What is it?
The not terribly efficiently titled Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 Edition. Only 150 will be made, aimed at those who find the standard SLR just a little too soft. A new engine map raises the power of the supercharged, 24-valve, 5.5-litre V8 motor from 617bhp to 641bhp, while new wheels, aluminium dampers, a lighter oil tank and ‘optimised’ sound deadening drop the kerbweight to a still reasonably hefty 1724kg.
Together, these mods drop the 0-62mph time by 0.2sec to 3.6sec so that, somewhat conveniently, the 722 is now a tenth quicker than the new Ferrari 599 rather a tenth slower. Top speed rises two whole mph to 210mph. But you’re also buying even bigger carbon ceramic brakes, red dials, red stitching and brake calipers plus, of course, a brace of ‘722’ badges.
Why 722? It’s because when the Mille Miglia was a proper road race, the number on the side of your car was also your start time. And ever since Stirling Moss fired his 300SLR off the ramp at 7.22am to start the 1955 Mille Miglia and set a never-to-be-broken record for driving from Brescia to Rome and back, the number has been accorded mythical status in Stuttgart.
Whether you see this as an appropriate homage to one of the great moments in racing history, or a cynical bid to prop up sales, the only question that really matters is whether these updates, for which Mercedes charges £22,390, turn the SLR into the devastatingly engaging and effective road missile it always promised but never quite managed to be.
What's it like?
Unfortunately, these updates do not turn the SLR into the devastatingly engaging and effective road missile it always promised but never quite managed to be.
It’s been a while since I drove a standard SLR, but when I did it was on roads a sight more challenging than the largely straight and heavily policed roads in Dubai and Oman chosen for the launch of the 722. Yet I don’t remember the standard car for its borderline unacceptable ride quality, nor do I recall steering so aggressive the car was difficult to place with real confidence.
Those dampers are not only aluminium, they’re also 15 per cent stiffer in bump (but the same in rebound) while the ride height has been dropped 10mm front and rear which, combined with a new front splitter, is said to increase downforce on the nose by a socking 128 per cent.
But it does not make the car any more pleasant to drive. On a smooth racetrack with a real hand at the wheel, I can see how it might all make sense, but even on straight desert roads, let alone an undulating British B-road, it’s hard to see the point. Mercedes counters by saying the 722 is a car its customers asked for and nearly all are already sold, including the entire UK allocation.
And there remains much to savour in the SLR – its astonishing squirt, the macho rumble of the mighty V8 and the fabulous construction standards of its all-carbon shell and body still make this a genuinely special car. But the mighty brakes are still difficult to modulate and the five speed auto 'box seems even less suited to this ultra-aggressive SLR than the standard car.
Should I buy one?
It's more a case of can I buy one – as we say, nearly all 722s are already sold. And I think the SLR needs to go the other way – reverting to its standard suspension and giving buyers a whole new dimension to enjoy – the third dimension, to be precise. Though I am not a chop-top man per se, I can see a convertible roof suiting the SLR’s temperament and customer base very well. Happily, Mercedes feels the same way and will reveal just such a car this summer. I had hoped the 722 would be the car the SLR always promised to be, but came away disappointed. But in a few months they’ll have another crack and, this time, I reckon they'll pull it off.