Mercedes-Benz SLC 43 AMG Roadster performs best when pushed

Mercedes-Benz SLC News

Staff Member
If the desire to own a little red rocket roadster has you itching like a bargain bath-robe, and if your wallet can handle the hit, the latest in a line of semi-AMG models from Benz's go-fast division is batting its eyelashes at you from across the room.

Pricing from the low 70s opens the door on this high-performing SLC variant. It's a rocket-propelled version of the brand's two-seat sports roadster model, complete with motorized roof, upgraded styling, and a rorty-snorty twin-turbo V6 replacing lower-output four and six cylinder engine options, fitted behind the tri-star grille.

The look is compact and packs a punch: vents and sculpts and exhausts leave little guesswork about this machine's intentions. Ditto the 'biturbo' badge fixed to each fender.

The motorized roof takes a hike in seconds, and even includes a glass top-panel that uses sorcery to lighten or tint, at the touch of a button.

Drivers can use this slick roof system to instantly engage the desired amount of open ski overhead, or sunlight shining in, tailoring the SLC to the task at hand.

And should the task at hand be using high-efficiency combustion to plaster a grin on your kisser, sans roof, the SLC is in its element.

A three-litre twin-turbo V6 spins up 362 horsepower, and the better part of 400 lb.-ft. of torque. There's a paddle-shifted automatic, dispensing power across nine forward gears that swap in a blink. Valves in the mufflers make the exhaust louder on demand, and a 'sport' mode, engaged with a click, sees the steering set in concrete, and the throttle become more sensitive than a moody teenage girl.

Do you like torque and awesome sounds? Hammer the throttle, and a split-second's turbo-lag later, you're stuffed into the seats, with a deep, hollow howl flooding in from the pipes.

The power curve? It's more like a power-slab. The sauce all floods to the rear wheels in a massive, solid heap, all at once, and stays on strong. Forget rising action or the thrill of feeling power build as the revs climb - open it up, blink, and you feel like you've just been rear-ended by a bus. A rich, wet and sweet noise is emitted in the process, and reminded me of a wolf howling at a jet engine.

Lift the throttle, or fire off a quick downshift from the left paddle, and the SLC gets more vocal - with popping, bucking and burping noises accenting the split-second gearshifts.

To ensure the SLC 43 is a comfortable daily driver, there's a layer of softness over many of the controls that make it feel more relaxed, and a little less hyperactive than some will expect. The throttle isn't hair-trigger precise, and neither are the steering or brakes.

Said steering is lighter than I like, but satisfying in how it makes you feel like you're driving a great big go-kart with minimal actual work at the wheel. It's not what I'd call a hardcore, razor-edge handling weapon. The SLC trades off a measure of precision and instantaneousness to be, maybe, a better driver on the daily.

Cornering hard, grip just comes and comes some more. You feel like you're driving a great big contact patch. Driven real hard, the steering loads up nicely, more precision shining through the harder you push it. The brakes are most easily modulated and precise during very hard use.

The engine and gearshifts are the most in their element at full throttle. Don't miss the squirmy but predictable feel from the rear end, should you use the throttle to push the SLC through some bends.

The SLC 43 AMG is one of those machines that feels best when driven really, really hard, but some drivers will wish for added precision and sportiness during more moderate driving.

So, the SLC's numbers and styling implements and handling, to a degree, create an effective invitation to performance motoring, but here's a ride that's willing to play 'peaceful weekend getaway cruiser' when motorized shenanigans aren't in the cards.

Sure, hints that whisper of revs and redlines and thrust and noise are present at all times, like the checker-board pattern to the gauges, the half-dozen AMG badges visible from the seat, and the dense howl of the V6, should it find reason to rev up a little.

And there's the redline, which sits 180 degrees across the tachometer from where the nine-speed gearbox pegs your highway revs. But SLC 43 AMG will fall into its best behaviour when you're not in a rush.

The ride, for instance. It's stiff, busy and jouncy as expected in a car with credentials like these, but there's a just-right layer of softness around the edges to keep your spine happy, and you almost never hear from the suspension. Even on nasty roads that make many a performance posh-rocket ride like a dumpster full of cinder blocks, you'll probably find the SLC feels comfy sporty, not spine-crushing.

Engage 'comfort mode,' and everything lightens up, relaxes, and quiets down. The engine uses that big wad of torque to ooze along with very minimal revs, helping ensure that when you aren't driving it like your face is on fire, the SLC 43 AMG is actually pretty peaceful.

Here's one of those cars with an undeniable wild side you can mostly turn off when you don't need it. Heck, even with the roof off at a good highway clip, minimal voice-raising is required to have a conversation with that significant other in the passenger seat. Weekend getaway, anyone? Just pack light. Cargo capacity depends on whether you'll lower the roof. Top up, the cargo hold has room for about four large bags. Top down, there's room for about two smaller ones, little more, as the roof panels fold into the trunk.

In the cabin, at-hand storage is decent by two-seater standards, thanks to various pockets and cubbies that help keep occupants tidy and organized on the go. Add in the powerful climate control system with clever heaters that pump warm air around your neck and shoulders, and highway cruising mileage at 9L/100km or better, and she's ready for a lengthy cruise.

Typical Benz roadster interior, here. It's a little tight if you're hefty, but those of average size and agility will find minimal issue boarding, exiting or occupying the comfy-snug cabin.

Once settled in, your 5'10, 190-lb. writer found the cabin sporty-snug, not constrictive. Controls and interfaces are mostly logical to use, with many familiar from other recent Benz products.

Other notables? The SLC's lighting system, fired by an all-LED headlight array, stands out as top-notch among a few dozen recent test-drives, with great lighting colour, generous reach, and fantastic peripheral illumination into roadside tree-lines after dark.

Gripes? You've got to effectively park the SLC to work its roof system - a potentially soggy situation if you're on a busy highway when a surprise rainstorm materializes.

Many competitors only require you to slow down below about 50 km/h. I did wish for a manual transmission, and Mercedes told me that there isn't one, and I felt like a kid who just discovered there's no Santa Claus.

Finally, many of the interior controls and interfaces, though familiar from other models, are getting dated, and fail to generate a truly techy and upscale look like you'll find in comparable Porsche and Audi models.

Finally, with an as-tested price of about $80,000, this SLC 43 AMG has a few friends I think you should meet; they include the sexier Jaguar F-Type, the friskier Porsche Boxster S, and the considerably more powerful Chevrolet Corvette.

It's always nice to have options. The SLC 43 AMG is a good one in a thrilling little weekend getaway cruiser and around-town topless runabout that works well as a performance car when desired - and in that order.

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