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Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG roadster 2011 review

EXPERT RATING
9
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It is surreal to be driving through the streets of Monaco, home to the insanely rich and beautiful, its roads swarming with exotic cars… and everybody’s looking at me. Okay, its the SLS Roadster that’s turning heads and dropping jaws, not a slightly jetlagged journalist from Australia.

The latest drop-top from the AMG magicians at Mercedes-Benz looks like sin, sounds like a road-going thunderstorm, and will have you grinning like a child locked in an ice-cream shop.

Value

It’s pointless applying typical value equations to a $500,000 roadster, because cars like the SLS Roadster will never make financial sense. Equally there’s little point comparing it to convertible versions of the Ferrari 458 Italia, Maserati Gran Turismo or Porsche 911 Turbo. Multi-millionaires buy these cars on emotion and desire more-so than pragmatism, and in that regard the SLS is worth every penny. For the power, the sound, the styling, the exclusivity, the sheer hedonism. No car delivers the ‘theatre’ of a supercar better, and it has the performance to match.

Explore the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class range

If you must crunch the numbers, the SLS Roadster has all the luxuries found on the $464,000 Coupe plus a triple-layered folding soft-top that extends or retracts in 11 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h. And that, says Benz, justifies a $40,000 premium over the SLS Coupe.

Technology

The Roadster is built on the coupe’s lightweight spaceframe chassis which mounts its 6.2-litre V8 low behind the front axle. New doors and additional chassis members front and rear to restore rigidity lost by removing the hardtop roof account for the 40kg weight increase over the 1620kg Coupe.

The SLS’s 420kW V8 is one of the best sounding engines on the road today, a free-breathing technical highlight in a world fast succumbing to the efficiencies offered by turbochargers. And it’s matched by a brilliant seven-speed transmission that can change gears itself, or cede total control to you, though it can be a little slow to respond in manual mode.

Despite the extra weight and subtle change in roofline and drag, the Roadster matches the Coupe’s 0-100km/h time of 3.9 seconds and 317km/h top speed, not that anyone will reach that in Australia, and its 13.2L/100km fuel consumption figure actually betters the Coupe’s by 0.1L/100km.

The roof itself is a triple-layered cloth unit which makes the cabin quieter than most soft-tops when up. It retracts in 11 seconds and can do so at speeds up to 50km/h, giving occupants front-row seats at the mechanical symphony of the decade. Mercedes-Benz says the Roadster and Coupe were designed together from the start, which is why boot space remains relatively unchanged (173litres for the Roadster, 176 for the Coupe) despite stowing a folding roof between boot and occupants.

One interesting technology point introduced with the Roadster, and now available on the Coupe, is a race-style telemetry system which can record lap-times and display real-time G-forces and pedal pressure, among other things. The AMG Performance system comes pre-loaded with many of the world’s most famous race tracks so owners can record their laps for later analysis. The system, which is an extra-cost option on Coupe and Roadster, is fundamentally similar to that fitted standard to HSV models, though Benz’s execution and graphics are superior.

Design

Some convertibles based on coupes look ungainly or ill-proportioned. Not the SLS Roadster. Roof up or roof down, it looks natural, cohesive and oh so sexy. The SLS Roadster’s sleek silhouette builds on the Coupe’s head-turning road presence, looking not unlike those sleek speedboats of the 50s and 60s most often seen on the emerald waters of the mediterranean.

This is not a car for shrinking violets or conservative types. This is a 1950s roadster with modern muscle and rippling road presence. The interior strikes a beautiful balance between luxury and the overt sportiness of the exterior. It’s the perfect place from which to shred a mountain pass or cruise an sea-side boulevard.

Safety

Don’t hold your breath for independent crash testing of the SLS in either coupe or roadster form. No independent lab would buy one when the same money would crash test a dozen popular models. Mercedes-Benz says internal testing confirms the SLS’s five-star safety rating, so we’ll have to take their word for it.

Crash avoidance plays a big part in the SLS Roadster’s armoury. It has all the major electronic assistance systems, such as ESC and Brake Assist. The windscreen header rail is stronger and there’s a fixed roll-over protection system built into the seats to protect occupants if the car flips during a crash.

Driving

The SLS Roadster may cost close to half a million dollars, but it’s a surefire way to unleash the child inside you. Just sliding deep into its sports seats and thumbing the starter button gets me giggling like I did watching saturday morning cartoons before the parents got up. Every city laneway flanked by tall buildings is a chance to blip the throttle and hear that thundering, crackling engine come bouncing back into your ears. Every tunnel means dropping the roof and revving the engine so it can deafen me like the speaker stack at an AC/DC concert.

In fact, you’ll seldom have the roof up — or the radio on — because the SLS’s sonorous voice is heaven to a rev-head’s ears. Screaming as it accelerates, popping and crackling like a rally car as it slows, and when the super-smart 7-speed transmission changes gears you’d swear 12-foot flames just toasted the car behind.

Even better, you can do all this without exceeding the speed limit. But, should a race track be available, the SLS’s stratospheric performance will have you laughing maniacally, and not a little fearfully, as it charges the horizon like an enraged bull elephant. Make no mistake, this is not a superficial supercar, it has the ballistic ability to match its muscular looks.

Perhaps the biggest trick AMG pulled with the SLS — both Coupe and Roadster — is how incredibly nimble and responsive they are. Both combine stability and poise with rapid response of a big cat on the prowl. The SLS is far more than just a boulevarde bruiser; it is a true supercar. And the ability to drop the roof takes it one adrenaline-pumping step further.

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
SLS AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class 2011 SLS AMG Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9
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