You might be wondering what I’m blithering on about. Perhaps you’re already preparing your scathing comment. But as we found out this week that a new Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series has been spotted in testing, instantly raising the value of shares in Pirelli, we’ve been reminded what a dynamic disappointment the SLS was; specifically the Roadster.
At the time I probably loved it. I hadn’t been a motor journalist for very long and the big AMG was (I think) the most powerful and exotic thing I’d driven at that point. In retrospect it was too easy for me to overlook all the things that didn’t work and focus on the wow factor. Looking back, it just wasn’t a great car.
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster wasn’t exactly short on things to praise in a review. Its much-missed and always thunderous, hard-edged 6.2-litre V8 was biblically vocal in any application, the million miles of headroom was especially lovely in the sunny south east of France – the launch was based in Monaco and took in plenty of quiet, winding roads on Alpine foothills – and it looked sensational whether parked next to a yacht, which the press cars actually were, or crawling slowly past the ancient walls of a crumbling vineyard.
You can understand, then, why in my relative youth and naivety, at that time having yet to discover the age-accelerating effects of mortgages and children, I was too excited by the SLS Roadster to pay more attention to its flaws. It was undeniably a bauble, though, and as you get older and more jaded, baubles stop sparkling and you see what’s underneath. Let me explain.
I remember reasonable detail about many cars that I’ve driven even years ago, especially the super and hypercars; anything with enough theatre to replace the entire London West End. I remember how an Aventador was like wrestling a bear in a phone box. I remember how a 458 Speciale’s reactions made everything else I’d ever driven – except the Lotus Exige Sport 350 – seem dim-witted and docile. The SLS AMG soft-top I remember being… disjointed.
It was massive, that thing. You could land 747s on the bonnet and when you’re sat within its vast bulk, deciding whether to compromise on a higher seat height so you can at least get some kind of grip on its extremities, or sit as low as you want but risk misjudging where the corners are – and the ensuing displeasure of the launch staff when it comes back without a front bumper – you realise it’s probably not in ideal real-world sports car territory.
On some of the disintegrating roads we tasked it with, you had two choices: either cross the centre line and feel like you’ve got enough room while risking a head-on smash, or try to drive it tightly inside the lane. It was like trying to fit a space hopper into a sock. Trying to be good, I chose the latter option until we were onto wider roads, and twice the front right wheel dropped into absent asphalt, sending a fierce, jarring shock through the car even in the most comfortable driving mode. They were genuine ‘ouch’ moments; the suspension just couldn’t cope.
Not that it was designed to, especially. But the arrival of a multi-mode chassis control since the SLS GT Coupe’s release really did nothing for the car. The chassis wasn’t stiff enough to really exploit the hardest and most dynamic suspension settings, and nor was it comfortable enough to waft with the best when dialled back. It just felt a bit lost; unable to reach its potential even on wide main roads and unable to relax and take it easy. At least the Coupe had a fixed setup and you was always happy at seven tenths. The Roadster always felt at its best when revving through tunnels, or when ogled from the foyer of a dizzyingly expensive Riviera hotel.
That was, in essence, the problem in a nutshell. The Roadster had both show and go, but the important stuff that brings a car together was missing. I still adore seeing them in use from time to time, but with theoretical lottery winnings to burn would I ever buy one? Definitely not.