Mercedes SLS AMG flies...

Written By nyit on Monday, April 11, 2011 | 4:05 AM

It seems like an opportunity too good to be true: I am at a multi-vehicle drive event, and the Mercedes SLS AMG is sitting in the paddock unattended. Getting a moment alone with an exotic car when there are sixty-five other automotive journalists present is akin to getting an audience with the Pope on Easter Sunday. These things just don't happen.

Without hesitating or breaking into a run, I approach the SLS AMG, whose driver's door stands invitingly open. Nobody challenges me, or jumps into the driver's seat before I can. I take the chance. I slip inside and pull the gullwing door shut behind me, blocking out the sounds from the track. I find myself wrapped instantly in taut red leather. I've sat in the Italian hypercars--Lamborghini Murcielago and Gallardo, Ferrari 599 GTB and Scaglietti---and they've never done all that much for me. The Mercedes SLS AMG feels different. It feels like a place that I want to be in. Where the Ferrari and Lamborghini seem to be trying to intimidate their passengers into leaving, the SLS AMG is a chamber of awesome secrets and adventures, just waiting to be activated. I feel instantly at home, in a car-guy-connecting-to-a-car way that doesn't happen every day. This feels like the first time I sat in a Miata. This is fated. This car WANTS me to drive it, and if anybody tries to keep it from happening, they're going to have a fight on their hands.

The Mercedes switchgear is familiar, but the view out the long hood and narrow windshield is entirely new. When closed, the gullwing doors seem ordinary, and it's not the least bit claustrophobic inside in spite of the heavily bolstered seats. The SLS AMG is actually comfortable, unlike the average Lamborghini. The dash and console are a slightly simplified version of Mercedes' familiar layout, and the COMAND infotainment system is standard. The headliner is Alcantara faux-suede leather, and Mercedes' "designo" hand-stitched leather is used on most of the interior panels. If I so chose, the available eleven-speaker Bang & OIufson sound system could wrap me in digitally-processed sound just as completely as the cabin does with leather.

Still, nobody has rushed up to tell me I can't drive the SLS AMG. A touch of the starter button and a woofling snarl of V8 mayhem potential later, I have no interest in anything Lamborghini has to offer. With exotics, it's all about the presentation, and what the Murcielago has to offer I've seen a hundred times before, played over and over since the Countach. As the first Mercedes designed from the ground up by in-house hot-rod department AMG, the SLS AMG is something else entirely, a throwback even farther than that, to the days when the only mid-engined cars were a bunch of weird Audis that looked like belly tank lakesters. This car is all nose and no tail, a coffin-like hood with a gaping maw and giant Mercedes logo leading the way. The roof is low, defined by the classic-inspired gullwing doors. The SLS AMG doesn't follow the modern exotic template, but still manages to make it clear that it's something extremely special.

I can feel everyone looking at me as I pull out of the paddock to make a drive loop, but nobody's running after me. I drive casually, and suddenly I'm out on the road. I'm out on the road in a Mercedes SLS. This is what it would've felt like if I had shown up at my high school reunion with Halle Berry on my arm. I seriously contemplate not going back, just for a moment. I could just swing by the hotel and pick up my luggage, and take off. By the time anyone realized the SLS AMG hadn't been seen for an hour, I'd be out of the state; I could put it in a trailer and take it to Montana, where only my closest automotive confidants and I would know where it was, and then we could drive it up and down Big Mountain at night.

Such larcenous thoughts are quickly dispelled by a touch of the gas pedal and an intoxicating, woofling roar from the AMG exhaust. The SLS blats when you lift off the gas, and has a boundless potential to go, go, go, go if you keep your foot in it. This is power--563 horses worth, to be specific. The 6.3 liter V8 under the hood is no ordinary engine--it features a race-bred dry-sump layout that ensures good lubrication during hard cornering. The dry-sump engine's oil pan-less design also allows the engine to be mounted lower and farther back in the chassis to improve the front-rear weight balance. Ultra lightweight forged aluminum pistons reduce weight, and a velocity-stack intake ensures deep breathing. The SLS AMG is light for its size, at 3571 pounds, thanks to an all-aluminum body. I can't help but cackle madly as the big Mercedes races eagerly to ludicrously dangerous speeds. Mercedes has recorded a 3.7-second 0-60 run with this car, and that may be a conservative estimate. Helping to keep the weight balanced is a rear-mounted seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transaxle and a carbon-fiber driveshaft. Steering wheel paddles control manual up- and downshifts, and the transaxle includes rev-matching capability. The exhaust barks and crackles as I let the gullwing coast down to mortal speeds. Yes. I want this.

It's decently composed at low speeds as well. The roads around Elkhart Lake aren't the smoothest by a long stretch, but the SLS doesn't offer a punishing ride; it seems to have been designed for the real world, where there are sometimes frost heaves and uneven pavement, and it doesn't shudder or skip about when confronted with bad roads. An all-aluminum four-wheel double-wishbone suspension with track rods at each wheel is borrowed from Mercedes' Formula One experience. Unsprung weight is kept down by lightweight staggered wheels--nineteen inches up front and twenty in the rear. The brakes are also borrowed from the racing department; exotic two-piece floating discs are grooved and drilled, and ceramic discs are available. At real-world speeds, the SLS AMG is composed and calm, without the twitchy, nervous behavior of some hyper-performance cars.
The SLS AMG is, not surprisingly, Mercedes' performance flagship--both on the road and on the track, as it's been homologated for GT3 racing. By challenging the doorstop-shaped supercar status quo, the SLS AMG is a head-turner in a market segment that's already known for head-turning products. This is, first and foremost, a lust object, but if you're lucky enough to have the $185,750 to make the dream a reality it's also a dream you can live with.

All specifications are for the Mercedes SLS AMG.
Length: 182.6 in.
Width: 76.3 in.
Height: 49.3 in.
Wheelbase: 105.5 in.
Curb weight: 3571 lb.
Cargo space: 6.2 cu.ft.
Base price: $185,750
Engine: 6.3 liter DOHC V8
Drivetrain: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transaxle, rear-wheel drive
Horsepower: 563 @ 6800
Torque: 479 @ 4750
Fuel capacity: 22.5 gal.
Est. mileage: 14/20

By Chris Jackson - MyCarData

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