The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is good enough to stand next to supercars from Ferrari and Porsche.
What is it?
The distinctive new coupe with gullwing doors goes on sale in North America in February, at a price that AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg says should come in slightly below $200,000.
Developed from the ground up by AMG at its headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany, the two-seater aims to put Mercedes-Benz back into the thick of the supercar ranks following the disappointment of the considerably more expensive SLR. It also sets out to resurrect the spirit of one of the most revered sports cars of all time--the classic 1954 300 SL, or Gullwing as it is known to generations of car lovers.
From the first glance the connection between the two is clear. The retro-inspired styling of the SLS AMG bears the obvious stamp of its forebearer--that long hood, upright windshield, long wheelbase, short cabin and stubby rear end all recall the 300SL.
Opened by an automatically retractable handle at knee height, the doors arc upward to an overall height of 76.7 inches in dramatic fashion to give the new car a unique appearance.
This is a menacing looking car: low, wide and tremendously well planted. At 182.6 inches long, 76.3 inches wide and 49.3 inches tall, it's slightly longer and wider and sits 1.8 inches lower than the SL63 AMG.
But it is what lurks underneath the body that should have every dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast salivating. This is not a dressed up SL seeking supercar glory. The SLS AMG has its own aluminum space frame and rear-drive platform. AMG development boss Tobias Moers says: “It is the car we’ve always dreamed of producing. There are no compromises caused by having to share parts with existing Mercedes-Benz models."
Housed under the long hood is a revised version of Mercedes-Benz’s M156 engine--the 6.2-liter V8 engine found in all but a handful of AMG models these days. But the modifications are so significant that the four-valve-per-cylinder unit has been given a new codename: M159.
Sporting dry sump lubrication, it is mounted low in the engine bay and positioned way back and hard against the front bulkhead to concentrate its weight within the SLS’s 105.5-inch wheelbase.
With 563 hp at 6,800 rpm and 479 lb-ft at 4,750 rpm, the SLS AMG out grunts the already potent SL63 AMG to the tune of 46 hp and 14 lb-ft. But while the SL63 AMG weighs 4,178 pounds at the curb, the SLS AMG tips the scales at 3,572 pounds, giving it a weight-to-power ratio of 6.3 pounds per horsepower.
The SLS AMG receives a state-of-the-art seven-speed double clutch gearbox from German transmission specialist Getrag. And no, it’s not directly mated to the engine. AMG has placed it out back in a classic transaxle arrangement, integrated into the rear axle. It is connected to the engine via an aluminum torque tube, through which runs a 67.3-inch long carbon composite driveshaft weighing 8.8 pounds. It’s a layout that helps provide a 47:53 percent front-to-rear weight distribution.
How's it drive?
Brilliantly. This car is so well developed it is going to give Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche a big fright. This is the first time we’ve had a chance to put the SLS AMG through its paces on public roads and already it is quite clear that it is better than the McLaren-built SLR.
Still, with massive sills and the gullwing doors it is not an easy car to get into. The best procedure seems to be to sit on the high sill then swivel your legs down into driver’s footwell and pull the overhead hinged door down as lower yourself into the thinly padded but generously adjustable driver’s seat You don’t want to simply slide down and buckle up because you’ll then be forced to unbuckle and climb halfway out of the car again in a bid to close the overhead door, which is mounted on a sturdy gas strut.
You sit low, lower than in any other current Mercedes-Benz model, and you’re greeted by a thick-grip, flat-bottom steering wheel that's electronically adjustable for tilt and telescope. Behind it is a high-mounted dashboard housing two large dials--on the left a speedometer marked up to 240 mph, and on the right a tachometer redlined at 7,200 rpm.
The upper part of the dashboard is simple in style, carrying just the monitor for the entertainment system and satellite navigation. All controls are concentrated along the wide center console. Some of the switchgear is from other Mercedes-Benz models, but there are also unique details such as the air vents. It’s a luxurious driving environment, full of leather and aluminum. Carbon fiber trim is optional. A safety highlight: the doors have pyrotechnic elements that separate them from the body in the case of a rollover.
