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First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Image by Kyle Fortune.

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Iconic looks, thundering performance and a point to prove, AMG has built a sensational supercar in the SLS.

   



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| First Drive | Laguna Seca, USA | Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG |

It's wrong to bear a grudge, right? We're not so sure. If grudges create cars like the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG we're all for car companies having a bit of a chip on their shoulder. The SLS is AMG's riposte to the McLaren SLR, a car that was openly despised at AMG's Affalterbach premises. So when Mercedes allowed AMG to build a completely new supercar it had one target. There's no doubt that the SLS is the better car, but to really bury the SLR the SLS resurrects the style of the 1950's 300SL - one of the prettiest, most sensuous shapes ever to be crafted in metal.

In the Metal

Gorgeous. We could pore over every detail of the SLS's glorious lines, the long bonnet, the squat purposeful rear and those gullwing doors but we'd not be able to do them justice with words. Initial - and not entirely positive - impressions when we first saw the SLS on a plinth at the Frankfurt show are blown away when first seeing the SLS on the road. It's absolutely stunning when parked, but on the move it looks like nothing else - except a 1950's 300SL. Which is no bad thing at all.

After the drama of the exterior the cabin is slightly disappointing. It's snug for a start, with those fancy doors doing little for headroom. Being a Mercedes means there's some obvious common parts, though highlights like the circular air vents make the interior special. Whether it's quite special enough inside for a car costing north of 145,000 is debatable, but you'll forgive it that when you thumb the starter button and that V8 fires up...

What you get for your Money

Official pricing has yet to be firmed up, but don't expect any change from 150,000 for a moderately equipped SLS. Standard equipment is extensive, but you'll need to dip into the options list if you'd like ceramic composite brakes, one of the lovely flat or bright metallic finish paints and carbon trim parts inside. We'd recommend the optional sports seats with fixed backs too, as they lower the driving position height a good bit - and are actually more comfortable than the standard seats. Specification aside your 150k buys you AMG's first wholly developed car that's built almost entirely from aluminium. Let's not forget the 563bhp 6.2-litre V8 engine and the seven-speed, dual-clutch, paddle-shift transmission with four shift modes, either.

Driving it

With its V8 engine mounted far back behind the front axle, the wheels pushed out into the corners and lightweight aluminium body and suspension, the SLS has all the makings of a great car. It doesn't disappoint either. The engine is the first to make an impression; the ample 563bhp and 479lb.ft of torque does not have a great deal of bulk to shift. Against the clock that power translates to a 0-62mph time of 3.8 seconds and an electronically limited 197mph top speed. It proves quick, but not savagely so, its acceleration being of a sustained, substantive type rather than explosive and fearsome.

The civility it exhibits in the presence of its huge output impresses, the SLS demonstrating a depth of ability that runs far deeper than a mere speed merchant. Unusually for an AMG car the engine doesn't entirely dominate the proceedings, the chassis an equal that's more than up to the job of dealing with the glorious high-revving V8. The steering is the key player, the wheel exhibiting a deftness and directness that's unlike anything else wearing a Mercedes-Benz badge. Turn it and the response is immediate, the response clear and the feedback rich.

The immediacy and communication from the steering is aided and abetted by the aluminium double wishbone suspension, the SLS's light weight and the apparent stiffness of its chassis. The result is roll-free cornering, the consequence of its tautness being a sometimes busy ride on nastier road surfaces, but the control it brings is worth the small sacrifice in comfort. At higher speeds mid-corner bumps can unsettle the rear slightly, but it's a relatively insignificant chink in the armour of an otherwise impeccably composed car.

There's no understeer. Even if you're ridiculously late on the excellent brakes and turn in sharply the front wheels grip doggedly and arc faithfully around your chosen trajectory. On the road the rears will follow suit, though find a track, get busy with the three-stage (On, ESP Sport and Off) ESP selector and the SLS will deliver oversteer as and when you want it. Given the speeds it's capable of that's best left to the circuit environment though, which is exactly where we tested it. The twists, turns and dips of Laguna Seca provided a tough challenge for the SLS, and one it absolutely relished - albeit with AMG's optional and far more focused Sports Suspension and ceramic composite brakes fitted.

If there's a weak area in the driving experience it's the transmission and it's more obvious on road than track. There are four gear selection modes to choose from, varying from Comfort through to completely manual - with the gears selected via the paddle-shifters behind the wheel. Or not, as input is not always translated to a shift - the electronics sometimes delaying or at worst completely denying a change. The gearbox can get a bit confused at slow speeds too, it sometimes difficult to modulate the throttle without jerkiness when driving in manual mode. That's not something unique to the SLS, but it does often mean you'll find yourself selecting the Sport + option and leaving the transmission to do its own thing - as it clearly wants to anyway.

Worth Noting

Fiddle about with the plentiful buttons in the SLS's interior and you'll find some interesting functions. Among the driver information is an indicator stating whether the car is in 'Warm Up', 'Set Up' or 'Race' modes; Warm Up displays the coolant, oil and transmission temperatures; Set Up shows your selected ESP mode; and Race displays a race timer that allows you to record your lap times when you're on track.

Being light, the SLS is pretty efficient too, the 21.4mpg (provisional) combined consumption figure Mercedes quotes is rather good for a 563bhp, V8-engined supercar.

Summary

AMG had a point to prove with the SLS and it's done a phenomenal job. Monstrously quick, with a chassis that can really exploit its pace, the SLS is an amazing accomplishment for AMG's first 'complete' car. The gullwing doors make it an event and its styling is absolutely stunning, but more than merely recreating a legend AMG has perhaps introduced a new one.

Kyle Fortune - 13 Nov 2009



  www.mercedes-benz.co.uk    - Mercedes-Benz road tests
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2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG specifications:
Price: Estimated at 150,000.
0-62mph: 3.8 seconds
Top speed: 197mph
Combined economy: 21.4mpg
Emissions: 308g/km
Kerb weight: 1620kg

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Mercedes-Benz.



2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. Image by Kyle Fortune.
 






 

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