for the convenience of servicing a car from a higher-volume manufacturer like Mercedes-Benz.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Brown. The New Yorker in me feels that the color brown is just an accent piece or an every-once-and-a-while replacement for the classic and ubiquitous black. Colors like black and red represent things like stealth and sex, whereas brown represents dirt, mud, and filth. Yet, on the sinewy shell of the SLS AMG Roadster, brown takes on a new meaning: brown is black and red, it is stealth and sex. I much prefer the roadster to the coupe thanks to the aural delight of the vociferous popping, cracking, and snarling of the naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8. Unlike the gull-wing coupe, the drop-top SLS flies under the radar, comparatively, eliciting fewer thumbs up and mouth-agape stares from pedestrians. Maybe brown — at least Mercedes’ Sepang Brown — isn’t so bad after all.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I struggle to understand the need for an SLS Roadster in the AMG portfolio. Whereas the SLS coupe works as a halo vehicle with very cool heritage, the SLS Roadster seems less useful than an SL and more compromised than a regular SLS. Aside from amazing performance, the hallmark of an SLS is the gull-wing doors. Those doors are impossible to add to a roadster, so you’re left with an oversized and overpriced two-seater that’s only significant attribute is a kinship to the gull-wing SLS. There will certainly be fewer SLS Roadsters on the road than SL roadsters, so I suppose exclusivity is the real reason people will pony up the extra tens of thousands of dollars for the SLS.
If you’re dead-set on the SLS, you’ll get a fantastic, normally aspirated engine that sounds spectacular as it races to redline or crackles and pops on deceleration. The view from the driver’s seat feels pretty special with so much hood in front of you. I cannot think of any new car with a hood even close to this long. It makes the tiny trunk even more comical because there’s excessive, but useless, space in front. Certainly an SLS owner will have a small fleet of personal vehicles to choose from, so there’s bound to be another option for days when you need to carry luggage.
Although the SLS Roadster is very well done, I can’t warm up to it the same way I do the gull-wing SLS. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Mercedes has traditionally done so well with the SL that I have a difficult time thinking of a better large luxury roadster than the SL. A gull-wing SLS is totally different from anything else in the Mercedes portfolio, so makes sense as a halo car. The SLS Roadster, not so much.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I always wondered exactly why AMG entered a marketing partnership with Cigarette Boats, but the relationship makes so much sense after spending just a minute behind the wheel of an SLS AMG. This is the equivalent of a four-wheeled, land-bound Cigarette boat, down to the tight, open cockpit; the never-ending hood/bow, the massive transom behind your shoulders; the snarling, burbling exhaust note that could rival a Panzer tank; and a price tag that could easily be mistaken for a modest dwelling.
AMG’s efforts in transforming the SLS coupe into a roadster are quite impressive, despite the inevitable fact it loses some torsional rigidity when it ditches its fixed roof structure. Despite the fact the SLS drop-top gains beefier side sills and additional bracing at the base of the windshield and the rear bulkhead, the roadster’s body-in-white weighs only 4.5 pounds more than the coupe. Conventionally hinged doors replace the roof-hinged gullwing units found on the SLS coupe, but don’t necessarily ease entry and egress all that much — they do, however, provide storage pockets, which are appreciated in this extremely cozy cabin.
As much as I love having the wind rustle through my hair, and hearing that 6.2-liter snarl, burble, and pop even louder than before, I’m with Phil: the SLS Roadster just lacks that certain something that sets it apart from the crowd. I think that certain something is a pair of fabulous, vertically rising doors.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
I consider myself very lucky. In the more than twenty years that I’ve worked for Automobile Magazine, I’ve driven a fair number of cars whose performance ranks them among the most desirable vehicles in the world, cars whose price tags exceed that of my home. The SLS is among that group, which also includes various Ferraris, Aston Martins, and Lamborghinis.
This is all by way of saying that driving the SLS convertible is a very special experience. We can sit and ponder why Mercedes built this particular model, whether it makes sense in the company’s vehicle lineup, or why the company didn’t just stick with the coupe alone. Or we can get behind the wheel, lower the convertible top, and revel in the sound and power of the big V-8.
That’s what I did, and the SLS was immensely satisfying to drive and be seen in.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
On Sunday I pulled into a drive-through coffee shop. I go to said coffee shop multiple times a week and usually order the same beverage — an iced, low-fat chai latte with an extra shot of espresso. (Don’t judge.) I make some self-effacing, not-very-funny joke while ordering said girly drink, expecting it to be received with the usual pity laugh. Only this time, the server — an attractive girl who works there all the time but who has never acknowledged me — tosses her head back and giggles as if I’ve actually said something witty. Then another girl emerges from the shop and, with similar coquettishness, starts telling me all about her life and asking me about mine. Weird. As I pull away, I glance at myself in the rearview mirror to try and determine what has drawn all this unusual attention. I am wearing a newish shirt. Then it hits me. The car! I pull on the left paddle shifter to hold first gear and wind it out even though I’m about to turn into a gas station. The 6.2-liter V-8 produces a symphony of pops and grumbles that, I imagine, will further cement my Prince Charming status with the coffee shop girls. What I do not notice until the very last moment is the policeman gassing up at this very station. He walks over, my heart sinking with every step, and — no lie — smiles at me. Turns out he just wants to know more about the SLS. After talking for a while with the officer, topping off the tank, and waiting so a Mercedes ML driver could snap a cell phone photo, I ride away fully in a daze. I’ve driven many nice cars, including the SLS Gullwing and a Ferrari 458 Italia, but those were coupes. In a convertible you not only hear and see everything, but everyone else also sees you, the amazing rich guy behind the wheel. European bureau chief Georg Kacher recently noted that supercar convertibles outsell their coupe counterparts by a margin of two to one in North America. This is why.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor
2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG roadster
MSRP (with destination): $196,975
PRICE AS TESTED: $211,275
6.2-liter DOHC V-8
Horsepower: 563 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
7-speed dual-clutch automatic
WHEELS AND TIRES:
19- and 20-inch aluminum wheels
265/35YR-19 Continental ContiSportContact front tires
295/30YR-20 Continental ContiSportContact rear tires
FUEL ECONOMY (city/highway/combined):
Cargo: 6.1 cu ft
Legroom: 41.7 in
Headroom: 39.1 in
7-speed dual-clutch sport transaxle
Limited slip differential
2-piece compound front brake discs w/6-piston calipers
Compound rear brake discs w/4-piston calipers
Carbon-fiber composite driveshaft
Dry sump engine lubrication system w/external reservoir
Full control-arm suspension
AMG steering wheel w/aluminum shift paddles
COMAND head unit w/6-disc changer
SiriusXM satellite radio w/trial subscription
Enhanced voice control system
Automatic dual-zone climate control
Bi-xenon headlights w/washers
3-layer power soft top
Alcantara windshield frame trim
Blind spot monitoring system
3-stage stability control
OPTIONS ON THIS VEHICLE:
Sepang Brown paint- $2300
Carbon-fiber engine compartment covers- $5400
AMG Performance media- $2500
AMG 10-spoke lightweight forged aluminum wheels- $2400
KEY OPTIONS NOT ON THIS VEHICLE:
AMG adaptive suspension- $2500
Bang & Olufsen audio system- $6400
Red brake calipers- $1000
Mercedes-Benz claims the SLS AMG roadster can go from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 197 mph.