Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Roadster

By Mark Elias
Thursday, Jul 5th, 2012 @ 11:24 am
And now there are two. Mercedes-Benz's 2012 SLS AMG roadster joins its big brother, the SLS AMG "Gullwing," for a complete lineup of offerings from their supercar division.

Now all that's missing is an SUV variant, right? Thankfully, the supercar SUV segment isn't on AMG's radar screen... at least as far as we know.

Regardless, there's no time for waiting, so hop in with us as we try AMG's most righteous convertible yet. See what it's like to celebrate the automobile as an event.

What is it?
A two-seater, the SLS Roadster is a showcase for the latest offerings from Mercedes-Benz AMG's skunk works in Affalterbach, Germany. A direct descendent of the 1954 through 1963 SL, which was legendary in its own right, this roadster is related to the SLS gullwing of 2011. Engineered from the ground up, it's not just a coupe that had its top lopped off. Instead, engineers sought to make its aluminum spaceframe body one of the stiffest roadsters in segment, without adding extra strengthening weight to compensate for the lack of a roof

For motive power, AMG did not have to go very far. They chose the same 6.3-liter V8 engine with its 563-horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 479 lb-ft of torque at 4,750 rpm. Nothing super or turbo about this mill, it breathes all on its own.

Our tester was not equipped with some of the optional speed goodies that were available, but still, this hot rod was way over the top (even when that top was down). An adaptive sport suspension enables damping characteristics to be modified with the touch of a button. The AMG Drive unit selector is a dial that sits to the left of the shift lever, offering changes in the AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed sports transmission. Controlled Efficiency (C), Sport (S), Sport+ (S+) and Manual (M) settings allow for fly-by-wire gear changes. In all but the C-mode, the transmission performs rev-matching gear changes in as little as 100-milleseconds.

Not a typical layout, the SLS Roadster, like the Gullwing, features mid-front engine placement with a dry sump oil system that allows for a lower center of gravity. A master of packaging, the car manages other space savings opportunities. A lightweight carbon fiber driveshaft turns at engine crank speed and transfers torque to the rear-mounted rev-matching transmission and transaxle, which is similar in layout to the company's Deutsche Touring Marque (DTM) factory race cars.

On the subject of race cars and acceleration, the SLS Roadster fires up from naught to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, which means the roadster, carrying 6.5 lbs. per pony, is on par with the gullwing. Top speed is electronically limited to 197 mph, unlike certain other German brands that artificially cap theirs at 155 mph. EPA numbers for the 3,661 lbs. convertible come in at 14 city/20 highway, which prompts a $1,700 gas guzzler tax.

Owners can make numbers of their own with AMG Performance Media telemetrics, which offers displays including lateral and linear acceleration, engine power output readouts, and racetrack lap times. But such knowledge does not come cheap: The software is priced at $2,500.

What's it up against?
In shopping the SLS Roadster, buyers are in search of exclusivity. Along in that pursuit, the Aston Martin DB9 ($189,915), Audi R8 GT ($196,800), Porsche 911 GT2 RS ($245,000), Lamborghini Gallardo ($237,600), McLaren MP4 12C ($229,000) or the Ferrari F458 Italia ($229,832), should help to fill that bill.

If the prospect of specimens in that grouping offer no excitement, then it's quite likely that you simply have no pulse.

How does it look?
The lines and details of the SLS Roadster are not crisp, nor sharply creased as we'd find in some of its competition. But it is purpose-built, nonetheless. The first thing you notice is the sheer length of the car. The SLS subscribes to the long nose-short tail school of thought that governs the design of most performance cars these days. Next is the gaping Mercedes-Benz performance grill with its trademark star front and center. Flanked by Bi-Xenon headlamps, it also has a full-array of LED lighting for a contemporary, yet classic look.

The three-layer, power soft-top managed to keep the sun out and dBs down while at speed. Unlike some rag-tops, this one actually looks good when in the up position. Functional while the vehicle is moving at speeds up to 31 mph, it operates within 11 seconds and does not intrude into the cargo space within the trunk.

