As Mercedes' iconic SLS gullwing ends production, we take the AMG Black Series on a road trip to say a fond farewell
Steve Cropley Autocar
13 July 2014

Don’t bother with the Cat and Fiddle Pass, said the local expert we encountered at a filling station.

The famous old A537 from Macclesfield to Buxton may be achingly scenic as it carries you across the Peak District but there’s too much traffic nowadays. Not to mention a blanket speed limit. You won’t get much of an opportunity to feel what the car can do. 

Helpful though this was, what the bloke didn’t realise (mainly because, unlike us, he hadn’t been given a week’s tenure of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series) is that our mighty German gullwing-doored coupé was so potent – what with its 196mph top speed and 3.5sec 0-60mph acceleration – that it would have been constrained in some way by every road in Britain.

Keeping it in check, we already knew, was part of the game. However, by chance on the weekday we arrived, grey and bleak but dry, the slowest Cat and Fiddle traffic seemed to have been corralled elsewhere.

Caravans were being serviced; furniture was delayed in the warehouse. By re-editing the speed limit according to ACPO guidelines – and adding a bit more for speedo error – we were able to spear along the pass’s 12 famous miles at decent speed, exhaust bouncing back off rock walls as the SLS demonstrated its impressive grip while the steering showed how faithfully it can follow lines through long bends. The Nordschleife this was not, but it was good fun.

Our journey had been billed as a farewell drive. Production of the SLS, AMG’s first-ever complete car, characterised by its theatrical gullwing doors and massive, front mid-mounted 6.2-litre V8, has ended. And as the Autocar bloke who ‘owned’ an SLS for about 10,000 miles a couple of years ago, 
I was elected to shed the ritual tear. 

Except that I couldn’t seem to attain a funereal state of mind. For one thing, the SLS has lasted a year longer in production than originally planned, and more than 10,000 have been built – well ahead of the original target.

Read Autocar's Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series review

Today’s version was the extra-strength Black Series I’d never driven before, with its stiffer suspension, new electronic diff, lower gearing, even fatter tyres, massive carbon-ceramic brakes and power elevated by 59bhp to a cool 622bhp. Who was going to feel mournful about that?  

The arrival of the Black Series has had the effect of firming all SLS prices. Far from disappearing from the firmament, the car is fast heading for the automotive hall of fame.

AMG boss Tobias Moers reckons prices started rising as soon as he first announced production would end, and the Black Series has only added to the problem, if it is a problem. (And it is to people like Your Humble, who in his dreams had imagined buying an SLS once they settled at £50k-£60k. The cheapest cars did sink briefly to £80k-£85k, but now you don’t see one below £95k.)

The Black Series is quite a paradox. With that big, square mouth, thundering exhaust, huge performance and that wide body in stark black and white, it’s a bit of a blunt instrument.

Except there are unmistakable allusions to the Mercedes 300SL about its styling, and that gullwing coupé of the mid-1950s was one of the most beautiful cars ever built.

When you drive it, you realise this car is far better developed than other 2000-a-year machines; it has decent visibility and ventilation, perfectly placed dials, controls you can understand (and which you know, instinctively, will work with the same robust precision in 30 years’ time) and a body too well designed and tested to grind its exhaust or aero gubbins on the road.

This isn’t just a weekend toy; if you were prepared to cope with the slings and arrows of traffic, you could drive an SLS Black Series every day of the week.

The Black Series mods make a brilliant car better. The thin but ultra-supportive race seats create space to make it more comfortable for very tall occupants. More importantly, they place the driver’s backside no more than an inch or so off the floor, which is where it needs to be.

There’s still a decent boot and an easy 350-mile touring range (at 20mpg), and despite the car’s hardcore persona, you can imagine using it for long trips through France. 

Read Autocar's first drive in the SLS AMG GT Final Edition

The suspension rates are now very firm indeed, and on near full lock the aggressive diff tries to 
push you straight on. But the long wheelbase and ultra-wide tracks keep it flat even over the worst roads, and the surrounding structure feels stiff and long-lasting.

The damping is so brilliant that anything else seems to lack body control. The steering is accurate and sweetly weighted and resists tramlining beautifully, despite all the

encouragement it gets from fat 275/35 ZR19 front tyres. And the brakes are fabulous when used in anger. They’re over-sensitive around town, though; you must teach yourself to use them very gently. 

For me, three things stand out. One is the pervading, heart-warming air of Mercedes permanence. Another is the way this exceptional engine behaves and sounds. Name me another big-capacity V8 that you’d trust to last 150,000 miles, which peaks at 7400rpm but will spin to 8000 before the rev limiter calls time – because I can’t think of one. The grunt, with smoothness, sets a new automotive standard.

AMG is understandably proud of the twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 that will 
replace the 6.2, but I predict that across decades 
to come, there will be a breed of aficionados for whom only a 6.2 will do.

The third stand-out? It’s the power and ease with which this car fires itself out of slow corners, attaining high speeds in seconds like a minutely controlled guided missile. If you want to feel like a hero, try it; you’ll only need a light steering grip to keep it straight.

Savour the thunder that accompanies the impossibly strong low-end thrust, the traction, the chassis stability, the tyre grip and the impeccable roadholding.

They combine beautifully to keep the car just where you want it. And from your perfect observation point just 
ahead of the rear axle, you’ll find there’s no better place to enjoy the action.

It never lasts for long, of course, because the acceleration is so immense, and this might bring a tinge of disappointment. But there’s a remedy. Another corner is coming, and you can do it all over again. 

Read Autocar's history of AMG.

Watch our long-term test video of the Mercedes SLS below.

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Comments
6

13 July 2014
Iconic? The SLS? Really?

14 July 2014
Sadly this glorious machine has not been the sales success Daimler wanted, exposing the fact that the Mercedes badge does not cut it above a certain price. Hence the cheaper replacement and the tie-up with Aston.

14 July 2014
Norma Smellons wrote:

Sadly this glorious machine has not been the sales success Daimler wanted, exposing the fact that the Mercedes badge does not cut it above a certain price. Hence the cheaper replacement and the tie-up with Aston.

Except that I couldn’t seem to attain a funereal state of mind. For one thing, the SLS has lasted a year longer in production than originally planned, and more than 10,000 have been built – well ahead of the original target.

14 July 2014
I always wondered how a 6 litre AMG Merc is environmentally friendly, in this day and age.

www.KOOOLcr.com

 

14 July 2014
Pity about the retro styling. Mercedes isn't the only culprit in the cultural crime but this is a glaring example of how someone designs a car to look like something from 60-years prior. If the original 300 SL had done the same thing it would have been completely open with carriage wheels and tiller steering. Though its engine, too, would have been completely within the wheelbase of the car.

14 July 2014
Notably, the SLS shifted little over 2000 units, Stateside. That is pathetic given its top-notch lineage. The car was never intended to have a only four year life, a thing unheard of amongst high-end German machinery. Three things - 1) they overpriced it and 2) the recession prompted a "flight to quality" i.e. to established high-end brands. 3) The SLS has a rep for depreciation (a corollary of 1) and, although that may not actually matter to the filthy rich, nevertheless they don't like it. They also don't like tripping over an A-Class at the dealer. Mercedes desperately need a high-end brand and may just have one in the form of Aston.

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