Folks toss around words like “supercar” and “exotic” interchangeably when it comes to the ultra-fast/luxurious/expensive end of the automotive spectrum. But, we’re not sure who’s responsible for classifying these models or why some cars make the cut and others don’t.
Sure, a Lamborghini or Ferrari will land pretty squarely in the bucket, but what about cars with subtler styling? Aston Martin? Bentley? Maserati? Even some of the upper-end Porsche 911s have the price tag to match, despite looking like every other Carrera on the road. Whether it’s price, performance or exclusivity, it seems like everyone has a different measuring stick for “exotic.”
So, when the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Roadster arrived in the garage, we debated back and forth about how to label it. The base price on the GT coupe is just $500 shy of the $200,000 threshold, and the roadster starts at $206,000. A well-optioned SLS AMG GT Roadster can exceed $258,000, but the not-so-exotic SL65 AMG costs well over $200,000, too. Conundrum.
After just two short model years, the SLS AMG has been replaced with a slightly more powerful, slightly higher-tech version for 2013, the SLS AMG GT. The same 6.2-liter naturally-aspirated V8 powers the SLS GT, making it one of the last cars to keep the big engine, despite the option of swapping for AMG’s 5.5-liter turbocharged V8.
This year, power is bumped up to 583 horsepower over last year’s 563, a result of tuning the engine’s spray, spark and timing for more efficient combustion. Torque remains unchanged at 479 lb-ft, which is enough to keep your head pinned against the seat all the way through fourth gear. There’s still not a manual option, leaving the same seven-speed dual-clutch automatic in place from previous models. The transmission’s software receives an upgrade intended to quicken the shift times, especially in manual mode.
For the sake of comparison, the Ferrari 458 Italia produces 562 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque. Just sayin’.
The suspension in the SLS GT is upgraded, too. Gone is last year’s Adaptive Suspension, exchanged for the AMG Adaptive Performance Suspension. Comfort mode remains just as relaxed as past models, but switching the car into Sport or Sport+ gives you an even stiffer suspension with sharper handling.
With exception to the tuned-up sport modes and more aggressive engine, there aren’t really any surprises when it comes to drivers’ technologies in the SLS. Yes, there’s navigation, heated and cooled seats and satellite radio. And yes, there are driving aides like blind spot detection and adaptive cruise control, but for $250,000, those technologies are expectations, not surprises. The one “fun” technology bit in the car comes with the AMG gauge screen, selectable from the console, that displays engine temperatures, lap times, G-forces and other performance metrics for the track.
For a car enthusiast, getting your hands on a model like the SLS is a dream–a fantasy–that most will never experience. We combed over every nuance, from the GT’s new smoked headlights to its stunning Designo interior with respect, appreciation and trace amounts of drool. So, it came as a surprise to us exactly how little other folks noticed us on the road while driving the GT.
Maybe it’s because we were riding around in a white car, rather than something green, orange or yellow. Maybe our exhaust note was too much like a muscle car’s and not enough like a motorcycle’s. Either way, we didn’t find people circling the car at gas stations, racing us at stoplights or even cornering us in parking lots to talk about it.
It feels like a gentleman’s sports car, and you feel attractive, rather than ridiculous while behind the wheel.
Now, before we go dismissing this car as not exciting or distinguished enough to justify the sticker price, hold your horses. Because it’s worth every penny – to the right buyer, anyway. If flash-factor is what you’re looking for in your next exotic sports car, this isn’t the right car for you. Whether it’s that it looks too much like the other Mercedes convertibles or that there haven’t been enough Super Bowl ads promoting it, the average John Doe and Jane Smith just aren’t familiar with the SLS.
However, if you’re the kind of shopper who wants to quietly appreciate ultimate engineering and conservative, yet immaculate design, it’s worth a look. It leaves us thinking that Lamborghini Gallardos are for rock stars, and SLS GTs are for investment bankers.
Behind the Wheel
Slipping into the driver’s seat in the convertible Roadster is easier to accomplish than in its Gullwing brother, which makes life a little more difficult. That car requires a little more of a duck-and-grab motion to get seated. Regardless, the Roadster’s seat is both plush and supportive, and it’s comfortable for drivers up to about six-foot two-inches tall. Push the start button, and the car roars to life with one of the sexiest exhaust notes in business. Where most exotics sound high-pitched and tinny, a la sporty motorcycles or a Le Mans cars, the SLS makes a deep, boat-like burble at idle and barks and backfires on downshifts. It’s fantastic.
In “Comfort” mode, the car is relaxed and gentle, and it doesn’t really drive much differently than its less-expensive SL sibling. If we’re comparing the available settings, moving the drive select into “Sport” turns the SLS into a muscle car with tons of available power, while turning it all the way up to “Sport+” essentially makes the car track-ready by keeping the revs high. There’s also a “Manual” mode that requires the use of the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The dual-clutch transmission responds about as quickly as you can consider touching the paddles, and this is the most rewarding way to drive the car if you’re looking to play.
The SLS has exceptional balance, despite the fact that the cabin essentially sits on the rear axle. While the hood feels a mile long, the engine is pushed far enough back to keep the weight mostly centered. That’s offset by putting the transmission behind the seats, too, which distributes the weight in a way that makes the car predictable, rather than wily. Selecting the performance setting on the suspension also helps stiffen everything up for twisty roads or track use.
So, what do you get when you spend nearly a quarter-million dollars on a Mercedes instead of a rarer breed of vehicle? The SLS ends up feeling like it has a similar personality to a Chevy Corvette, but with every possible aspect improved 300 times over. You get one the most handsome, distinctive, monstrous cars on the road today, but you also get an extensive dealer network to back your purchase. That means you can order it without having to drive to a major city, and you can have the car serviced without shipping it off to the nearest exotic dealer several states away.
No, the SLS GT isn’t as flashy as many of the other cars in its class, but we’re ok with that. In fact, we almost prefer it. It feels like a gentleman’s sports car, and you feel attractive, rather than ridiculous while behind the wheel. It’s a different emotional experience for the money than your standard supercar, but it’s one that we feel like you could live with every day, instead of only on the weekends.
- Simple, driver-centric interior
- Deep, manly exhaust
- Daily drivability
- Stealth-mode styling
- Doesn’t feel like an exotic
- Doesn’t fit tall drivers