Test Driven: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Al’s Take

SLS AMG (Front)

At Pebble Beach, there are test drives everywhere.  Mercedes, of course, decided to one-up everyone else there by getting a primo spot right by the security gate, just past the Palm Club.  After a bit of talking with the booth professionals, we signed the papers and gave away our sanity to drive an SLS AMG, CLS63 AMG, and Maybach 57S.  The SLS, however, was easily the one I was the most excited about.

SLS AMG (rear)

The SLS is well-known as the most outlandish automobile that Mercedes-AMG has built for quite some time.  It starts at 190K, but we know that with some small options, the price breaks 200 grand pretty easily.  It’s not cheap, but then again, I’m not surprised.  Gullwing doors, a stunning body, and a sound that makes Thor look like a baby?  All great stuff, but in order to see what it was really like, I took this red one for a drive.  Getting in was just as much of an occasion as the car itself.  It represented two firsts for me—the SLS is my first supercar, and the first car I’ve ever driven with gullwing doors.  The latter proved to be the harder part to deal with.  Being only 5’4”, I’m not at all a tall guy—and the SLS seems to be built for those who are not vertically challenged.  I’d been told how to crawl into this car, and of course, I forgot to close the door on my way into the seat.  “Excuse me, sir—could you close this door for me?  I am too short and this SLS does not have a pull strap”.  Yup…I said that.

The interior of the SLS is gorgeous in almost every way. Carbon fiber trim is optional, and multiple hides of leather are available as well.

Thankfully, my embarrassment at being too short to shut the door went away when I pressed the starter button and fired the weapons-grade 6.2L naturally-aspirated V8 engine–an engine that puts out a ground-shaking 563hp at 6800 rpm, and 480 lbs-ft of torque at 4750 rpm.  The SLS is equipped with the 7G-Tronic dual-clutch transmission, a great transmission that’s perfectly capable of handling this beastly engine.  The bodywork and chassis are made of exotic materials to keep the overall weight down, and the transmission is mounted at the rear of the car for better weight distribution.  Inside, the interior is decked out in typical AMG performance flair, with thick, well-bolstered seats, a wide center console (which feels fitting and makes the interior seem almost small by comparison), and an instrument panel that belongs in a museum for its sheer beauty, with gauges that look like they came right out of the SLS’s spiritual predecessor, the 300SL Gullwing.  Of course, the gauges are easy to read and clearly marked (on a car like this, I’m glad for that).  Visibility is surprisingly good for a supercar, with few glaring blind spots.  All the controls were pretty much in the right places, with the shifter and suspension controls adjacent to the driver.  With that in mind, I put the transmission in Manual and the suspension in Sport+, and got moving.

I love every bit of this engine.

Unlike Nick, this marked the first time I’d been in a truly exotic, bona-fide, bespoke (I say this because the Jaguar XKR-S shares its basic design with the standard XK) supercar.  To be honest, the effect was terrifying at first, until I got the hang of the explosively-responsive throttle and brakes.  There’s no other way to describe it: this thing absolutely goes like hell.  From a dead stop, it felt eerily normal, but once I hit the gas hard up a hill, my back glued itself to the seat and I held on for dear life–there isn’t much else to say about its acceleration, it’s terrifyingly and hilariously fast.  That said, it doesn’t feel out of control (unlike the Jag, to some extent) or too powerful for its tires and chassis.  And it makes a great noise while doing it, too.  This handmade V8 engine isn’t long for this world (as it is being replaced elsewhere by AMG’s new biturbo 5.5L V8), but I think it deserves to stay around as long as possible, for the amount of power it produces and for the sound it kicks out–while a supercharged or twin-turbo V8 sounds great, this naturally-aspirated mill can puncture eardrums at ten paces, with a symphonic rumble and wide-open howl that says, “Get the hell out of the way, commoner”.  And it’s not all about the “go” either.  On my way up that same hill, as I accelerated to nearly 85MPH, I got a taste of my East Coast home–a white tailed deer attempted suicide.  Thanks to this impromptu brake test (I quite literally slammed on the brakes, no way I’m going to crash an SLS), I can report the brakes fitted to the SLS AMG are even more amazing than the engine and transmission.  Handling and ride-wise, the SLS isn’t at all uncomfortable and feels absolutely connected to the road (at least during the time I was driving it).

I can't find enough good things to say about the SLS. The one negative is that I'm too short to close the doors.

Would I buy one? WIth the proper income, absolutely.  The SLS AMG is a fantastically fun car to drive, listen to, sit in, or stare at.  It’s gorgeous, a hoot to drive, and probably the best car AMG’s ever put their name on.  It’s not cheap…but then again, it’s not supposed to be.  There’s no such thing as a perfect automobile, but in the world of flashy, explosively quick GT cars, the new SLS comes damn close.



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