Last year I was fortunate enough to be able to test drive and review the SLS AMG Coupe from Mercedes-Benz. I led off my review by stating the obvious – “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” That having been said, I went on to point out the unquestionable beauty and elegance of both the original, mid-50s Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster and the iconic Gullwing, which are highly desirable and collectible vehicles.
Several colleagues perceived the earlier versions to be by far, the more beautiful and desirable of the two. I vehemently disagreed, pointing out that both cars were of equal merit in their own right and that both old and new were lust worthy objects to any true auto aficionado. Those that claimed the original, iconic 300SL models ranked as superior in value and substance to the newer SLS AMG versions, did so while stating that the newer creations were nothing more than a marketing exercise or ploy that possessed no real merit in terms of value or collectability, while also suggesting that the 2011 SLS AMG Gullwing Coupe would soon be forgotten by those in the know – I seriously doubt it.
Given a choice as to which one is really best, I frankly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to own either one, and given the ultimate choice, owning both would prove to be a stellar scenario. The original models are certainly at this point in time, the more popular of the two, and require a heftier sum to acquire, but unfortunately rarely become available, thereby making the new one actually more attainable. As for the notion that the SLS AMG models are only a marketing gimmick to draw attention to the brand, may be factual in a sense, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with such a concept. Essentially, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG offerings might well be considered a modern, spiritual reinterpretation and representation of the original 300SLs. They are particularly gorgeous cars with phenomenal performance capabilities and technology going for them.
In 2011, only a Coupe version of the SLS AMG Mercedes was available. Now, for the 2012 model year, there’s a Roadster example that pays homage to the original drop-top 300 SL. Power for this limited production, two-seat sport touring Roadster comes from the same 6.3-liter DOHC, 32-valve, naturally aspirated, hand-built AMG V8 engine with an 8-velocity stack intake and electronic fuel injection that powers the coupe It cranks out a whopping 563 horsepower at 6,800 rpm, along with 479 pound feet of torque at 4,750 rpm. The motor is placed up front in a North/South, mid-mount orientation, with power monitored to the rear wheels through a 7-speed AMG SPEEDSHIFT DCT rear mounted transaxle automatic sports transmission with AMG Drive unit and an E-Select lever. Travel from 0-60 mph may be accomplished in a mere 3.7 seconds, and the top track speed is rated at 197 mph.
The 2012 SLS AMG Roadster is truly a supercar that shares the limelight with the coupe as flagship models of the auto industry’s broadest product lineup. The Coupe was the first-ever car designed and developed from the ground up by Mercedes-AMG, the company’s high performance division. Both the Coupe and Roadster feature a lightweight aluminum space-frame body, boasting a weight distribution of 47/53 – front /rear. In terms of styling, the new SLS AMG models are patterned after the old, with a long front hood, short body overhangs, compact cabin and abbreviated tail section. The styling highlight of the Coupe, is of course, the gullwing doors. Highlighting the Roadster is the soft convertible top that lowers or raises in mere seconds by operating a console-mounted switch. Also reminiscent of the 1950s 300SLs, is the wide front grille with its large Mercedes-Benz three-point star and wing-like lamella.
Old world craftsmanship is in evidence throughout the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster particularly in the engine assembly, where AMG’s “one-man/one-engine” philosophy still lives, with a single, expert technician responsible for the complete assembly of the engine, who then affixes a personally signed plate, proudly identifying the builder.
The interior is a highly refined personal space with a supportively comfortable layout that’s executed in both a sophisticated and intuitively functional format. A small T-handle mounted on the center console, serves as an electronic shift lever for the AMG E-DRIVE unit, which also includes a shift mode knob and buttons for selecting ESP and AMG driving modes, starting and stopping the engine and manually raising the rear wing. One touch back on the T-handle engages drive, while a touch forward engages reverse. Pushing the “P” button when the car is stopped, engages the park lock, which also automatically activates whenever the engine is shut off.
The rotary knob on the AMG E-DRIVE unit is for selecting the RACE START feature and four specific drive modes – Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual. AMG shift paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel control manual shifting. An automatic rev-matching feature makes for smooth downshifting, automatically metering engine speed for load-free downshifts, resulting in the elimination of lunging and jerking, even in power-on turns or during heavy braking.
My test 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster was finished in Le Mans Red with a Black interior with contrasting white stitching and generous amounts of carbon fiber trim elements. The base price was set at $196,100 while the final sticker before tax and license, but after adding for the contrast stitching, carbon fiber trim accents, leather/Alcantara wrapped steering wheel, the 1000 Watt Bang & Olufsen Premium Sound System with 11 loudspeakers, dual subwoofers, amplifiers with ICE power technology and illuminated tweeters, AMG flow-formed (19×9.5-inch front / 2011-inch rear) 10-spoke alloy wheels elevated the sum to $214,725. It’s certainly possible to spend more for other custom personal treatments, but really unnecessary.
While I’ve never had the opportunity to experience seat time in one of the original 300SL models, I’ m here to tell you that the 2012 SLS AMG Roadster is capable of delivering miles of smiles. The real beauty of it, aside from its stunning appearance and visual appeal, is that it idles along contentedly in a docile manner when it needs to, while it is equally at home at triple digit speeds, and as already stated, it doesn’t take long to get there when prodded in a spirited manner, and I didn’t even take advantage of the AMG Race Start function. I didn’t have the opportunity to pilot this supercar over a closed course, and I wanted to keep my license intact, so high speed runs were confined to isolated areas with little or no traffic.
Complementing the prodigious power, the SLS AMG’s suspension consists of double wishbones and track rods at all four wheels – an uncompromising proven racing technology. Go exceedingly fast, and you also need to be able to stop safely and quickly, and the SLS AMG comes with two-piece vented disc brakes that are grooved and perforated all around, reducing weight and transferring minimal heat. Fixed brake calipers (six-piston forward and four-piston aft) grab the discs at a force of 1,109 horsepower under full braking from 155 mph to zero. Ceramic brakes are available at optional cost for the race inspired.
Acceleration is blistering – especially for a naturally aspirated engine, and the steering is spot on with instantaneous response. The ride quality is driver (or passenger) adjustable, and the Comfort selection seemed to be the right setting for normal conditions over varying pavement surfaces.
If there are shortcomings at all for the SLS AMG Coupe, they lie in the car’s most unique design feature – the gullwing doors. Opening them is easy enough, but closing them requires a bit of a stretch, and one must exercise caution to avoid head bumps when exiting the vehicle. The ingress process proved to be less than graceful for my ectomorphic structure. It was necessary to plant my posterior on the sill, slide into the seat, and then follow with my legs and feet. The SLS Roadster makes such maneuvers easier when the top is down, and in my opinion, there are really no shortcomings other than possibly the lofty price, which is out of reach for mere mortals.
In the final analysis, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster is an incredible automobile that is a thing of beauty to behold, providing an equally beautiful driving experience, along with an exhilarating breath of fresh air and open sensuality. The melodious and thunderous exhaust note is audibly stimulating at virtually any rpm level, which for me rendered the Bang & Olufsen Premium sound system virtually useless, incredible as it may be. All of the safety and technological features and equipment of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG models are covered by a new car 4-year/50,000 mile warranty, the Mercedes-Benz maintenance system and 24-hour roadside assistance.
Yes, the original 300SLs were gorgeous, and were a stellar performer in their heyday, but they lack the finesse brute force and technological features of the newest iterations. The new SLS AMGs are sure to become classics in time. Would I turn down ownership of an original (restored) 300 SL? The answer is not no, but h__l no!