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SLS IS MORE

Mercedes is demanding entry into the supercar club with its SLS. Steve Walker takes a look.
The £100,000 barrier holds no fear for Mercedes-Benz. The company has repeatedly shown its willingness to retail sportscars costing well in excess of that amount, usually in partnership with AMG, its performance brand. Having said that, advancing beyond this sobering sum does place a car in direct competition with the elite of the automotive world.
AMG Mercs usually battle it out with BMW M cars and Audis with RS badges for supremacy but when the price tag increases to the north of 100k, Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Aston Martins and Bentleys enter the equation. This might explain why top Mercedes-Benz AMG models haven't always been held in the highest esteem. What's certain is that the SLS AMG is equipped to put that right.

Ten Second Review

There's more to the SLS AMG than the gullwing doors that will stun the bystanders who are already marvelling at the dramatic retro styling. Its aluminium construction, balanced weight distribution, advanced transmission and braking systems and highly tuned engine combine to make this the most comprehensively engineered Mercedes supercar we've seen for a while.

Background

People with big enough piles of cash have always been able to pick up an AMG Mercedes-Benz and be sure of gaining a car that will devour a mile straight like it means to break free from the Earth's gravitational pull. What the AMG models haven't always managed is to fully convince with their handling. This is partly due to the intrusive electronic aids often used to control the vast power outputs and partly because Mercedes likes to build a high degree of cruising comfort and luxury in to all its cars. The SLS is the first model to be developed exclusively in-house by AMG with the aim of delivering the pure supercar experience that has been missing from the marque's portfolio in the recent past.

Driving Experience

We're dealing with a thoroughbred supercar here, one with a chassis and body fashioned from aluminium and a low kerb weight of 1,620kg including the driver. The 6.3-litre V8 engine that's found in so many models that carry the AMG badge rears its head again but fine tuning has liberated 571bhp and 650Nm or torque. With that kind of thrust, the SLS could be nothing but brutally quick and a 0-62mph sprint of 3.8s along with a 200mph top speed confirm its entry into the VIP room of the supercar club.
The engine is mounted as far back as possible behind the front wheels to preserve the 48/52 neutral weight balance and power is directed rearward via a carbon-fibre driveshaft similar to that found in the Mercedes C-Class DTM race car. The seven-speed dual clutch transmission is next to the rear axle and incorporates a Race Start function that optimises traction off the line. There are also Controlled, Sport and Sport+ modes which crank up the aggression and speed of the gear changes. In Manual mode, shifts are made by the driver tweaking the steering wheel paddles.

Design and Build

There's a huge amount of drama in the way the SLS looks. Its length and width are instantly apparent and so is the way it hugs the road. At 4,638mm long and 1939mm wide, the SLS footprint is similar to that of a Mercedes C-Class Estate. The car only rises 1,262mm from the ground though, its colossal bonnet spreading out before the upright windscreen. Visually, it's unlike anything else on the road and it clearly owes more than a little to the classic Mercedes 300 SL, the car that also gives the SLS its most evocative design feature.
Gullwing doors are everywhere in the fantasy land of motorshow concept cars but as rare as repentant politicians in real life - mainly because they look spectacular but are fearsomely expensive to engineer. In 1954, the Mercedes 300 SL was one of the few cars in the last 100 years to make production with a proper set of gullwing doors and the SLS is another. These novel means of entry are integral to the SLS to the extent that photographs are more likely to show the car with its doors open than closed. They do make getting inside a challenge (a bad start for any door) as once sat in the driver's seat, it's difficult to reach up high enough to pull the door shut. People have always been happy to make far bigger sacrifices in the name of beauty though, and this issue is highly unlikely to deter anyone.

Market and Model

Despite its searing performance, the SLS still cossets its occupants with a sumptuous cabin and a raft of advanced technology features. And of course, there's the opportunity to bump up the sticker price with a range of desirable options. The sports seats have backrests made from lightweight magnesium and are electrically adjustable in every conceivable direction. There's also a beautiful flat-bottomed steering wheel with multifunction controls for the audio, telephone and navigation systems. Options include a Bang&Olufsen stereo upgrade with 1,000 watts and 11 speakers and ceramic brake discs to enhance stopping power, reduce weight and resist brake fade. The standard ESP stability control system has three modes that delay its electronic intervention, allowing the driver more scope to enjoy the handling of the SLS.
With a pricetag in the £150,000 ballpark, the SLS is positioned right in the faces of some of the world's top supercars. In the Mercedes hierarchy, it sits above the SL 65 AMG and is the brand's follow up to the Mercedes SLR McLaren which ultimately failed to live up to its hype, partly as a result of a £350,000 asking price. Buyers considering an SLS will also be looking at the likes of Ferrari's 458 Italia, Lamborghini's Gallardo and Bentley's Continental GT but the gullwinged Merc doesn't look out of place in this company.

Cost of Ownership

An 85-litre tank and official combined cycle economy give the SLS a theoretical range of 400 miles but if any part of that trek is undertaken at the kind of speeds of which this Mercedes is capable, fuel consumption will go arrowing through the roof. It's hardly relevant in a car like this though. More important will be reliability and residual values which promise to hold firm, such is the clamour around the first gullwing Mercedes since the 50s and the esteem in which it is already being held.

Summary

We might just be witnessing something very special from Mercedes-Benz. The brand's usual recipe for ultimate performance has involved shovelling in gargantuan reserves of power and hoping that the electronics and the chassis can deploy it all successfully. The SLS AMG represents a more holistic approach to the problem of going fast.
This is a model that was designed as a lightweight supercar from the ground up by AMG themselves. In addition to extreme performance, it harks back to the SL 300 with its retro styling themes and party piece gullwing doors, while also offering the luxury and technology we expect in a Mercedes. The supercar elite may be forced to make room for a newcomer.

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