Mercededes SLS AMG Roadster

Discussion in 'International Automotive Scene' started by Dhillon, Oct 7, 2011.

  1. Dhillon

    Dhillon Administrator Staff Member

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    You might have a sense you’ve seen the SLS in our pictures before. It’s a new car, we promise, but the face, shape and general ambience will probably look pretty familiar. That’s because it’s existed as a hard-top coupé for the last two years. First unveiled at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, the SLS AMG coupé is a successor to the crazy SLR McLaren supercar and can trace its roots back to the sumptuous 300SL Gullwing of the Fifties.
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    The clue is in the name there. If you’ve never heard the term, ‘gullwing’ refers to the upwards opening doors — a trademark of the Fifties model and revived on retro, modern interpretations. And that’s where this SLS is different — it doesn’t have them. It has a pretty good excuse, though, because it’s the Roadster. A convertible version with a fabric roof capable of folding down in a swift 11 seconds and all the usual mod cons of the coupé, including the all-important 6.2-litre 571bhp V8 engine.

    Somewhat perversely, the lack of a roof adds a bit of weight to the Merc. That should be no surprise though, as it’s the result of a bit of strengthening — an extra cross member here and the odd brace there — to counteract the loss of a structural piece of metal up top. The result is an extra 40kg, which, considering the SLS’s massive reserves of power, isn’t that much at all.

    There are a few other changes for the Roadster, too. Mercedes has introduced a new AMG Performance Media system, which allows you to check out how many g-forces you’re pulling through the bends, find out how many of those 571 horses you’re actually using, monitor lap times and other track-related paraphernalia. Great ammo for showing off to your friends, but in reality, little practical use to your average millionaire supercar owner. It also features designo leather trim, a standard reversing camera and an Airscarf system to cancel out the wind buffeting behind your neck.

    Save for those trinkets, it’s a stock SLS AMG and, in truth, the new and rather minor additions pale into insignificance compared with the rest of the car. No, the SLS isn’t anything new but the Roadster still cuts a dash in the intimidating world of supercar styling. It’s a big car for a cabriolet — lengthy, flat and very wide. You sit a long way towards the rear— as you should do in a sportscar — backside almost over the back wheels, with the bonnet stretching out endlessly in front of you. Look at it head-on and you’re left in no doubt as to what it is or its heritage. The huge grille juts far out in front of the car and sports an equally prominent three-pointed star.

    The interior represents a fine compromise of supercar cabins. Sit in a Ferrari 458 Italia and, theatrical though it is, there are more buttons and surface changes than you can comprehend. Clamber into a Porsche 911 GT3 RS and, while a little sparse, it’s well built, functional and of good quality — but not all that exciting. The Merc strikes a great balance between the two — it’s just as tough, classy and well put together as a Porsche, but it adds a subtle dash of style. Stitched leather is all over the place, the centre console is made of carbon fibre and the air vents are proper aluminium — cold and hard to the touch unlike the vast array of painted silver pretenders.

    Drop down into the driver’s seat and there’s a high set transmission tunnel beneath your elbow. On it, you’ll find the engine start button, which, given a prod, initiates the most tremendous bellow imaginable from the twin rear tailpipes. That quickly settles down to a low-pitched grumble, but suffice to say, the SLS is never quiet. To the enthusiast, the noise is arguably the Mercedes’ best feature. Accelerate with gusto and your ears are met with a wonderful, growling crescendo which falls back to a cauldron-like bubble, pop and bang on the overrun. It tempts you into selecting manual mode for the transmission, so that you remain in control and you can hang onto the gears for that bit longer, just to eke out those orchestral notes.

    As for the power delivery itself, the V8 unit takes an endearingly old-school approach. You won’t find any low pressure turbochargers or overbearing efficiency measures here, oh no. The engine unleashes all its power in one fell swoop and the throttle is very much all or nothing in its action. Loud, brash and great fun.

    The figures tell most of the story but it still has to be said: the SLS is a brutally fast car. With 571bhp and 650Nm of torque, it’s good for 0-100kph in 3.8 seconds, and it certainly feels it. The seven-speed automatic transmission can be operated in a variety of settings, the most fitting of which is Sport Plus mode, which makes for short, sharp changes. Do it yourself with the paddles behind the steering wheel and the changes take longer — there’s an unwelcome gap between the time you pull the paddle back and the actual change.

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    As for the handling, everything happens right at the rear in the SLS. The engine is set a long way back from the front axle in a mid-front configuration and the gearbox is mounted at the rear, which helps to optimise the weight distribution. Get on the throttle and the feeling of the car transmitting its power through the rear wheels is more than obvious. Even the steering, which is accurate enough but not the most delicate or communicative of systems, seems to generate its direction from the rear. Go for broke and the Merc will break traction in no time and it requires due care and attention when exiting corners to reign in the very easy to initiate oversteer. You can turn the ESP off or lessen its input, but with this kind of handling and the sheer amount of torque available, it’s worth leaving it on unless you have plenty of room to play with.

    Despite its obvious charms, the SLS is appealing on more than one level in that it’s not a difficult car to live with. Yeah, it’s big, obscenely powerful and twitchy on the limit, but visibility is reasonably good, the steering is light enough to make manoeuvres easy and you’ve got parking sensors and a reversing camera to fall back on. It’s certainly easier to deal with than a Ferrari 458 or stripped-out track special — rather on a par with a relatively basic Porsche 911 for ease of use.

    It does the low-speed posing thing pretty well, too, which is important for a roadster, while the seats and the ride are really quite comfortable. You can even push the active suspension button on the centre console a couple of times to soften it up a bit if you’re not fussed about kissing apexes for a while.

    Verdict

    Wonderful though it is, you can’t help but ponder the future for cars like the SLS Roadster. All but the very wealthiest buyers are now conscious of how much fuel they put in their tanks, so big old naturally aspirated V8s are sadly becoming less popular, especially when they use 13.2 litres-per-100km (and that’s the official average figure, the reality will be more than that). AMG’s engineers are still holding the V8 petrol fort, but they’re branching out into other arenas. They’ve developed an electric version of the SLS known as the E-Cell with almost the same amount of power as the internal combustion-engined version. It seemed condemned to the prototype stages, but Mercedes has buckled and promised it to showrooms in 2013. It won’t be as noisy, but it should do everything else just as well.

    With the future of Mercedes’ supercars secure, the petrolheads among us can rest easy and enjoy what we’ve got for now. If you’re fortunate enough to have the means, the SLS AMG Roadster is a truly tempting prospect. Blisteringly quick, as easygoing as supercars come and wonderfully old-fashioned in its performance. And then there’s the noise.

    Specs & ratings



    • Model SLS AMG Roadster
    • Engine 6.2-litre V8
    • Transmission Seven-speed auto, RWD
    • Max power 571bhp @ 6,800rpm
    • Max torque 650Nm @ 4,750rpm
    • Top speed 317kph
    • 0-100kph 3.8sec
    • Price NA


     

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