What is it?
I know what you’re thinking. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG roadster: the open top version of one of the most sought-after supercars on sale in the UK right now. It’s low, sleek and sufficiently stylish to stop pedestrians in their tracks, but it can’t possibly compete with the SLS coupé with the way it drives, right?
It is a preconception that has been built around many a high-priced open-top, but in this case it doesn’t apply because while the SLS roadster lacks the aluminium roof of the SLS coupé, it doesn’t suffer for it.
What's it like?
With no exaggeration, the roadster is an even more convincing proposition to drive than the coupé. Of course, there’s masses of grip and it stops with great conviction, but where the soft-top really presses its case are in more subtle areas of its handling repertoire, many of which are improved over the fixed-roof model.
The engineering changes Mercedes has made to counter the loss of rigidity caused by the absence of a fixed roof provide the SLS roadster with an even more fluid feel to its handling than the coupé. Pushed hard, it feels better balanced and, with its overzealous traction control turned off, it is nothing short of sublime. The SLS roadster possesses better body control and greater levels of feedback than the coupé, and if there is any lack of rigidity it is never felt. Its ride characteristics are vastly improved, too. In fact, the modifications are so successful that Mercedes is planning to bring them to the coupé as a running change for the 2012 model year.
It’s not lacking in performance, either. Running the same 6.2-litre V8 as the coupé, the roadster produces 563bhp and 479lb ft of torque, and manages an official 0-62mph time of 3.8sec, while top speed is put at a bouffant-rearranging 197mph.
And without a roof to filter out its soundtrack, there are tiny nuances in the exhaust note evident on the roadster that you just don’t notice with the coupé, whether it be entertaining pops and crackles on a trailing throttle or the Nascar-grade volume on a wide open throttle.
But perhaps the roadster’s most persuasive sales attribute is its striking appearance, which is nothing sort of spectacular. The retro-inspired exterior, credited to British-born Mercedes designer Mark Featherstone, lends itself well to the open top treatment, giving the roadster a satisfyingly low-slung look that sets it apart from its fixed roof sibling.
The snug-fitting roof uses three layers of fabric and incorporates a heated glass rear window. It folds into its position within the forward section of the boot in just 11 seconds and at speeds of up to 31mph. When stowed, the upper part of the roof remains exposed, allowing the SLS roadster to retain an impressive 173 litres of luggage capacity, just three litres less than the coupé.
The doors have been altered, too. Out go the coupé’s gullwing units, replaced by more conventional front-hinged doors, which are significantly lighter and make entry a good deal easier. Other changes include new door trims, fixed rollover hoops, altered rear fenders and a new bootlid that incorporates the third brake light.
With the roof down, the roadster is impressively refined. There is some buffeting but not enough to drown out conversation, at least not until you hit three-digit speeds. Production versions will also get a plastic element that slots between the rollover hoops to further cut the flow of wind.