The Mercedes-AMG SLS fits the supercar billing, but delivers its own take on it

Find Used Mercedes-AMG SLS 2010-2015 review deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

Arguably the Mercedes SLS’s immediate predecessor is the Mercedes-McLaren SLR, but Mercedes would prefer instead that we see inspiration for the SLS in the 1954 300SL. Which is understandable. The story starts when Mercedes adapted the underpinnings of the 1951 300 saloon, using a spaceframe chassis and aluminium body panels, to create the race-only W194. After this finished second and fourth in the 1952 Mille Miglia, followed by victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a road-going version was created: the iconic W198 300SL.

The first thing anyone wants to talk about, of course, with this SLS coupe is the doors. Certainly, there is considerable excitement at the return of a Gullwing Mercedes. And talk about them we will, discussing exactly how practical they are in real use, as well as highlighting the positives and negatives of losing them on the Roadster model.

This is the first time that AMG has been given a clean sheet to build a road car from the ground up

However, there is so much more to the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG than those doors. The SLS has been developed entirely in house. And by ‘in house’, Mercedes actually means the tuning firm AMG, which became an official Mercedes department in 1990. This is the first time AMG has been given a clean sheet to build a road car from the ground up, and one with the billing that it will be something altogether more serious than the familiar ‘big-engine-and-comfortable-Mercedes’ AMG recipe. The talk this time is of an all-out supercar.



Mercedes-AMG SLS gullwing doors

If there is one concept that runs throughout the Mercedes SLS, it is the meeting of old and new. Obviously, the SLS’s styling has been heavily inspired by the past, and specifically the original 300SL Gullwing, but it is a shape that has been reinterpreted for the 21st century. We doubt anyone would mistake the SLS for anything but a brand-new car.

Part of its visual impact comes from the proportions, with that massive bonnet and rear-set cabin but also the SLS’s considerable width. At 1939mm, it is broader than an Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The door handles pop out automatically when you unlock the coupe, and retract when the car moves off. Alternatively, the auto release can be deactivated, in which case they appear only when the button to the right is pressed. The Roadster's doors are entirely conventional, in contrast.

The SLS’s styling has been heavily inspired by the past, but reinterpreted for the 21st century

Alloys are 19in at the front, 20in at the rear. Although there is no choice of size, three designs are available. A seven-spoke design is standard, five-spoke items are the cheaper option, a 10-spoke design the most expensive.

The SLS’s main lights use bi-xenon bulbs, but the indicators and daylight running lamps are LEDs. Rear lights also use LEDs for what Mercedes calls a “nocturnal signature”. More LEDs are used for the foglights and reversing lights, which are surprisingly small and low set.

Mercedes says the design echoes that used in Formula 1, referencing the SLS’s role as the current F1 pace car. The plastic bootlid is one of the few body panels not constructed from aluminium. To avoid any disruption to the SLS shape, it incorporates aerials for the radio, navigation and phone. The rear spoiler extends at 70mph and retracts again at 50mph. A button in the centre console allows it to be deployed at slower speeds. Together with the rear diffuser, it creates 20kg of downforce at 197mph.


Mercedes-AMG SLS dashboard

Much of the process of getting into the Mercedes SLS coupe is dominated by those doors. Unlock the car and small handles automatically sprout from each door; they retract again when the car is locked or driven away.

The doors themselves are surprisingly light, their movement assisted upwards by a gas strut. Entry into the car is then relatively easy, if not tremendously dignified. You have to step over a wide sill and down into the seat, while remembering not to bump your head on the way. Which brings us to the gullwing doors’ most controversial aspect: that they are not electrically assisted. Mercedes argues, reasonably, that this would have added weight exactly where you don’t want it. But the fact remains that unless you’re relatively tall or long armed, you’ll have to grasp the door handle on your way down into the seat. Which is not impossible, but certainly a test of dexterity.

The cabin could do with a bit more sense of occasion

Coupe or roadster, with the doors closed, the cabin is surprisingly compact. That said, the seating position is good, with enough legroom for those over 6ft and a decent range of adjustment in the steering. Our review car had optional carbon-backed sports seats that, by virtue of being manually adjusted, sit lower in the car and boost headroom. With the standard seats, headroom is decidedly tight. Overall, though, while there is just about enough room (and storage) for a long journey, the feeling within the SLS is snug. And familiar.

Tall sills and long bonnet aside, the view from the driver’s seat looks remarkably like that of any other Mercedes. For the most part, this means that it is easy to use, but we can’t help feeling that the SLS could do with a bit more sense of occasion. And although the centre console does feel cold to the touch, the silver-effect main dials look out of place in a car costing this much.


Mercedes-AMG SLS 6.2-litre V8 engine

Before we first tried the Mercedes SLS, we wondered how Mercedes could get away with using the same engine in its new supercar as it does in the C63 at a third of the cost. Because, in essence, both use the same 6208cc V8. However, the first time we found a straight long enough to let the SLS give everything it’s got in third gear, any such cynical thoughts were dispelled in an instant.

In liberating an extra 112bhp from the V8, Mercedes has uncorked a monster of an engine. Add to that the fact that the SLS is 110kg lighter than the C63 and you get an impression of just how much quicker the SLS is. A 0-60mph time of 3.9sec in the coupé tells only half the story, because this reveals as much about the difficulty of launching a front-engined, rear-drive car as it does about its ultimate performance.

