I had the opportunity to drive the SLS AMG gullwing coupe the day after I drove the SLS AMG roadster, and the moment I pulled out of the magazine office's parking lot, I knew I preferred the coupe. I appreciate its clearer sense of purpose, not to mention its rigidity, and I like its deliberate nod to the 1950s 300SL Gullwing, one of the most iconic Mercedes-Benz models of all time. And it is the gullwing doors that never fail to wow people. People notice the car, certainly; they know it's something important and substantial and desirable, even if they don't immediately realize it's a Mercedes-Benz. And then when you open those gullwing doors? People go berserk. I let a few random folks I met sit in the driver's seat, and it was clearly the highlight of their week. If not their year.
The normally aspirated V-8 is a beautiful thing to look at and to hear, especially with our test car's optional, $5400 carbon-fiber engine covers. I drove home from Detroit on Saturday night. It was 81 degrees, a beautiful summer evening. Westbound Jefferson Avenue dives under Cobo Hall, creating a tunnel that highlights the sound of the V-8 and the metallic exhaust. I made the hard right onto the 10 northbound and then launched the SLS to I-75 southbound, to 96 westbound, to 94 westbound, each interchange a collection of hard braking, downshifts, and throttle blipping. This will be one of my indelible memories of summer 2012.
All of my praise for both the SLS coupe and roadster duly considered, it sometimes feels sodden, heavy, a little leaden. The powertrain can overwhelm the chassis, and the suspension sometimes skips and judders over rough pavement rather than absorbing it. Help is just around the corner, as the SLS AMG coupe and roadster become the SLS AMG GT for the 2013 model year, with an additional 20 hp (583 hp), substantial changes to the AMG Adaptive Performance Suspension, and quicker shifting from the Speedshift 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in M "manual" mode. As it is, the Speedshift transaxle is a pretty sweet device, especially in manual mode, when it automatically downshifts for you as you decrease speed if you neglect to use the paddles.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
Like Joe DeMatio, I had the opportunity to drive the SLS roadster first and I much prefer the coupe. Although visibility wasn't a priority for either car, the coupe is much easier to see out of because of the way the roadster's top stows. The high beltline also makes the roadster feel a bit claustrophobic, even with the top down. And, yes, the gullwing doors define this car. I struggled to justify the extra cost of the SLS roadster over the AMG-tuned SL roadster to myself. For some people, the entire reason to opt for the SLS roadster is that it does cost more than an SL and thus there will be fewer of them on the road. Exclusivity ain't cheap.
The SLS is a pretty large car, but it seats only two people and doesn't make very efficient use of that large footprint. Perhaps having good cupholders and a few usable storage cubbies for errant cell phones, digital cameras, or other small personal effects isn't the hallmark of a supercar, but they would make the SLS a whole lot easier to live with. Likewise, the trunk is laughably small. The superlong hood is always in view and that expanse of metal constantly taunted me. A Porsche 911 variant is a far superior supercar for people who want the option of commuting or taking longer trips with luggage. An Audi R8 also boasts more usable interior and cargo room with similar performance.
The Gullwing has a fantastic engine, good transmission, and very stiff suspension. I loved running the engine up to the redline, but it's difficult to find a place that lets you bang off more than a shift or two at full throttle on a public road. A car this fast needs a pretty serious closed course to begin to exercise its potential. Anything other than perfectly smooth pavement requires your full concentration because the back tires are more than willing to break loose at even partial throttle. Of all the changes for the SLS GT model, 20 additional horses are the least meaningful. I'm most interested in the adaptive suspension modifications because the SLS never feels as planted and stable as a 911 or an R8.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
When I gave my friend Allison a ride in the SLS, she was amazed by how many people gave us the thumbs up and stopped and stared as we drove by. Then it occurred to me that not only was our SLS AMG coupe painted a vibrant shade of Le Mans red, but the SLS is this generation's poster car; I would surmise that pictures of this very car adorn the bedroom walls of car-crazed teenagers across the country, in the same way their fathers had posters of the Lamborghini Countach in their day. Enthusiasts of all ages pine after the SLS AMG coupe's fuselage-like body, the gullwing doors, and the 563-hp, 6.2-liter V-8.
