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Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG review (2009 onwards)
What - Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Where - California, USA
Date - November 2009
Price - c. £150,000
Available - Summer 2010
Key rivals - Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, Aston Martin DBS, Porsche 911 GT2, Audi R8 V10, Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560
A new Gullwing for a new age, the SLS is the first car developed totally in-house by Mercedes' performance division AMG
We like- Noise, novelty doors, ride, epic performance, exploitable handling, retro-modern styling, technology, user friendliness
We don't like- Sluggish gearbox, claustrophobic cabin, lacks charisma compared with rivals
55 years after the 300SL wowed the New York motorshow the Gullwing is back! Revealed to much hoopla at Frankfurt just a couple of months back the SLS has faced intense competition before even turning a wheel.
After all, this was the same show at which Ferrari threw the covers off its all-new 458 Italia, which we'll be driving next week. The SLS is going to need more than novelty doors to steal the limelight.
To be fair the SLS is aiming at a subtly different market. This is a slightly more mature, GT-oriented car, the front-mid engined configuration making it more of a rival for the Aston Martin DBS or Ferrari 599.
Potent rivals themselves. But the SLS has been developed entirely by Mercedes performance wing AMG, the first car developed from scratch by the tuning division and an entirely clean sheet design with no shared underpinnings with any production Mercedes.
The 6.2-litre V8 engine used by the SLS is a derivation of the familiar unit found in a host of AMGs. But it's been reworked with over 120 new components and now delivers a heroic 571hp.
That's enough to humble the 510hp Aston DBS though the Enzo-engined 599 still wins the horsepower top trumps with its 620hp. Still, the AMG engine is a tad more torquey and makes a fabulous noise.
For the first time on a Mercedes it drives through a double-clutch gearbox too, mounted in the rear of the car for improved weight distribution. The four-mode AMG Drive Unit modes from the SL63 and others is carried over.
Performance is mighty too, 0-62mph coming up in just 3.8 seconds with the Race Start function and the top speed limited to 197mph, perhaps to spare the blushes of the much more expensive SLR McLaren the SLS ostensibly replaces.
Ride and handling
The AMG versions of the Mercedes SL use all manner of electronic trickery - including active roll control and variable damping - to disguise their two-tonne kerb weights. Successfully, it has to be said.
But the SLS is relatively light, thanks to bespoke aluminium space frame chassis. In fact, at 1,620kg it's lighter than the all-carbon SLR, aluminium Aston DBS and, indeed, Ferrari 599.
And this has a huge impact on the handling, the stiff, light chassis showing off a perfectly calibrated suspension set up that's both relatively plush and brilliantly composed even on the sharply cambered Californian roads of the launch event.
This simplicity means the natural balance of the SLS can be exploited to the full, the linear, beautifully weighted steering and centred weight distribution creating a brilliantly balanced, exploitable and predictable package.
The only slight let-down comes with the gearbox. It's certainly slick and fast shifting and there's clearly some very clever software engineering going on. But it never quite lets you take control.
Even in the supposedly hardcore manual mode upshifts are blunted and softened, detracting from the involvement. AMG says it's what its customers want but it screams of a missed opportunity to offer a genuinely different experience from the SL.
One of the main problems with the SLR was the fact its cabin never felt up to the quality you'd expect of a car costing over £300K. Clearly lessons have been learned and the SLS feels suitably high class.
There are familiar Mercedes parts here but the retro round vents and nifty 'jet thruster' gear selector are all beautifully made from machined aluminium. Headroom is limited though, the cabin pretty cosy.
Economy and safety
Stop sniggering, Mercedes is actually making bold claims for the efficiency of the SLS's engine. But, you cry, it's a 6.2-litre V8, how on earth can it even dream of being eco friendly?
Well, it's no Prius. But for an engine like this an official 21.4mpg is respectable, aided by various efficiency boosting measures like energy recuperation on a trailing throttle and 'intelligent' management of oil and cooling systems.
MSN Cars verdict
Most fast Mercs rely heavily on technology to disguise their bulk but by stripping back the weight and going back to basics AMG has been able to really show off its talents. And the result is spectacular.
Reviving an icon like the 300SL Gullwing is no small undertaking but the SLS does it with some style, even if it ultimately plays it a little bit safe. Still, that leaves some headroom for a more extreme Black Series version...
More images of the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG from Bing
Compare rivals from Car Guide
Top 10: retro-supercars
In pictures: weird forgotten supercars
|Need to know|
|Engine - petrol||6.2 V8|
|Engine - diesel||N/A|
|Torque (lb ft)||479|
|Top speed (mph)||197 (limited)|
|Rating||Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG|
|Ride and handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||*****|
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