Angus Davies, a long time fan of the Mercedes SL, drives the SLS AMG Roadster on a test track in Bedfordshire. Arguably a cut above the SL, offering spellbinding performance in an eye-catching shape, does the car live up to his expectations?
“The best or nothing” was a statement made by Gottlieb Daimler in the early 1900‘s and has permeated the paradigm of Mercedes-Benz for decades resulting in cars of bullet-proof construction.
Mercedes-Benz has always been known for their robust construction and faithful reliability. If you visit any European city, lines of beige taxis, attest to the hewn from granite build quality. The diesel powered Stuttgart carriages easily wear galactic miles with few indications of their industrious lives.
To unduly obsess about the durability of the cars bearing the three pointed star, would be a shame, as that would deny the brand worthy praise for some of its classic designs. Mercedes have repeatedly styled beautiful roadsters which have not tarnished with time but continued to shine with a brilliant lustre.
I share a profound admiration of the 300 SL roadster of the 1950’s in common with many thousands of other fans of automotive art. However, a personal favourite of mine is the 280 SL of 1970.
The Pagoda roofed 280 SL of 1970 became the focus of my awe many years ago. I can’t recall where I saw the car, possibly the Côte d’Azur, but the aspect I do remember was the colour combination. A vision in gunmetal grey metallic with bright red MB-Tex upholstery, it brimmed with wonderful, suave sophistication.
I have never owned a Pagoda 280 SL from 1970, but I enjoyed trouble free motoring with my very own 500 SL from 2007 and look back at the experience fondly.
The SL has always appealed to me, a car suitable for use every day despite a character which is anything other than everyday. It blends open top motoring, impressive performance and lines that retain relevance irrespective of the period the car finds itself in.
The SLS is a cut above the SL, offering spellbinding performance in a shape which is substantially different from anything else on the market. Initially it was introduced in hardtop form with gullwing doors, the fabric roofed roadster appeared later.
It is the open air SLS experience which I recently enjoyed on a test track in Bedfordshire.
Recent evolutions of the SL have incorporated a folding metal roof using an ingenious technique that affords open roof motoring with all the practicality of a hardtop. However, the styling of the SLS necessitated the use of a fabric roof. This is no bad thing, as it is low in mass and allows for a short rear overhang.
The styling of the SLS is dominated by the long bonnet. As you look ahead, the upper surfaces of the wings clearly define the extremities of the car, working like gunsights as you aim the nose of the SLS at the apex of the approaching corner.
The car is lithe, with a relatively low mass, 1735 Kg, despite the prodigious power of the huge engine beneath the bonnet.
The twin clutch gearbox, rattles through the ratios with superb alacrity.
The ride is sublime, firm but imparting vivid feedback through the steering and the driver’s seat. This is a stunningly responsive driver’s tool.
To discuss the aforementioned mechanical aspects of the car is to delay dialogue about the unique selling proposition which differentiates this car from the other performance vehicles I have been privileged to drive.
Prior to sitting in the SLS, nothing can prepare you for the sonorous sound of the 6.2 litre V8 engine which seduces your senses once the start button is pressed. The sound has a deep rich timbre which bestows emotion with every movement of the 32 valve ensemble. The Teutonic character of the engine is very different to the V8 engines which come from the land of balsamic vinegar. Different, neither worse nor better, just different. Some may have a preference, but I would liken the respective characters to Bach and Vivaldi. The sound emitting from the organ pipes is equally enchanting.
The AMG nomenclature on the bodywork, means the engine is hand built. AMG have always subscribed to a policy of “one man, one engine” at its factory in Affalterbach, Germany. The pride each artisan must clearly feel about their craftsmanship culminates with a plaque adorning the engine with their signature.
Press the volume pedal in the driver’s footwell and you have few doubts about Mercedes claims of 571 horse power being available. I have sometimes read test reports in magazines which describe some performance cars offering power like a fist in a velvet glove. The SLS goes way beyond this. It is a Swabian missile in ermine robes. Prodigious power is presented in a stylish form.
In focussing on the mechanical aspects and the exterior, do not think Mercedes has neglected the interior ambience. It is gorgeous. Swathes of leather feature on the seats, dash and door trim in flawlessly stitched nappa hide.
The interior specification is a technical feast offering convenience and luxury to satisfy the appetite of any demanding car enthusiast.
My test car had carbon fibre interior trim on the centre console, further testament to the racing pedigree which courses through the veins of this magnificent express.
I can still vividly recall driving the SLS AMG Roadster around a high speed bowl on a rainy day in May. It was surefooted without any discernible sign that the roof was fabric. It circled the bowl with peerless precision.
Sometimes, German cars may be accused of being sterile or lacking emotion, however, those critics should drive the SLS AMG. The engine oozed emotion with every revolution indicated on the rev counter.
The flowing forms of the aluminium body panels engage the eyes. It is a beautiful shape which captures admiring glances wherever it goes.
Is it the best? That is difficult to answer as it is a primarily a matter of personal taste. It is a fine motorcar, of that there is no doubt. I have eclectic musical tastes and enjoy Bach and Vivaldi.
The SLS AMG Roadster is the automotive equivalent of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, one of my favourite pieces of music which stirs the senses and elicits emotions with every mellifluous note.
I enjoyed my driving experience behind the wheel of the SLS AMG Roadster and would always be happy to sample an encore.