If I lived in a villa on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy and had to cross the Alps, say, twice a month for a consulting job in Munich, I know the car I'd most want to drive—the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Yes, there are sportier cars (the , for instance) and, yes, more opulent ones (the ), but this exquisitely built , designed from the ground up by AMG, is a superb Grand Touring machine that wins me over with its intoxicating blend of power, performance and style.
With ease I can vividly imagine the throaty V-8 exhaust reverberating in the thin mountain air as the SLS blasts from switchback to switchback on the famous Stelvio Pass, its driver (me) in complete euphoric comfort. What's more, particularly in Iridium Silver, the SLS exudes presence; it's clear to anybody watching that someone of impeccable taste has arrived—and that's with the car's signature gullwing doors closed. Open 'em up, and people can't stay away from the car.
And that, in a sense, is the SLS's real power. It draws out neighbors you've never met, each understandably wanting a closer look at the silver exotic that just rumbled down their street. It's a retro design, for sure, but not to the point of caricature or having to be fitted with a straight-6 engine and a 4-speed manual like the original 300 SL Gullwing of 1955. No, this new SLS is at once classic and modern, powered by a handbuilt 6208-cc V-8 that connects to a twin-clutch 7-speed rear transaxle via a torque tube and a carbon-fiber driveshaft that weighs a scant 9 lb. With our test driver in place, the long-wheelbase SLS, with its remarkably short overhangs, has a rear weight bias of 54 percent, about the highest we've seen for a front-engine car.
The 4-cam dry-sump V-8—mounted very low in the chassis and well aft of the front axle line for dynamic reasons—makes tearing sounds the moment it's fed some throttle, revving like a race engine with a lightened flywheel. Known internally as the M159, it's a significantly revised version of the 6.2-liter M156 V-8 found in the and sport sedans, but upgraded to 563 bhp at 6800 rpm and 479 lb.-ft. of torque at 4750 rpm. Mercedes says that's a 9 percent power increase, made possible with an all-new intake that teams with revised valves, camshafts and flow-optimized exhaust headers for better cylinder filling. A strengthened crankcase, forged pistons, reinforced crankshaft bearing caps and a high-performance, demand-controlled oil pump help keep this highly stressed aluminum V-8 alive and well.
Now more than ever, overall efficiency is a major concern to manufacturers, and it's addressed in the SLS several ways, most notably via a twin-wire arc-sprayed friction-reducing coating on the cylinder walls, an intelligent alternator that charges the battery only during the engine's overrun phases and in braking. In short, this smart system uses kinetic energy to charge the battery, and the alternator automatically switches to a no-load setting during acceleration, reducing drag on the engine and thereby improving fuel efficiency.
Fuel economy, however, was far from our minds at the test track, where the SLS shot to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds and blistered through the quarter mile in 11.6 sec. at 124.3 mph, a masterful accelerative performance that improves upon Mercedes' claims and firmly establishes the SLS's rightful place in the modern supercar world. Braking, too, is world-class, even with the stock cast-iron rotors. The stopping figures of 112 and 194 ft. from 60 and 80 mph, respectively, are excellent, on a par with the . And the 7-speed paddle-shift automatic, the only gearbox available in the SLS, made acceleration runs remarkably easy. We found that Race Start mode, which is selectable via a rotary knob on the SLS's center console, limits wheelspin almost too much. Our best times were achieved without it, the SLS's traction enhanced by a mechanical differential lock and the car's rear weight bias. Upshifts occur at redline in a scant 100 milliseconds.
In low-speed city driving, in trundling about town, the Mercedes-built MCT-7 transaxle (with Comfort, Sport, Sport Plus and Manual modes) works well but is occasionally a bit slow to upshift when directed to do so by the right-hand paddle. Nevertheless, the SLS gearbox works better the harder you drive the car, and it's significantly more refined than the single-clutch unit in the Lexus LFA also tested in this issue. And every time the SLS fires off a perfect succession of auto-blip downshifts while braking hard into a favorite corner, you tend to forget about these minor concerns.