Wheels - - [Audi S3] Drives -

Two of the hottest drop tops on the mar­ket, the SLS AMG Road­ster and the GTC Speed, meet in a bat­tle

to the fin­ish. Which will come out on top?

Sony Thomas


Imran Ma­lik

find out. Im­ages:

Grace Paras

It’s moree than

45 de­grees­deg Cel­sius out there right now but that isn’t go­ing to stop us from con­ductin­guct­ing a com­p­com­par­i­son test drive of two of thehe hottest con­vert­ible­scon on the mar­ket. We’re a bit mad like tthat, you see. So we rub in count­less bot­tles of SPF50, down as much H20 as ouro bel­lies will take and head out un­der the beat­ing sun arme­drmed with the 616bhp Bent­ley GTCTC Speed 571b571bhp and MercedesBenz SLSS AMG Road­sterRoads to see which is best. And we do so with­out a sin­gle base­ball cap in sight. Are we brave or stupid? Will the win­ner hail from Bri­tain or from Ger­many? And do we suf­fer sun­burn, sun­stroke or se­vere de­hy­dra­tion? It’s all here…


Sym­me­try, pro­por­tion and har­mony; if th­ese three at­tributes of beauty are used to judge the new Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GTC Speed, this car is an over­sized, ugly duck. But since an­cient Greece is not where I be­long, and be­ing an ad­vo­cate of aes­thetic rel­a­tivism, I try my best to find at least a

“The as­tound­ing man­ner in which this car gath­ers pace on itsway to the claimed 325kph top speed is a fla­grantly de­fi­ant slap in the face of ev­ery known

the­ory of mo­tion.”

few traits that would some­how mag­i­cally trans­form it into a swan, al­beit an obese one. There is a huge prob­lem though — be­side it is parked the achingly gor­geous Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Road­ster, one of the most splen­did-look­ing cars in the world. Even the fact that the Speed had a 10mm lower sus­pen­sion than the ‘reg­u­lar’ GTC, dis­tinc­tive 21in wheels and dark tint grille and air in­takes high­light­ing its wide, low and grace­ful stance didn’t help.

Looks, how­ever, were never Bent­ley’s claim to fame, but tech­nol­ogy and

work­man­ship are. On that front the GTC Speed is a mar­vel­lous feat for the tech­ni­cians from Crewe. With 616 wild horses let loose by the 6.0-litre W12, the Speed vari­ant suc­cess­fully dis­tin­guishes it­self from the V8 and the reg­u­lar 567bhp 12-cylin­der. Find­ing their way on to the road through all four wheels via the eight-speed ZF, th­ese stal­lions go on an 800Nm ram­page the mo­ment you bury the loud pedal. The bench­mark 0-100kph gal­lop is done in just 4.4 sec­onds. While that fig­ure might not seem much, things will fall into per­spec­tive when you con­sider this two-door bat­tle­ship weighs in at a colos­sal 2,495kg. The as­tound­ing man­ner in which this car gath­ers pace on its way to the claimed 325kph top speed is a fla­grantly de­fi­ant slap in the face of ev­ery known the­ory of mo­tion. Com­ple­ment­ing this out­landish per­for­mance is the delightful rum­ble from the quad ex­hausts that reach spine-tin­gling heights when you shift the lever into Sport mode. The VWPhaeton-de­rived ar­chi­tec­ture — along with the ad­justable air sus­pen­sion and the car­bon ce­ramic brakes — keeps all the ponies grounded and reined in. En­ter­ing cor­ners, the pre­cise steer­ing and the rear-bi­ased all-wheel-drive sys­tem lend the GTC Speed a kind of dex­ter­ity and litheness that con­tra­dicts the car’s im­mense size and lets it play along with re­strained ath­leti­cism. The four-lay­ered fab­ric top is quite ef­fec­tive at keep­ing wind and engine noise at bay, but the fold­ing down is

“I ac­tu­ally feel sorry for the Bent­ley and find this com­par­i­son a bit un­fair. It’s like ask­ing

a size-18 model to pose with a size-10.”

a some­what drawn-out process tak­ing 25 sec­onds. I learnt this the hard way as I chose the wrong place, a junc­tion, to try it out the first time. With the lights turn­ing green while the roof was halfway up, I was forced by the jeal­ous, honk­ing mor­tals be­hind me to drive and it was only af­ter an awkward and em­bar­rass­ing few hun­dred me­tres that I could stop again and com­plete the pro­ce­dure (it can be op­er­ated only at speeds up to 30kph). But once it’s stowed away neatly, the drive takes on a whole new di­men­sion, one of adren­a­line-charged, open-air, high-speed mo­tor­ing where you and the land­scape merge in rap­tur­ous union. The vault-like doors swing open to re­veal an in­te­rior that’s more than a match for the GTC Speed’s dis­creet ex­te­rior. The hun­dreds of hours put into hand­craft­ing the in­tri­cately built cabin come through, as do the hand­ful of cows that were im­mor­talised in the process. Ev­ery soft- touch sur­face in the cabin is clothed in the most sup­ple and ex­quis­ite leather avail­able, with an op­tion to choose from 17 hide colours and sin­gle or dual-colour up­hol­stery and con­trast stitch­ing. The ‘co­bra’ seats hug you tight while com­ing out of a fast cor­ner, just as they cos­set you in com­fort on a long cruise.