Depress the starter button down and the 6.2-liter V8 bursts to life.
The SLS AMG pulls away lustily and handles low-speed running without any apparent slack within the driveline. It feels incredibly solid at around-town speeds. There’s already 369 lb-ft of torque available at 2,000 rpm, and you can sense it in the way it rips through the lower part of the rev range the moment you give the command with your right foot.
There’s tremendous urgency through the mid-range. The engine develops peak torque at 4,750 rpm and Mercedes says the SLS AMG will hit 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds and 124 mph in less than 12 seconds--times that make it as fast in a straight line as the more powerful SLR. Make no mistake, the SLS AMG is mightily quick. It also possesses tremendous high speed stability, thanks in part to a retractable rear spoiler that deploys from the trunk lid at 75 mph to increase downforce. Find the right road and it’ll haul to a top speed of 197 mph.
Using the performance is no hardship, either, as the seven-speed double-clutch gearbox shifts precisely, smoothly and rapidly. Its also automatically introduces a blip on downshifts to match engine speed with the selected gear. A knob on the console allows you to alter the mode of the gearbox, from comfort through sport, sport plus to a fully manual mode. If you’re feeling really aggressive, there’s also a race-start function. There’s tremendous traction from the rear end, so much so that even during full bore getaways there’s no unruly wheelspin as the electronics and locking differential apportion the drive--just relentless acceleration and the tremendous sound of the exhaust note.
The SLS AMG can scythe into one corner and then into the next with the sort of fluidity and accuracy that makes it a proper rival to the likes of the Ferrari F599 Fiorano. It feels secure and planted in a way no other series production Mercedes-Benz does over challenging stretches of blacktop. There’s no unruly weight transfer, no nervousness being telegraphed back through the steering wheel.
Given the serious reserves lurking under your right foot, unsettling the rear end is not as easy as you might imagine, allowing you to confidently come off the power late into corners without any unnecessary interruption from the electronic stability program. The electronic safety net has been set up to operate in one of three modes--ESP on, ESP sport and, for those who just can’t get enough sideways action, ESP off.
The brakes--optional 15.4-inch front and 14.2-inch rear carbon ceramic rotors on our test car--offer terrific feel and fade free characteristics. You can lean on them time and time again right up to the point where the anti-lock kicks in without detecting any fade.
Still, there’s more to the SLS AMG than its awesome pace, engaging agility and determined stopping power. It’s also a terrific long distance cruiser. Slotting the gearbox into comfort mode sees it eats up the miles with ease. It’ll haul 75 mph in seventh gear at just 2,500 rpm.
The ride is well sorted with superb levels of rebound damping. You can attack undulating roads with great confidence, knowing the SLS AMG will be quick to settle over crests and track faithfully through depressions. Nasty ruts and ridges are met with a decisive action of the double wishbone suspension, which does without any electronic trickery. The springing isolates bumps with an ability that is going to leave the supercar competition searching for answers.
The new Gullwing is a practical proposition for long distance road trips, too, thanks to a trunk that offers up to 6.2 cubic feet of luggage capacity. Throw in a full armada of luxury features and you’ve got an everyday supercar with few peers.
With a claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 17.8 mpg, the SLS AMG possess a theoretical range of 400 miles on its 22.7-gallon tank--theoretical, because with some spirited driving consumption drops dramatically, as the 10.7 mpg showing on the instant readout after our outing at Laguna Seca revealed.
Do I want it?
You bet! The SLS AMG is with a doubt the most engaging series production car to ever wear the three pointed star. By way of comparison, it makes the SLR feels almost leaden in its actions. It sets new dynamic standards for the German carmaker and is a tribute to the engineering prowess of AMG. It’s not going to be cheap, but the $200,000 price tag in North America makes it look like a bargain. The bottom line is this: The Gullwing is back and suddenly Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche can count Mercedes-Benz among their most serious rivals.
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