There\'s nothing special about the doors on this Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. They swing outwards just like any other conventional car. So you might wonder if the SLS AMG Roadster loses some of the drama of its coupe relative with its famous uplifting doors and unofficial official nickname of \'Gullwing\'.
There's nothing special about the doors on this Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. They swing outwards just like any other conventional car.
So you might wonder if the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster loses some of the drama of its coupe relative with its famous uplifting doors and unofficial official nickname of 'Gullwing'.
It certainly isn’t considered the poor relation by the boffins at Benz.
Where many convertibles are produced as a very separate project to their hardtop siblings, the SLS AMG was designed to be both a coupe and a roadster from the outset.
The first result is that the SLS AMG Roadster’s design looks gorgeously harmonious despite the need to accommodate a folding roof – and arguably its styling is less contrived than the Gullwing.
Secondly, it means the SLS’s structure was designed to be supremely stiff, meaning that minimal additional structural bracing was required to compensate for the loss of a fixed roof.
The Roadster’s body in white weighs just two kilos more than the coupe’s, while the overall kerb weight is just 40kg higher – with the other 38kg added by the roof mechanism.
It’s not weighed down by a significant price premium over the Gullwing, either.
Well-heeled buyers preferring a fabric to metal roof over their heads pay an extra $18,320 to get into the $487,500 SLS Roadster.
While customers who can afford half a million dollars after on-road costs have been added are hardly likely to baulk at that additional outlay, they may still be pleased to know that they also get some other little extras over the coupe.
The SLS Roadster’s cabin is furnished with a ‘designo’ leather upholstery worth $8250, plus a blind spot warning system that will cost Gullwing buyers $1650. You also get Benz’s neck-warming Airscarf seat vent system thrown in.
Easier access to the cockpit is free of charge courtesy of a door sill that’s noticeably lower than the Gullwing’s – and of course you don’t need to consciously stoop to get into the Roadster even if the roof is raised.
Lowering the roof comes highly recommended as it provides your eardrums with access all areas to the Mercedes-Benz SLS’s epic engine.
The normal breathing 6.2-litre V8 is unchanged from the Gullwing, so there’s 420kW developed at 6800rpm and 650Nm of torque produced at 4750rpm.
It propels the SLS Roadster from 0-100km/h in 3.8 seconds and to an electronically governed limit of 317km/h – identical figures to the Gullwing.
It feels ferociously quick on the road, too, though such is the addictive sound of the SLS’s exhaust as it pops and crackles on the overrun that it’s all too easy to be tempted into short bursts of acceleration and jumping off the throttle each time.
Keep the throttle pedal pinned down and you’ll hear one of the great engines of current times as the V8 rises from a burbling rumble at lower revs to a NASCAR-imitating growl as the rev counter needle spins clockwise.
Even at a steady cruise on the freeway, the engine note ensures you’re aware of the menacing performance that’s just a toe flick away.
With the roof down – at 11 seconds the SLS’s roof folding operation is the quickest in the Mercedes line-up – you can still enjoy a conversation at freeway speeds without having to raise voices too much.
In terms of the noises you’d prefer there to be less of, there’s some wind whistle around the sides of the windscreen, and tyre roar becomes more prominent if the road surface changes from smooth to coarse.
Surprisingly, Mercedes hasn’t softened the suspension for the SLS Roadster that could be viewed as more of a grand tourer proposition compared with the coupe.
So the ride remains as unrelentingly firm, and as reluctant to relax even on freeways, as the Gullwing’s.
Our launch test car featured standard suspension, but our experience of the Gullwing with the optional AMG Ride Control sports suspension - with its electronically adjustable dampers - tells us you still won’t discover any extra suppleness even with the Comfort mode selected.
But it also means you won’t feel shortchanged in the dynamics department. The SLS Roadster feels like an identical driving experience to the SLS AMG Gullwing.
Through corners, there’s the familiar flat stance, strong grip from the standard 19-inch front tyres and 20-inch rears, and the steering that is surprisingly quick considering that long bonnet up ahead.
It’s still more beautifully balanced grand tourer than super-agile supercar – the SLS AMG prefers sweeping rather than tightening corners – but it remains entertaining.
The driving position is superb, too, and the SLS AMG Roadster’s high shoulder line ensures you feel low and cocooned even without the roof in place.
Visibility is poor with the roof raised, however, making the standard blind spot warning system – which provides both audible and visual alerts – a welcome feature.
There are otherwise minimal changes to the aircraft-inspired interior first seen in the SLS AMG Gullwing, which is suitably presented with a mix of beautiful leather for the seats and door and console trim and other soft-touch materials.
It continues to be a slight pity, though, that some of the main buttons and dials look so familiar from Benzes far lower in the price-tag rankings.
The boot is still a decent size for this type of car, however, and it only loses a fraction of space to the Gullwing as a result of some additional structural bracing.
That’s helped by the roof nestling in a ‘Z configuration’ between the seatbacks and bootlid.
Our test car came with a black roof but you can also opt for red or beige fabric, with a greater choice of colours for the body (unlimited in fact if you have an almost unlimited budget).
Mercedes-Benz doesn’t expect to sell as many SLS convertibles as coupes – even though it already has 10 orders for the Roadster against 75 Gullwings sold so far.
Yet with better access to that glorious V8 and a more elegant design, the Roadster edges the Gullwing as the pick of the SLS AMGs. Even without those head-turning doors, it’s an uplifting experience.