Conventional sports-car wisdom says that those buyers who really know how to drive will always buy the fixed-roof version of a new sports- or supercar, whereas those more interested in a little light boulevard cruising, and being clearly visible to those they drive past, will pick the convertible. It’s true that chopping the roof off any car reduces its torsional rigidity, which in turn makes the steering less precise and can cause a nasty judder through the body, especially when you’re driving ‘enthusiastically’. But this has always caused a dilemma for those of us who like open cars – convertibles, cabriolets, roadsters or spiders, call them what you will – for their ability to magnify speed by exposing you to the elements, and for the link they make to some of the great open-topped road and race cars of the past.
But occasionally a car comes along on which even the most hardcore driving enthusiasts agree that the open version could be the one to have. The new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster is one such car. In theory, you’re giving up more by picking the Roadster version of the SLS than with most sports cars, as the SLS Coupe comes with an extraordinary pair of gullwing doors that both provide terrific kerbside theatre and make reference to the iconic gullwing Mercs of the 1950s. Plainly, these can’t be incorporated into a car with a folding fabric roof.
On balance, however, the Roadster is probably the more exciting car. There is almost no degradation in its handling: I was recently able to test both side-by-side at Lord March’s very fast Goodwood race track in Sussex, England. Even driven at their limits, coupe and roadster were hard to separate on handling, the open car getting so close to its closed sibling’s stiffness as to make little difference.