Preview: 2011 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

by Shin Takei

This revolutionary new sports car from AMG, the sporting division of Mercedes Benz, is nothing short of spectacular. Until now, AMG has been turning existing Mercedes models into hot rods. With the release of the 2011 SLS, a sports car built from the ground up, AMG has officially burst into the exotic super-sports car market.

The Grand Prix Racing heritage of Mercedes Benz led to the construction of the 300SL production car in 1954. With doors that opened up instead of out, resembling the wings of a bird, it earned the nickname “300SL Gullwing.” Using the 300SL as its prototype, the SLS AMG has carried on the tradition of “Gullwing” doors but with a much lower sill to simplify ingress and egress.

As with the original 300SL, the new SLS is a technical tour de force that sits atop the summit of automotive technology. The SLS sports an all-aluminum space frame chassis, weighing a mere 531 lbs. The normally aspirated 6.3 liter 32-valve DOHC V8 produces 571 hp at 6,800 rpms and 480 ft/ lbs of torque at 4,750 rpms. The transaxle setup is paired with an AMG Speedshift DCT seven-speed automatic transmission. A twin clutch system, connected by a carbon fiber driveshaft makes for minimum loss of power from the engine to the tires. As with the original, the engine is a dry sump type, sitting deep and low towards the center for an optimum balance of 48%/52% front-rear, respectively. The curb weight is only 3,573 lbs, making it quite nimble for its size.

Door handles are flush like the original and are touch-sensitive as they gently move out for you to grasp. The light-weight door is easy to lift and, thanks to the low sill, ingress is the same as with any sports car. Swathed in premium leather, the interior features sexy carbon fiber accents. The sport seats boast magnesium back rests and are fully adjustable. Even the cabin space feels quite roomy, in contrast to the claustrophobic 300SL.

DRIVING IMPRESSION: We attended the AMG Driving Academy at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey where several AMG vehicles were available for testing. Through a number of exercises, we learned that the SLS accelerates quickly, with lots of torque controlled by your personal input. There is a setup for launch control, which allows you to keep the stability control in sport mode and the rotary transmission knob in RS for race start, but you can simulate F1 type starts.

Shifts are crisp, quick and precise with the paddle shifters. The AMG SLS has a rushing take-off, but the body stays tight and controlled without any drama, instilling confidence to further pressure the gas pedal. The limited-slip transaxle and the traction control systems do wonders in corners, allowing you to brake late. The ABS assists you through the apex of the turn, making you feel like you’re driving on rails. With neck-snapping acceleration, massive brakes with awesome stopping power, balanced and controlled cornering, great engine sound and feeling, the AMG SLS is truly a super sports car.

The “Gullwing” doors have a built-in detonation device that ejects them in case there’s a rollover and you need to crawl out. The rear spoiler pops out when 75 mph is reached and retracts when you’re going 50 mph or less. Although our test car was a pre-production prototype, the overall quality and degree of finish was superb. One can only anticipate the production version to be even better.

With plans for a roadster and a “more-potent” Black Series, the SLS will satisfy the hard core enthusiasts. Lucky owners will be grinning every time they close those “Gullwing” doors. Priced starting at $183,000, we think it’s a bargain.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: 10 In one word, fabulous. A super-sports car with all the techno goodies.

LOOKS: 9 The long nose, short deck and “Gullwing” doors make it a modern classic.

DRIVING IMPRESSION: 10 A true modern sports car, born to be driven. 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds, 11.7 second 1⁄4 mile, ‘nough said.

HANDLING: 10 A thinly veiled race car hides within. You can be confident going around any corner with this kind of grip.

LUGGAGE SPACE: 4 Holds two golf bags but not much more. Ship your luggage ahead to your destination for long stays.

BLING FACTOR: 10 You’re going to attract a crowd whenever you drive up in this car. Be prepared to answer questions.

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