Not perfect, by any stretch, but makes much more sense than the coupe

What is it?

The new convertible version of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. The coupé will no longer be produced, 2007 production being shelved in favour of this new version. Should there be demand in 2008, production will shift back to the coupé. But Mercedes doesn’t envisage much demand.

So farewell then, Mercedes SLR coupé, the car that somehow wasn’t what McLaren and Merc wanted but which has garnered a loyal following from its thousand-or-so owners.

The cynic in me wants to ignore the cabrio as an irrelevance. The on-paper performance gap between a twin-turbo SL65 and this car pokes fun at the £200k price difference.

But take a look at the cabrio’s specification and it’s clear that the SLR’s fundamentals lend themselves to a roofless application better than they did to the coupé. This is a car built for touring –albeit touring at beyond 200mph, should the need arise. And the SLR’s carbon tub offers the chance to lop the roof off and retain good amounts of torsional flexibility.

The coupe’s 617bhp supercharged 5439cc motor remains, as does the 575lb ft of torque – and most importantly, the single component that separated the SLR from all other supercars: its automatic gearbox. Only the Bugatti Veyron can shift itself as smoothly – the Ferrari 599 may embarrass the SLR in many areas, but its semi-auto gearbox is no substitute for a decent slusher.

What’s it like?

Despite its high-tech construction, the SLR is heavy, at 1825kg. But it is also genuinely rapid, as something with 617bhp ought to be.

It rides pretty well, particularly on the standard 18in wheels fitted to our test car. And it manages to make a mockery of the SL65, because that carbon tub keeps the SLR rigid on surfaces where its baby brother would be wobbling like an American teenager on a bouncy castle.

Many of the coupé’s foibles remain, though: the five-speed ’box feels old-hat now (it doesn’t blip on downshifts), brake pedal feel is abysmal and the steering is far too quick for a car that should be a relaxed yet rapid cruiser.

Should I buy one?

Despite the flaws, somewhere along the line, Merc has created a convertible that is a more compelling proposition than the coupe it effectively replaces. It’s not the car the SLR always should have been, but it’s a damn sight closer to that than the coupé ever was.

Chris Harris

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