When Mercedes introduced the SLS in 2009, the Gullwing coupe dropped jaws and turned heads with its retro inspiration and powerful guts. The move also firmly staked its claim toward the future expression of the brand. Designed at the same time but only now available, the SLS Roadster brings the thrill of a convertible to this already near-perfect driver's car—along with a few new additions.
We had a chance to check the new model out first-hand when Mercedes invited us to France's sunny Côte d'Azur to spend a day-and-a-half in the supercar (which I shared with good friend Jean Aw from Notcot). Driving from Monaco into Italy, up to Col du Brouis and back down to St. Jean Cap-Ferrat made for an idyllic itinerary to experience driving with the top down at its most chic.
What's so impressive about the car is everything. Respectful of its heritage in the coveted 1950s 300 SL Roadster, the SLS also firmly represents all that Mercedes-Benz has to offer. It incorporates some of the most sophisticated engineering and technology available, yet is both easy and an absolute pleasure to drive. The interior perfectly balances sport, luxury and comfort. Both sinner and saint, while many other cars and supercars achieve many of the same levels and worthy praise, few bring it together so seamlessly and perfectly. (Though the Ferrari FF comes to mind).
The Roadster shares all of the same technology and equipment as the Coupe. Its lightweight aluminum construction, seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission and AMG 6.3 liter 571-horsepower V8 engine all makes for the same 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds. The more rigid body is only 60 pounds heavier than the Gullwing, impressively retaining the same performance (and most of its trunk space).
New options to the Roadster are a much welcomed AMG Ride Control and a very impressive set of Internet-enabled performance functions called AMG Performance Media, which reside in a tab of the car's on-board computer system. A kick-ass Bang & Olufson sound system is also available, and includes a 250 watt subwoofer. Another feature I liked (though didn't need to try) is the Airscarf neck vent, which blows hot air to keep you warm for off-season, top-down driving (heated seats are also available).
Ride Control lets you select from three preset suspension and transmission variations: Comfort, Sport (stiffer, higher performance ride) and Sport+, even more firm and tuned for the highest-performance conditions. This is really helpful for traveling most comfortably from urban traffic to the countryside, freeways or track. It also adjusts the sound of the engine and exhaust from a purr to one of the best sounding roars I've heard—the consensus among other journalists there as well.
Want to see how many Gs you're pulling on the track? The Performance Media option, an Android-based mobile platform, provides high-speed Internet access (when the car isn't moving). Multiple racing-inspired screens show real-time temperatures, performance, tire pressures, lateral and linear acceleration and a host of track-related functions. This section is seamlessly integrated into the rest of the car's system, which itself is well-designed and intuitive to use. As you'd expect, the car is highly customizable, including custom paint colors.
Rumored to start around $200,000 and available at Mercedes dealerships, this beauty may be unattainable for most of us, but its exceptional design is something we can all enjoy.