This is the ultimate supercar test - we're pitting the Mercedes SLS AMG, Aston Martin Vantage V12, Porsche 911 Turbo and Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera head-to-head. Steve Sutcliffe reports.
The Mercedes SLS is the new car on the block - albeit one wrapped in retro clothing. But don't let that fool you. Virtually the entire car is made from aluminium, including its spaceframe chassis, yet the overall rigidity of the structure remains high.
In the nose sits a normally aspirated 6208cc V8 that develops 563bhp at 6800rpm and 479lb ft at 4750rpm. Power reaches the road via an ultra-sophisticated dual-clutch semi-automatic gearbox with seven forward ratios, a rear-mounted transaxle for better weight distribution, and numerous gearshift modes to choose from.
The suspension is similarly bespoke, featuring a classic layout of double wishbones with coil springs at both ends, while the brakes of the test car were optional carbon ceramic discs.
The base price for the SLS is £157,500, which already puts it above the 911 Turbo (£106,387), Vantage V12 (£135,000). Tick a few boxes, though, and it won't take long to hit the £187,000 of our test car - more than the limited edition Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera here.
There's an intriguing mix of modern and traditional in the Merc's styling. The overall effect is extremely dramatic. Wherever we went with these cars, it was the SLS that was gawped at most - quite amazing, given the lime green Lambo.
Swing the driver's door up, climb in, and the SLS's driving position is faultless and the basic architecture of the cabin excellent. But there is a whiff of anti-climax about it - for a £157,500 it is a touch ordinary. It feels like any other Merc.
It's the Aston that shows the way here. Despite being a bit of a joke ergonomically, the Aston feels hugely more special inside somehow, more of an event to relish.
Down to business
The SLS is instantly impressive in the way it reacts not merely to the throttle but also via its super-responsive steering and suspension.
The car's sheer alertness on the move comes as a surprise to begin with. The SLS is one outrageously quick and surprisingly raw-feeling sports car. In some ways it feels like the world's most sorted TVR.
Only once you have grabbed the SLS by the scruff and muscled it down the road does it become clear how fluid, and how cohesive, this car's dynamic repertoire actually is.
A chance to stop and chat reveals some uncertainty about the SLS. Colleagues who have driven it suggest it's "too stiff, too nervy and not smooth enough to drive on give-and-take roads". So will the people at whom the SLS is aimed at understand the car?
Will they understand that it can make the Aston Martin Vantage V12 seem peculiarly baggy to drive by comparison; keep up with a well driven 911 Turbo across a deserted moorland road and keep a car as crazed as a Lamborghini Superleggera firmly in check.
I'm not convinced that the will, in which case the SLS's dynamic outlook might come as an unwanted surprise. Anyone wishing to cruise the boulevards in their SLS is going to be slightly disappointed.
In terms of basic capability, this is a car that's more of a rival to the Ferrari 599 GTB than we'd imagined, in light of which £157,500 no longer seems terribly outrageous.
But there is a caveat. Although the SLS is massively faster and, visually at least, makes more of an impression than we were expecting, it's still a curiously cold car emotionally. Neither the Gallardo nor the V12 Vantage is as flawless as the Mercedes, but you warm to them in a way that simply never happens with the SLS.
For some, the Porsche's searing pace and real-world values will be enough to seal the deal. Personally I'd go for the Aston, happy in the knowledge that it is fast enough to compete while delivering almost as much dynamic edge as the SLS and 911 with three times as much style/character/sense of occasion.
And the Lambo? It's a car for proper lunatics and special occasions only. And sometimes it would be the only one of the four you'd genuinely crave to drive. For the other 350 or so days of the year, the V12 Vantage would be just about perfect.
Read the full supercar head-to-head test in this week's Autocar, on sale now.
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