A soft-top roof means it misses out on the gullwing doors of its stablemate but it garners even more attention when it is exposed to the elements. That also lifts the lid on one of the best V8 soundtracks on the street, a mechanically composed siren’s song that invites licence-losing stabs of the right foot.
In the rarified realms of supercar ownership, cost is less of an issue than how the vehicle looks, or how the driver looks in the vehicle. An Audi R8 convertible is $100,000 cheaper than the Mercedes but Audi sold 41 R8s last year against 17 SLS sales.
That makes the super-quick Merc grand tourer a more exclusive toy and means owners are less likely to be assailed by the sight of a similar car on weekend jaunts to the holiday house.
The $487,000 list price is around $20,000 more than an SLS coupe, courtesy of the triple-layered fabric roof that folds in 11 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h. Most buyers spend well beyond that in personalising their ride, from $3775 for carbon-fibre mirror cowls to $29,750 for the ceramic brakes.
The aluminium space frame houses a naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 that sounds as though it’s been penned in the massively long bonnet against its will. It snarls on start-up, bellows under the slightest provocation and crackles on the automated downshifts from the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The full suite of technical wizardry is fitted to keep this toy on the tarmac, from adaptive cruise control to blind spot assistance and multi-stage stability control.
Look at the photos and make up your own mind. Mine says the soft-cloth top detracts from the overall appeal but that’s presumably down the fact AMG wanted to trim weight and keep the centre of gravity low. Top down, it’s a better-looking beast than the Gullwing: long, low and menacing. If only they’d clad it in radar-reflecting panels …
It doesn’t feature in EuroNCAP or ANCAP databases because it’s not cost-effective to blow $500,000 on a car that only a handful of people can afford. It is a Merc, though, so it’s safe to assume the SLS holds up under impact.
Driver and passenger get four airbags each, the software monitors everything and there is extra bracing throughout the car to keep it stiff and on the black stuff in the first place. Inattention or overconfidence are about the only excuses for binning the SLS … good luck explaining either to the insurance company.
I don’t normally name cars, but the SLS AMG isn’t a normal car. I called her Luci, which elicited sighs from friends until I pointed out it was short for Lucifer. Helluva thing, this SLS. There’s no concession to banal practicalities like boot space or interior storage - the door-pocket strips couldn’t hold my wife’s purse - that’s what the other car is for (and I’m assured SLS buyers tend to own a couple of vehicles).
It is built for visual and visceral pleasure. There’s a football field of bonnet up front but the car is still relatively easy to park. And a second of button-mashing setup transforms the vehicle from cruise to charge mode. Set the springs and transmission to comfort and it is easily handled eye-candy. Hit the AMG button and you’d better know your business.
Right-foot response is hair-raisingly quick, the back end will step out before being electronically hauled into line and the steering picks up laser-guided precision. The brakes are brilliant and because the engine is behind the front axle they can be absolutely hammered without affecting the car’s stance.
The spend may be outrageous but few vehicles combine this level of outright prowess with luxurious panache. If money wasn’t an object, the SLS would be the object of my affections, given there’d be another couple of spots in the CCTV-monitored garage for more mundane vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster
Price: from $487,000
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 12 months/20,000km
Crash rating: Note tested
Safety: 8 airbags, ABS with EBD, TC, ESC. Adaptive cruise control
Engine: 6.2-litre V8, 420kW/650Nm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Dimensions: 4.64m (L), 1.94m (W), 1.26m (H)
Spare: Tyre-inflation kit
Thirst: 13.3 litres/100km 98 RON, 311g/km CO2.