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2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster: Modern Romance

Bringing high tech to classic thrills

Colin Ryan
May 4, 2012
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Look at the underside of a mushroom. Each one of those little paper-thin ribs is called a lamella (presumably, the plural is lamellae). In the world of Mercedes-Benz, this particular L-word is associated with the context of sunroofs: the kind with slats that bunch up when the roof opens.

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There is, however, another application. Most of us would call it a bar, the line of bodywork that bisects the grille and houses the three-pointed star in sportier Benz models. The company itself, though, likes to call this a lamella.

This information is given to underline the old wisdom that there is always something new to learn. Here’s another piece of info, which came as rather a pleasant surprise: the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster is a load of fun to drive.

This may not be so blindingly obvious. For a start, a lack of roof renders a car’s body prone to flexing, so soft-tops are usually handicapped by the added weight of extra bracing. Then there’s the long nose full of V8 engine, surely that could affect the steering feel. And few Benz cars are known for their tactile steering.

Some ingenious engineering and lightweight components (such as carbon fiber, plus a roof frame featuring magnesium and aluminum) has resulted, however, in the Roadster being only 88 pounds heavier than the hard-top, gullwing-doored counterpart. And it would take an unsympathetic drive over really rough surfaces to make the body even hint at flexing. Actually, this is the original SLS. The car was developed as an open-top vehicle from the outset. The company just decided to launch the hard-top version first.

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The 6.2-liter V8, in common with all AMG engines, is hand-assembled and bears a plaque with the technician’s name (yes, the badge says 6.3, but the actual displacement is 6,208 cc). It is also positioned behind the front axle, which leaves the hydraulically assisted steering able to transition from one direction to another with a sharp smoothness, or even a smooth sharpness.

Weight distribution is 47 percent to the front and 53 to the rear. The chassis feels neutral and balanced, but also fairly nimble. Which makes the 563 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque all the more satisfying.

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This is indeed a generous dollop of power and quite appropriate for a car made specially by the performance division of Mercedes-Benz, not a tuned-up version of an existing model. Here, AMG has deployed a naturally aspirated V8 that burbles and even pops sometimes on the over-run. It sounds gloriously, unapologetically old-fashioned as the car snarls from standstill to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds; the rear wheels driven by a carbon-fiber shaft. The whole package seems so romantic that all it would take to complete the picture is a be-scarfed Grace Kelly in the passenger seat.

Despite all the beauty in the cabin—such as the fine leather upholstery, instrument dials that look like jewels and sleek carbon-fiber trim—there are things the erstwhile Princess of Monaco would not recognize. Like the Airscarf warm air system coming from vents in the seat, the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles for the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission or the power-operated roof that takes only 11 seconds to complete its operation, and can do so at speeds up to 30 mph. Voice-controlled satellite navigation comes as standard, along with heated, ventilated and massaging seats; blind spot warning system; Bluetooth; iPod integration and light alloy wheels.

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It would be wrong for such equipment to be on the options list, considering the SLS Roadster starts at $196,100. Although if anyone is in the mood for spending more money, there’s always an adaptive suspension, Bang & Olufsen 1,000-watt audio system or carbon/ceramic brake rotors. Just to make the Roadster even more appealing, having the roof down does not impinge upon the ample 6.1 cubic feet of trunk space whatsoever.

If anything, the Roadster could be the best SLS to buy, since it has a lower center of gravity. Then again, those gullwing doors are so darned iconic. What the heck, why not buy one of each?

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

6.2-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Direct-injected

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Seven-speed automatic

Double wishbone (f & r)

Four-piston, 15.4-inch ventilated and perforated rotors (f); single-piston, 14.2-inch ventilated and perforated rotors (r)

Wheels & Tires
9.5x19 (f), 11x20 (r)
265/35 (f), 295/30 (r)

Peak Power: 563 hp @ 6800 rpm
Peak Torque: 479 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
0-62 mph: 3.7 sec.
Top Speed: 197 mph

MSRP: $196,100

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By Colin Ryan
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