Mercedes-Benz offers a very nice roadster of its own, the SL, this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. Ranging in price from $96,000 to $188,000, the top-performing SL65 AMG model comes with a supercharged V12 engine. Mercedes also has a deep-rooted technical partnership with McLaren Technologies, which races in Formula One with Mercedes-Benz engines, and from that relationship have already sprung the Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR coupe and the higher-performance SLR 722 version of the coupe. The market has told the two companies that it's now time for the ultimate Mercedes-Benz roadster, just in time to commemorate that 50th anniversary. In round numbers, the price of this amazing roadster is going to be $495,000, with destination and delivery charges of $2750.
Mercedes-Benz doesn't have a rear-mid-engine supercar in its model lineup as Ferrari and Lamborghini and Porsche do, so it has chosen to create, with lots of technical help and finally assembly by McLaren, in England, a sort of long-nose, short-deck front-mid-engine supercar. The engines are built in Germany by Mercedes-Benz's in-house high-performance shop, AMG, and shipped to England for installation in these very special bodies.
The roadster bodies are completely new, not cut-down versions of the SLR coupe bodies. They are made entirely of three-layer carbon fiber at McLaren's race shop. Carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, or CFRP, is about five times stronger than steel in crush (or crash) situations, at about half the weight. (It's also a lot more expensive.) The one-piece body is then fitted with a huge V-shaped aluminum beam structure on each side that attaches to the front of the firewall to carry the engine, transmission, front suspension and steering. The carbon fiber fenders and hood complete the body.
In front of all that, there is an elaborately constructed carbon fiber crash bar that can handle huge amounts of impact, after which its disposable cones crumble into dust as the impact progresses. At the rear, there is an all-aluminum independent suspension system that looks like it was ripped directly out of a racing car. No other car in the world is built quite like this one, and it is as beautiful underneath as it is brutish on the outside. The only major panels shared with the coupe are the scissor doors.
The 626-horsepower 5.5-liter supercharged V8 engine nestles under the long, long hood, breathing directly through the Mercedes-Benz star in the nose of the car, and exhausting through a compact, front-mounted exhaust system that exits through the bottom edges of the front fenders. This does three things. It works very well for emissions, keeping the catalytic converters hot. It helps the engine breathe better at higher rpm. It eliminates a lot of pipes and mufflers under the car, which has a flat bottom for aerodynamic purity. Oh, and four, it puts the sound of that V8 engine very close to the cockpit, where it can be appreciated. Read on to our Driving Impressions to see what we thought of all this.
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLR comes in two coupe versions, already on the market, and one roadster version. The roadster comes in one very complete trim level, as you would expect for just under half a million dollars.
There are a few options on the list, including 19-inch wheels in a turbine design; brake calipers painted in gold or red ($850); black carbon-fiber inserts in the interior panels ($1550); special Silver Arrow leather in 13 colors, with embossed SLR logos ($9,950); contrasting upholstery seams in 300 SL red, orion grey or black ($610); a two-tone steering wheel matching the second interior color ($610); floor mats with leather piping in the second interior color ($370); and provision for a mobile telephone with a universal interface. And that's about it. The standard navigation system is different from all other Mercedes-Benz systems, compact, but useful.
Part of the ordering process for any SLR is a fitting trip to Woking, England, where the cars are built, to select your paint (13 colors) and interior color, add your options, and be fitted for one of the four different bucket seat widths that are offered, from narrow to extra-wide. You also get a complete tour of the Mercedes-McLaren Formula One race shop and the rest of the $300 million McLaren Technologies facility, an ultramodern building with its own lake, built by one of the world's greatest architects, Norman Foster.