Mercedes-Benz, the two-seat time capsule is the new SLS AMG. This sports car’s quest takes buyers back to the 1950s, by evoking the classic 300SL coupe, including its space-age gullwing doors. But the SLS’s greatest misfortune — aside from its uninspired rear-end styling — is to have landed plop into the still-sour economy of 2010. Any megaplex denizen could have told Mercedes that a $200,000 sports car should have set course for, oh, the dot-com bubble of 1999.
And that’s what’s great about the 2011 SLS. As the first car created entirely by the company’s AMG performance division (rather than adapted from a civilian Mercedes), the SLS can’t match the visual fantasia of the scissor-doored SLR, or that car’s terminal speed of 207 miles per hour. (A mere 197 m.p.h. must suffice.) Yet I had more fun driving the SLS because I felt much more confident in it, my mind focused on the next curve and not on indemnity clauses. Since various SLR McLarens were priced between $450,000 and roughly $1 million — the latter for the Stirling Moss Roadster edition — Mercedes might argue that a supercar replacement that starts at $185,750 is, by comparison, a recession-priced Kia. As it stands, Mercedes will be satisfied if roughly 300 Americans ante up for an SLS in its first year.
Those buyers will get an appealing 563-horsepower mix of ferocity and luxury, with a decidedly Germanic style that is very different from the usual Italian supercar. Whereas many Ferraris or Lamborghinis mount their engines behind the driver, the Mercedes takes the approach of front-engine, long-snout classics like the Jaguar E-Type.
But another front-engine monster, the Dodge Viper, came to mind when I stared down the SLS’s mammoth hood: it’s like a Stonehenge monolith tipped on its side.
That hood is something to behold, along with those sky-walking doors. Wherever I swung them open, a crowd magically appeared to gawk and snap photos. The price for this instant conversation-starter is clumsy entry and exit over bench-size door sills, and the odd whack of the noggin against the raised portals. Once seated, shorter occupants stretch and strain to reach the raised door handles, though Mercedes plans to offer helpful grab straps at an unspecified date.
The other con is the thick front roof pillars that block too much of the view. As for safety, if the SLS should ever land on its roof, pyrotechnic charges blow out the doors’ hinge bolts, allowing occupants or rescuers to free the doors.
The SLS looks so bodacious from the front that you almost wish Mercedes had grafted the hood onto the back, so you could enjoy the view in stereo. But after the magnificence of that six-foot-long proboscis, the rear is a bland vestigial tail, with a tucked-in spoiler that rises above 75 m.p.h.
Where the original ’50s Gullwing was wrapped in elektron, a magnesium alloy, the SLS’s chassis and body are entirely aluminum, aside from a composite decklid. Other fat-trimmers include a carbon-fiber driveshaft that weighs a mere 9 pounds, and optional ceramic composite brakes. At 3,573 pounds, the Mercedes weighs about 300 less than the largely carbon-fiber SLR McLaren, and a remarkable 700 less than the SL63 roadster. The SLS’s power-to-weight ratio tops the Aston Martin DBS and Porsche 911 Turbo (though the Porsche’s all-wheel-drive makes it faster), and it’s within sight of the Ferrari 599 GTB.
The SLS is a screamer: 3.5 seconds from 0 to 60 miles per hour, according to Car and Driver magazine, and 11.6 seconds in the quarter-mile.
The SLS’s 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual is the latest. Driven in Comfort mode, the transmission can smooth out gear changes a bit too much for the impatient driver, especially while trundling in traffic. The Sport Sharp or Manual settings take care of that, snapping off shifts in less than 100 milliseconds.
There’s also a welcome Sport setting for the stability-control system, which shows off both the SLS’s surprisingly high limits and smooth recovery when the tires do break loose.
The Mercedes still can’t match the steering feedback of a typical Porsche, or the hard-core purity of exotics like a midengine Ferrari. That judgment was reinforced when I happened to hop from the Mercedes into the new Porsche Boxster Spyder. There’s still a bit of the old grand-touring Gullwing in this Mercedes’s blood, a recognition that the SLS will spend more time at fancy hotels than in racetrack paddocks.
That message is evident inside: the SLS is rich, bedecked in soft leather, aluminum and optional carbon fiber. But aside from some details — including aircraft-style aluminum vents — the mature cabin assures a Mercedes-Benz buyer that he hasn’t gone crazy from a midlife crisis. One wild touch is Alubeam paint, a $12,500 option that wheels your SLS to a separate German factory for a hand-applied paint that looks like liquid chrome.
At $186,000 to start, the SLS’s price is also an eyebrow lifter when compared with some rivals: $30,000 more than Audi R8 5.2, $50,000 beyond the Porsche Turbo, just $12,000 less than a Lamborghini Gallardo. You’ll have to ask yourself: how much do you love those crazy doors?
Src & Text: [nytimes]