I am so in love with the SLS AMG Road­ster that see­ing it share th­ese pages with an­other car makes my right eye twitch. I ac­tu­ally feel sorry for the Bent­ley and find this com­par­i­son a bit un­fair. It’s like ask­ing a size-18 model to pose with a size-10. The chubby GTC looks like a beached whale when plonked along­side this svelte beauty from Stuttgart.

The Bent­ley turns up with a pow­er­ful W12, su­perb ride and lovely in­te­rior, but no mat­ter what it does, it falls flat on its fat face when com­pared to the SLS. It isn’t the Bent­ley’s fault; it’s a fab car in its own right, but see­ing it next to the SLS, which looks like it’s from an­other planet, is just wrong. We parked both cars to­gether at

wheels HQ and no­body took a blind bit of no­tice of the Bent­ley — even though it was im­pos­si­ble to miss, what with that bright cit­rus paint and the bling­ing 21in wheels. Ev­ery­one gath­ered around the Benz and you can’t blame them; just look at it.

There’s noth­ing on the road at the mo­ment as beau­ti­ful as this. It’s so classy, sporty and ag­gres­sive that you’ll be drool­ing even with your back turned. There’s some­thing about a long front, short rear and mas­sive V8 that does it for me. The gull­wing knocked me for six and just when I was com­ing round, the Road­ster had me see­ing stars again.

But I wasn’t a hard-core fan un­til I put my foot down in it; 571bhp can be very per­sua­sive. Fol­low­ing my sec­ond stint

be­hind the wheel, I still find this car as in­tox­i­cat­ing as ever. Ac­tu­ally, more so. From the mo­ment it ex­plodes into life, you just know this is some­thing spe­cial. That rum­ble em­a­nat­ing from the ex­haust tips will have you pant­ing and even though it was over 45 de­grees dur­ing this photo shoot, the top re­mained down just so I could en­joy the rau­cous note that much more. It was worth the sun­burn. The body is spec­tac­u­lar, as is the beau­ti­ful car­bon-fi­bre-trimmed in­te­rior, but the 6.2-litre AMG-tuned V8 is what the SLS is all about and it de­mands to­tal re­spect. With 650Nm of torque, it can bite very hard. It’s 40kg heav­ier than the hard-top and weighs in at 1,735kg due to a stiffer alu­minium space­frame and roof mech­a­nism, but the Road­ster still flies even with its wings clipped. It hits 0-100kph in 3.8 sec­onds and goes on to a top speed of 317kph.

It falls short of the Bent­ley’s top speed, but the Brit is no match for the Ger­man’s su­per­model looks, awe­some per­for­mance and in­cred­i­ble sound­track. With the top down, it trans­forms into a lower, wider and much more ag­gres­sive beast, leav­ing you weak at the knees. It sim­ply oblit­er­ates cor­ners at ridicu­lous speeds; the steer­ing of­fers lots of feed­back and there’s no body roll at all. AMG has made sure the driv­ing dy­nam­ics of this car are just like the Coupé — it feels as rigid, sharp and nailed on as the hard­top but now, it’s even more fun to drive. The AMG Ride Con­trol sports sus­pen­sion soaks up all the road im­per­fec­tions mak­ing this the ideal boule­vard cruiser, but push the AMG but­ton on the cen­tre con­sole and it be­comes a track-day mon­ster. Twist the AMG drive unit to S+ and the Road­ster turns into a wild an­i­mal. It takes off with such force that you won’t know what hit you. RS (race start) just makes that mas­sive grin even big­ger, while the Speed­shift DCT seven-speed au­to­matic swaps cogs in 100-mil­lisec­onds — the

“As iconic and ex­tra­or­di­nary as the SLS AMGCoupé is, the Road­ster man­ages to stand out fromits winged sib­ling with an in­di­vid­u­al­ity and dis­tinc­tive­ness that

makes it an icon in its own right.”

changes thump you in the back like a wreck­ing ball when you are re­ally gun­ning it and my, oh my, the sound of that V8 scream­ing at 6,800rpm makes any­thing cower in the cor­ner — the GTC in­cluded.


So what did we bring back from a whole day out in the scorch­ing heat? Well, there’s a clear win­ner. The Con­ti­nen­tal GTC Speed is a mar­vel of en­gi­neer­ing that sneers through its awkward face at the laws of physics. But some­how it doesn’t feel any more spe­cial than the hard-top GT Speed. But that’s not the case with the Merc. As iconic and ex­tra­or­di­nary as the SLS AMG Coupé is, the Road­ster man­ages to stand out from its winged sib­ling with an in­di­vid­u­al­ity and dis­tinc­tive­ness that makes it an icon in its own right. While the Merc matches the Bent­ley in work­man­ship and build qual­ity, it trumps the Brit in looks and driv­ing dy­nam­ics, all at a much smaller price tag. And that makes it our win­ner.

The four-layer top stows away clean, with no latch­ing points or fab­ric vis­i­ble be­neath the ton­neau cover

Even the car­pet and seat belts can be specced to match your choice of hide from the 17 colours on of­fer

Th­ese 19in AMG al­loys cost Dh4,580 but make a heck of a dif­fer­ence The lav­ish cabin is loaded with lots of stan­dard equip­ment but the op­tional car­bon-fi­bre pack­age costs Dh34,244. Blimey

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