The SLS is fearsomely quick, but it's also incredibly easy to drive

The more telling achievement is the coupé's 0-100mph time of 8.0sec (the Roadster takes fractionally longer), which is quicker than the SL65 Black Series. No question the SLS has genuine supercar pace. Yet it is also very easy to drive. The gearbox – the same Getrag unit as that used in the Ferrari California – has four modes, and its most relaxed setting (Controlled Efficiency, as Mercedes calls it) shuffles its seven ratios to keep the revs low and the power manageable. Nestling between the dials is a line of change-up lights. That’s useful, although it’s rather hard to miss when the engine is approaching its 7500rpm limit, such is the volume of the V8 - especially when you're in the Roadster with the roof down.

It’s a mixed report for braking performance. On the road, the standard iron brakes performed impeccably, with good pedal response and strong stopping power. At the track, though, they started to wilt after just three laps. Carbon-ceramic discs are optional and worth considering for regular track use, but with the trade-off of worse pedal modulation at slow speeds.


Mercedes-AMG SLS rear cornering

The Mercedes SLS’s cabin may be reminiscent of other Mercedes, but it takes only one corner to realise that this Mercedes drives like no other. Two elements define why it feels so different. The first is the steering, which, for a Mercedes, is incredibly quick. It’s just 2.5 turns lock to lock and yet the SLS retains a respectable turning circle of 11.9m.

Some testers found the steering a shade too quick, especially on initial turn-in. However, others loved the directness. There is reasonable feel, too – more than you get in a Ferrari 599, less than in the best Porsches.

It takes only one corner to realise that this Mercedes drives like no other

The second defining factor is just how torsionally rigid the SLS feels. Commit to a corner and there is a noticeable lack of flex from the chassis. You turn the wheel, the front end bites and, with almost no hesitation, the rear follows. If you can gel with the steering, this inspires huge confidence. The compromises made in these departments for taking the Roadster are minimal.

Unusually, the SLS has a passive suspension set-up. Within the double wishbone suspension front and rear are anti-squat and anti-dive functions, but there is no adjustable damping. Given its one suspension setting, it covers the remit of road and track work relatively well.

At low speeds the SLS coupé is very firm, perhaps too firm for boulevard cruising, but it smooths out noticeably with speed. The flipside is that body movements and cornering forces are extremely well controlled. The Roadster is less firm at low speed, which a less performance orientated buyer may appreciate.

In its styling and configuration, the SLS has a whiff of hot rod to it. To an extent, that is also true of the way it drives, but the SLS is the hot rod formula polished to the nth degree. Our only criticism is that all the polishing has removed a little of the supercar soul.


Mercedes-AMG SLS

There are different ways of looking at this. Given that some elements of the Mercedes SLS can be found in Mercedes models costing a good deal less than the SLS’s hefty list price, you might regard the pricing as optimistic.

The cabin is the car’s biggest failing on the style front – it just doesn’t look bespoke enough and features far too much of what you might find on a cooking C-Class – the stereo system, for example, looks identical to that which you’d fine in a C. However, for the performance on offer, the SLS is entirely on the money.

For the performance on offer, the SLS is entirely on the money

We’d advise caution with extras, though, which pushed our car’s price up considerably. For example, metallic black or silver are the only standard paint colours. Daytona Blue and Imola Grey add more cost, while white is yet more pricey, the same as for either of the two available matt grey paint finishes. Alubeam, a liquid metal finish, adds more cost again.

The SLS's relative exclusivity should ensure strong residuals, and over the longer term it is forecast to perform in line with comparable cars. You could expect to get 45 percent of what you paid for the car after three years and average miles. However, more than some rivals, this car feels like it could take the miles and will be far more than just a fair-weather friend.

Fuel economy is unlikely to be a huge consideration for SLS owners. What is likely to be of greater interest is that its 99-litre tank gives a range of 417 miles, based on our 19.1mpg average – at least Mercedes has equipped the SLS to be a proper tourer.


4.5 star Mercedes-AMG SLS

The Mercedes SLS is imposing at a standstill and dramatic on the move, exactly as a supercar should be.

We wish the cabin was a little more special – it’s nicely trimmed and you can’t question the build quality, but for the cash and up against some stellar rivals, it’s just a little bit bland. You’d be disappointed to see some of the switchgear on the SLS that you’ll also find in a C-Class for a fraction of the cost.

The dynamics are especially well sorted

The dynamics are especially well sorted. The SLS coupé may prove to be a little stiff for those who buy one simply to commute or pose, but no one can question its ability to get around a corner remarkably briskly. The Roadster's (slightly) softer character will appeal more to those who aren't in the market to buy the car for its ultimate driving ability.

The engine is a masterpiece, though – seemless power allied to a great noise. One noise we could do without, though, is the tyre drone at motorway speeds.

Technically, our only real grumbles are that perhaps ceramic brakes should be standard and that the coupé's doors, although flash, do hinder access and interior space. While it’s great to see the return of a Gullwing Mercedes, owners will have to find a new way of getting into their cars, while grabbing hold of the door handles in the process.

However, for all its objective accomplishments, we wish it were a little more emotive. The cabin probably best sums up the SLS: enough space, well equipped and soundly built, but oddly ordinary at the same time.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Mercedes-AMG SLS 2010-2015 First drives