Heat does build up quickly from the 6.3-liter V-8; hence the need for the large grill and intakes in the front and the hot air ducts on the hood and front flanks. In an effort to keep a clean backside and aerodynamic undertray, the exhaust system exits through cutouts in the rear fascia. Leather-wrapped rollover bars are constantly at the ready behind the seats, while a rear spoiler electronically deploys once the car is at speed.

From inside the cockpit, the front wings of the car give the impression that it is simply huge. With the feeling of width, we found ourselves taking extra care going around turns and negotiating curbs while driving. As big as it does appear, the reality is it handles like a car half as long and wide.

Our tester was equipped with AMG 10-spokers in matte black with a silver lip, which were somehow not as sexy up close as it was from 25 feet. We get the concept of the big sport wheels. But except for the ability to hide dirty rims and brake dust from view, for $231,325, we want to see some bling!

If you're driving this car, you want to be able to show it off at every opportunity.

And on the inside?
Aircraft-inspired, the SLS cockpit is beautifully finished and well presented inside. Made of two-toned leather, aluminum alloy, and carbon fiber, the only thing it was missing was ventilated seating, presumably as a weight savings measure. It would be a welcomed addition for sunbelt drivers because the car does get hot from the big 6.3-liter engine just ahead of the firewall. For chillier climates though, Mercedes has you covered with its Air Scarf, which blows warm air down the necks of those inside.

The driver-oriented instrument panel is laid out in traditional AMG fashion with an AMG-branded 240 mph speedo on the left and tachometer on the right, flanking a center-positioned LCD.

Mercedes' COMAND head unit serves as the control center for the Bang & Olufsen stereo system, navigation and Bluetooth operations. A seven-inch display sits at the head of the center stack, between jet engine-inspired vents. A carbon fiber console houses all the driver variable alloy buttons and controls including adjustments for suspension, spoiler, traction control and the glowing red ignition button.

The 1000-watt stereo was lovely but also sometimes too efficient in the way it could, at times, drown out the other delightful notes that were coming from the V8 under the hood.

But does it go?
Seamless execution is the hallmark of the SLS lineup. It is a full-on luxury car masquerading as a supercar, too. It's just perhaps that it hasn't been informed of that fact yet. Possessing power seemingly from another world, the hand built jewel of an engine impresses with its smoothness, and menaces with its rumble. If you have the space to, you can cut a corner at high speed. That's if you find yourself comfortable with the firmness that occurs in Sport and Sport+ mode.

Acceleration is blazingly fast. This roadster just picks up and goes like nobody's business. During a brief encounter in Florida Sugar Cane Country, we found ourselves in triple digits without even realizing it. Few cars offer the feeling of foot-to-your-chest acceleration like the SLS does, and it wasn't even breathing hard. The compound brake rotors were as grabby as we like them to be and they should be, considering what you pay for them. They were very capable in reining us back in following that three-digit romp.

The steering was very direct, offering a very complete tactile sense of the road underneath. We loved plowing through the gears with the alloy paddle shift levers, managing to go up and down with rev-matching. The sport mode was as far in as we dabbled, although you could go in further, to Sport + mode (If your insurance premiums were all up to date.) Doing so would dial in a firmer ride, stiffer suspension and a longer holding of the gears.

One thing the SLS certainly doesn't feel like is the company's old SLR, that phallic catfish developed with McLaren. Trust us, that's a good thing!

Why you would buy it:
Because your supercar tastes run more German than Italian.

Why you wouldn't:
Because you are an heir to the Agnelli family of Fiat fame or your father sits on the board of directors of Volkswagen Group.

Leftlane's bottom line
The SLS AMG Roadster is an exclusively ballsy, aluminum-bodied, well thought out sports car.

Amazingly well put together, it's a supercar without the supercar compromises.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster base price, $196,100. As tested, $231,325
Mystic white paint, $2,300; Porcelain black leather, $750; Carbon fiber engine cover, $5,400; Carbon fiber trim, $4,500; Red brake calipers, $1,000; AMG Performance Media, $2,500; Extended carbon interior package, $4,500; AMG wheels, $3,400; Carbon mirror covers, $1,900; Bang & Olufsen audio, $6,400; Destination, $875; Gas Guzzler Tax, $1,700.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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