Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster review
The Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster does away with the coupe's gullwing doors, letting you hear the rumble from the 6.3-litre V8
The Mercedes SLS AMG Roadster re-writes the convertible rule book - it's a better car than the hardtop on which it's based. And that's an amazing thing to say when you consider it misses out on the coupe's fabulous gullwing doors. The roof-down experience really brings owners closer to the action and the sound of the 6.3-litre V8 engine is just incredible. The downside is the price, though - £175,000 (and almost £190,000 for the faster GT version) is a lot to pay for a Mercedes, especially when you consider a Ferrari California costs £30,000 less.
Our choice: SLS AMG Roadster GT
The SLS AMG Roadster is a great-looking car. With the roof down it looks very glamorous indeed, and although the removal of those gullwing doors is a bit of a shame, the Roadster certainly looks less tail-heavy than the coupe. That fabric top is a work of art, too. It can be raised or lowered in just 11 seconds at speeds of up to 30mph, and it's available in a wide variety of colours. As is the bodywork. Indeed, should you have an extra £10,000 or so, you can get your SLS AMG Roadster in an amazing satin matte-effect finish. With stunning jet-engine air vents, beautifully trimmed leathers and classy metals, the cabin is a great place to spend time in even if it doesn't look as extravagant as, say, a Pagani Zonda. The SLS GT adds darkened headlights and taillights, red brake callipers and GT badging on the outsides, plus red seat belts, red contrast stitching and quilted leather on the inside.
Few cars are as much fun to drive as the SLS AMG Roadster. It feels just as rock solid as the coupe - despite losing its roof – and with new adaptive dampers plus some handy suspension changes, it manages to ride even more fluidly than the coupe while handling more precisely. The GT model is slightly stiffer, so prepare to be shaken, while new gearbox software allows faster, smoother shifts. But the best bit is that with the roof lowered, that amazing 6.3-litre V8 engine roar enters the cabin at every opportunity. It has a gorgeous bass-laden NASCAR rumble under full throttle, and when you lift off there are some hilarious pops and bangs from the exhaust. With a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds (3.7 for the GT) it's very nearly as fast as a Lamborghini Aventador and while it's not as agile or as engaging in corners, it's still satisfying.
You would expect a Mercedes flagship to be safe and reliable – and the SLS AMG Roadster certainly ticks those boxes. There are lots of airbags, traction control (the system even has two stages of electronic intervention), ABS and a pop-up rollover bar should the car end up on its roof. Build quality is superb throughout and although the SLS is a complex thing, we can't believe it will be any less reliable than an SL63 AMG. Mercedes finished eighth as a brand overall in the 2012 Driver Power reliability survey, one place ahead of Porsche.
Given its size and the fact it seats just two, the SLS AMG Roadster is reasonably practical. The roof is very compact, so much so that when folded into the boot, it only takes away three litres of space compared to the coupe – and with 173 litres of luggage capacity, there's enough stowage room for a decent suitcase and a squashy bag or two. The cabin is logically laid out and has plenty of room for two tall adults, even with the roof in place. What's more, it's easier to get in and out of the Roadster as it has conventional doors. The roof is made of three layers of fabric, which keeps out almost as much road and wind noise as the coupe when raised. Roof down, there's a small plastic deflector which helps to minimise buffeting. But the real praise must go to the adaptive dampers which give the Roadster a firm but comfortable ride.
You don't buy a V8-engined roadster at this price and expect low running costs, but even so, the SLS promises to be incredibly expensive to run. First of all, you'll be lucky to get much more than 15mpg in regular driving, while servicing, road tax (it emits 308g/km of CO2) and insurance costs will be very high, too. Predictably, there's lots of equipment as standard – the gadget count includes sat-nav, heated seats, cruise control and parking sensors, while the SLS AMG Roadster also comes with a new AMG performance package. This lets you record all manner of vehicle statistics, such as 0-60mph times and lap speeds at racing circuits, for downloading later. Perhaps the worst news is depreciation. The standard SLS AMG manages to shed around £50,000 of its value in the first year of ownership – and the Roadster is likely to suffer just as badly.