That level of desirability sets the SLS coupe apart from the roadster. The striking doors that open toward the sky turn heads like the screech of an eagle, as does the vociferous burbling, popping, and crackling of the V-8. For me, though, it's actually too much. If I were looking to spend roughly a quarter-million dollars on a car, I would want a car that's slightly more subtle. The SLS AMG coupe is too flashy, its cabin is too cramped, and its engine note is more barking than operatic; unlike DeMatio and Floraday, I prefer the SLS roadster. Kids don't rally around the roadster to snap pictures sitting in the passenger seat, so I could go to the grocery store without being set upon by a mob.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The doors really do make this car. I spent a weekend in the SLS AMG roadster and only an evening in the SLS coupe, but this coupe is the SLS that I fancy more, even though I love convertibles. The gullwing doors aren't practical (and you really diminish your star power when you hit your head on the door upon exiting the car), but they make a pretty awesome statement.
The one edge the roadster has on the coupe is that it ensures that the driver hears more of the awesome burbly 6.2-liter V-8 soundtrack. In other words, drive the coupe with the windows open as much as possible.
No other car I've driven recently has made me yearn to drive it on a track as much as this one has. These brakes look like they could stop a speeding freight train, the steering feels sublime, and the powertrain is clearly ready for war.
As cool as this car is, though, I'd never buy one for two main reasons: I'd rather have a more beautiful and debonair Aston Martin V8 Vantage for the same money. Even more important, I cannot get comfortable in the SLS's driver's seat because of the ridiculous lumbar controls that are positioned in the crook of my right knee. Seriously, my foot started to fall asleep on my half-hour drive to work. Did anyone five-foot-six or shorter try this seat before cars started rolling down the production line?
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I'm not the first to mention these gullwing doors, but I certainly won't be the last. They are, after all, the car's hallmark, allowing it to stand apart from a segment packed with some pretty exotic hardware. Non-car people may not know the SLS AMG by name, but they come alive the moment you mention the word "gullwing" - or, better yet, you actually use the door in their presence. I'm not going to lie: as someone who grew up idolizing odd things like the C111-1 prototype and the DeLorean, they make me a bit giddy myself.
They do, however, make entry and egress somewhat difficult; the door sills aren't horribly high but are tall enough to give you pause as to exactly how you should sling your legs over while pulling yourself out of the car. Stand too quickly (or too tall) once you're liberated, and you'll clock yourself on the lower edge of the door itself. Stepping into the car is fairly easy, but those with shorter arms may find they need to stand up in order to grab the door and pull it closed. They also offer no means of storage - predictable, since most items would fall out, but considering space is at quite a premium in the SLS (a massive aluminum rear bulkhead eats up a considerable amount of interior space), it's quickly noticeable when attempting to stow even something as trivial as a sunglasses case.
Does any of this matter? I'd love to know exactly how many supercar owners made their purchase on empirical data or objective impressions. I'd wager many sign on the dotted line out of emotion alone, and the SLS AMG coupe delivers that in spades. The crazy doors, the burble of the 6.2-liter V-8's exhaust, the Panzer-like snarl and popping during downshifts, and the spine-crushing torque delivery are all enough to elevate pulses and win over customers, no matter if other supercars may be more powerful, more beautiful, or more rewarding to live with on a day-to-day basis.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
This is a Mercedes-Benz? From the same people that once made the conscious decision to cede the sport-sedan segment to BMW? With the same badge as the vault-like S-class? Woah.
The SLS AMG is far more surly, scrappy, and downright ballsy than I ever expected from a Mercedes. I was anticipating the usual six-figure AMG experience of something like a CLS63 AMG: a brawny motor, a taut ride, and a lavish cockpit. But with the SLS, Mercedes has doubled down on the first two attributes and thrown out half of the last. The engine barks like a dog out for blood, the ride could flatten out pavement imperfections, and the cabin -- well, the cabin is incredibly simple. The handling has a bit of a point-and-shoot feel to it and overall the SLS has the feel of something very powerful but not very precise -- like some sort of $200,000 muscle car. Personally, it's not my bag. I'd rather experience the finesse of a Ferrari 458 Italia, an Aston Martin V12 Vantage, or a McLaren MP4-12C, but the fact that such a bad-ass Mercedes-Benz exists is rad.
Eric Tingwall, Assistant Editor