First DriveMercedes-Benz’s modern-day gullwing goes out in style, and sets a storming precedent for the new GT AMG due later this year
First DriveA rare beast in the supercar ranks: an open top that manages to better its fixed roof sibling
What is it?
The fabulous new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Unveiled at the Frankfurt motor show back in September, the distinctively styled coupe is expected to go on sale in the UK next June at a price AMG’s boss, Volker Mornhinweg, says will pitch it at slightly above ₤150,000, making it ₤47,000 more than the SL63 AMG.
Developed from the ground up by AMG at its engineering headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany, the new two-seater not only aims to project Mercedes-Benz back into the thick of the supercar rank,s following the disappointment of the considerably more expensive ₤350,000 SLR, but 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.
This is a menacing-looking car: low, wide and tremendously well planted. At 4638mm in length, 1939mm in width and 1262mm in height, it is 35mm longer and 123mm wider but 36mm lower than the SL63 AMG, which it is positioned directly above within the AMG line-up.
What’s it like?
Brilliant. This car is so well resolved it is going to give Ferrari and all the other established supercar heavyweights, Lamborghini and Porsche included, something to ponder when it goes on sale next year.
This is the first time we’ve had a chance to put the SLS AMG through its paces on public roads, and it’s clear that it is a much more convincing proposition than the car it replaces in the Mercedes-Benz line-up, the McLaren-built SLR.
Still, with massive sills and those traditional gullwing doors, it is not at all an easy car to get into. The best procedure upon entry 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.
The SLS AMG pulls away lustily and handles low-speed running without any apparent slack within the driveline on part load. It feels incredibly solid and exceptionally well engineered at around town speeds.
There’s already 369lb ft of torque available at 2000rpm, 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 an earnest application of your right foot.
There’s tremendous urgency through the mid-range; breaching the point where the engine develops peak torque at 4750rpm on a fully loaded throttle sees the new Mercedes-Benz thrust forward with all the rabid determination of a car claimed to hit 60mph in just 3.7sec and 124mph in less than 12.0sec – times that make it every bit as fast as the more powerful SLR in a straight line.
The engine is hugely responsive, its revs rising and dropping with greater urgency than you’ll find in any other Mercedes-Benz model up to around 6000rpm. It’s not quite Ferrari sharp, but it’s not far behind.
Above that the inherent urgency tails off slightly, but it still manages to hauls to the 7200rpm cut-out with great enthusiasm, the electronic limiter retarding the ignition in a smooth manner so as not to upset the car’s attitude during cornering. And it is here where the new Mercedes-Benz surprises the most.
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 feel in a way no other series production Mercedes-Benz does over challenging stretches of blacktop.
Not even the uncommonly quick SL63 AMG comes close to matching this car's apparent calmness at high apex speeds. There’s no unruly weight transfer, no nervousness being telegraphed back through the steering wheel upon turn-in, no early penchant for the front end to run wide as you close down into a bend – just an addictive ability to faithfully follow your chosen line and change direction as commanded with very little body movement and with masses of lateral purchase.
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 ESP (electronic stability program).
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 and winding back the revs allows it to eat up the miles with consummate ease. It’ll reach 75mph in seventh gear at just 2500rpm with levels of refinement that are unparalleled at this end of the performance spectrum.
The ride is tremendously 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 suspension, which does without any electronic trickery and boasts superb composure.
With claimed combined-cycle fuel consumption of 21.4mpg, the SLS AMG possess a theoretical range of 400 miles on its 85 litres tank - theoretical because with some spirited driving consumption drops dramatically, as the 12.9mpg figure showing on the instant readout after our drive south from San Francisco and at the Laguna Seca circuit in California revealed.
Should I buy one?
The SLS AMG is without 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 truly sets new dynamic standards for the German car maker and is a tribute to the engineering prowess of its AMG performance car off-shoot.
It is not going to be cheap, but its ₤150,000 price tag makes it look like a bargain, making it the same price as the far less involving SL65 AMG and a whopping ₤200,000 cheaper than the now-discontinued SLR. Suddenly Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche can count Mercedes-Benz among their most serious rivals.