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Mercedes-Benz SLS 2012 Review

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As controversial as it might sound, we reckon chopping off the Mercedes SLS AMG "Gullwing’’ roof actually improves its looks. Compare the new soft top roadster alongside the Gullwing and you’ll see what we mean. The roadster looks lithe, muscular - a real handsome customer while the Gullwing looks, well, portly.

And we are not the only ones who think so given the amount of attention the new SLS roadster garnered at its international launch last week in the South of France. It caused a minor sensation in a region where there are more Ferraris, Lambos and Porsches per square kilometre than anywhere else  "in the world’’ to paraphrase one J Clarkson.

Snobby punters from the Riviera actually ran out in front of our red drive car with their phone cameras flashing. "Poor Aussie car punters stop traffic outside the Grand Casino in Monaco.’’ How good it that? Thank you SLS roadster.

Having put in some quality time behind the wheel of the new SLS roadster, we had a different perspective from those outside, we could actually feel the thing and explore its vast sporty prowess and that monstrous sound – like a "door slammer’’ drag car on the limit. This was all accentuated on the drive by numerous, long, road tunnels that caused the blatting exhaust to reverberate to the point of pain – good pain.

We liked it so much we sought-out said tunnels simply for aural appreciation sessions. Is it the best exhaust note around? Well, the new Lexus LFA is pretty bloody good but in a different way. It’s more your electric high speed machine gun while the SLS roadster is your big cannon. Boom, boom, boom and look out for falling rocks.

TECHNOLOGY

It’s exactly the same mechanically as the Gullwing which means a naturally aspirated 6.2-litre petrol V8 kicking out a handy 420kW and 650Nm. Given it weighs 1660kg, the power to weight ratio is rather impressive especially when there’s all that lovely torque providing the thrust.

The engine is mounted up front but behind the front axle for better balance. It’s a dry sumper to reduce overall size and allow a low bonnet line. The transmission is a seven-speed dual clutch system mounted transaxle style at the rear of the car with power transmission via a lightweight carbon fibre drive shaft.

Performance from this set up is fairly brutal with a 0-100kmh sprint passing in around 3.8 seconds with top whack running to 317kmh. Redline is up around the 7500rpm mark. Benz says the SLS roadster is capable of returning 13.2-litres/100km – perhaps if you drove it with an egg under your foot.

You can dial up the dual clutch tranny into one of four modes ranging from C for cruise to Sport plus and there’s a race start function as well if you want to straighten your hair. It blips the throttle on down changes to make you look good.

DYNAMICS

Built around an aluminium space frame, the SLS Roadster is a mere 40kg heavier than the Gullwing and is rock solid roof up or down. Aluminium double wishbone suspension structures are used at all four corners together with a choice of wheels sized 19 inch front and 20-inch rear. Ride is selectable between Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. All have cause for existence in the SLS because you don’t necessarily want to be in race mode when cruising along the boulevarde.

The test car had optional carbon ceramic brakes with six piston front calipers that should be standard on the car but cost an extra 30 grand. They deliver impeccable stopping power without fade – and we tried hard on the sinuous Col de Brouis road up into the Italian Alps.

It has super handling characteristics driven in a sporty manner offering extremely high grip levels, fine steering control and those brakes. All this is aided and abetted by the width of the thing – it’s really wide and has suitable wide rubber to match. Heck we even drove the SLS roadster in cruise mode and that was fun too – comfy, smooth, composed.

FEATURES

SLS roadster is jammed with all manner of goodies from the Benz inventory – Command this, Active that, Integrated the other – what you’d expect in a car that will hover around the half million dollar mark when it arrives soon.

Buyers have a wide selection of choices with which to "customise" their SLS roadster right down to the type and colour of upholstery. They are essentially hand made cars – bespoke to use a current (hated) buzzword.

There’s a virtual read out meter displaying important information like lap times, power output, lateral forces, linear acceleration and other engine data – just like HSV. And yes, you can download the data onto a USB to take to dinner parties for some chest pounding. You can go on the internet if you have to – in the car, and crank up the audio system to head bending levels.

The multi-layer soft top is totally wind and water proof and deploys in 11 seconds up to a speed of 50km/h. The cockpit style dash has everything at your fingertips and large gear change paddles on the wheel.

DRIVING

Obviously, not too shabby – awesome is more like it. The SLS has a number of brilliant attributes including the engine sound and performance – beyond a legendary "muscle car,"  the way it handles and how it looks. Then you look at the luxury kit and it’s just so opulent there’s too much to mention. You could spend hours in the garage playing with all the features. Many settings are saveable to a default mode so you don’t have to re-set it everything whenever you drive.

Few cars will stay with the SLS in performance and handling terms and even fewer have the brutal charm of the beast. It’s bad to the bone – in the nicest possible way. Sprinting through a mountain pass is breathtaking, so is burbling through the city streets like a wild animal ready to pounce – while you luxuriate in the cars prodigious luxury.

But the cabin is smallish restricting seat back angle and its low making access a flop rather than anything more graceful. There’s plenty of headroom with the roof on. We could get used to the SLS roadster because it is such an over the top sports car – bigger and better than just about anything else.

VERDICT

Huge money, huge tax component, huge fun, huge performance. Sexy looks, likes a drink. Yep, we’d have one in a heartbeat.

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
SLS AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class 2012 SLS AMG Pricing and Specs
SLS AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class 2012 SLS AMG Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

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