2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster: First Drive

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2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster

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It's been nearly two years since we took you along for a first drive of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG gullwing, live from Laguna Seca. We were the first to call it Mercedes' Viper, summing it up thusly: "It's partly American in its tendency to speak out, part Italian in its cool-first aesthetic, and uncharacteristically Mercedes-Benz in its blend of the two."

Ready for round two? While track time suits a coupe, roadsters are built for sin--built to explore the heights of decadence, gluttony and luxury. So we traded the rather prosaic, by comparison, Ritz-Carlton at Half-Moon Bay for the Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat, and choppered in from Nice (that's in France) to the heliport in Monaco (that's next to France), soaking up some of the heady hydrocarbons put off by a line of $20 million yachts sitting in the next bay over, before strapping on a luscious SLS Roadster and firing it like an arrow into the heart of Provence.

Monaco is where the unthinkable happened. Beautiful Mediterranean people with beautiful Mediterranean skin, wearing beautiful Mediterranean clothes, actually leapt into the middle of busy streets to do something never done before--to mistake car writers for the rich and fabulous and take pictures of us, and of the SLS AMG Roadster. Me, in my Kohl's chemise and mismatched belt and shoes.

That arresting, incongruous moment stuck with me as we threaded our way through passages as narrow as the ones in Princess Grace Kelly's head that fateful day, on this very hillside, exactly 29 years ago. The same destiny wouldn't befall me, though we'd practically been living on foie gras for three days, and it sure as hell wouldn't wrest the Roadster out of my grip even if it did. At least one of us is too young and too pretty to die today, I thought, and I'll figure out which is which later.

You'd be protective, too, because the SLS Roadster resolves all the visual agita that come with the flaptastic Gullwing's stunt-show doors. It's all party in front, but the gullwing has some business to deal with in the back. Okay, we might have said something like, "The whole sculpturing of the rear deck and the fenders' fall around the taillights is uninspired, and a little plain." Not so the roadster, which has a bit of bullet-nose T-Bird and lots of Silver Arrow in its profile. Removing the roof relieves the SLS of more visual weight than it adds in actual ounces, and that puts all the emphasis on that impossibly long, low nose. The squarish headlamps still aren't jewels, just jewel boxes, but even those taillamps even look good now, their arcs echoed in the curves of the newly sculpted rear fenders. 

Put the top up, and it's still a hot piece of action, whether the fabric roof is beige, red, or black. The top rises or folds away in a tick over ten seconds -- you can cycle it up and down at stoplights, fiddle with it at up to 31 miles per hour, and lose only a tenth of a cubic foot of storage space to the gullwing, while netting a much clearer view over the shoulder.

Take the beige roof, and the lovely light brown leather interior bedazzled with real chrome and aluminum, from the drive selector to the tweeter pedestals. Those trims go perfectly with Sepang brown, the hue of the now, a fantastic color that enrobes the SLS in silky tastefulness that your eyes bite into, like a 197-mph Reese's peanut butter Easter egg.

It's the kind of car that concours will covet in 50 or maybe 15 years, ineffably and effortlessly elegant. Graceful, even.

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