2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Expert Review:Autoblog
How This Supercar Fares Without Its Signature Doors
There are several ways to get to Monte Carlo once you've landed in Nice. There's the train, a 23-minute meandering trek over and through the wooded undulations of the intervening cities that deposits you at Monte Carlo's downtown station. There's a taxi, more than 30 times the cost of a train, and it takes twice as long, but it does offer service porte à porte. Or there's Heli Air Monaco with a fleet of choppers stationed at the Nice airport. Those fine gents can get you to the Monaco heliport in eight minutes, floating past seafront redoubts and over an azure Mediterranean dotted with billions of dollars of sailing and motor yachts.
Of those three modes of transport, only one is appropriate when Mercedes has invited you to Monte Carlo to drive its new SLS AMG Roadster. We offered the appropriate "Mercis" to our chopper pilot for providing a smooth ride.
The SLS AMG was introduced at the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show. The roadster was engineered alongside the coupe, but it's taken two years to remove the top for public purposes. It will take you two minutes of top-down driving to begin quoting high school poetry in homage to it: "Come with me and be my love," you'll coo, "and we will all the pleasures prove...."
The Villa Key Largo is where we met our day's work, an angled row of SLS AMG Roadsters lined up along the jetty. We chose a model wearing the newest exterior color, metallic AMG Sepang Brown, a coat that ripples with bronzed silverfish hues in any temperature of light, then goes all brooding matte under cloud and shade. It is one of the nine exterior colors available on the range, to go along with either red, black or beige roof options. It is beautiful. Or, to borrow a descriptive courtesy of British comedy duo Hale & Pace, it's "a knee-trembling color, a crumpet magnet."
The roadster is veritably the coupe, tweaked. The engine remains the 6.3-liter (yes, that's really a 6.208-liter) V8 with 571 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, but has been given revised intake air ducting to reduce pressure losses. Through the twin pipes out back, it continues to emit a subterranean bellow that's a mating call for monstrosities of the Godzilla family.
Wrapped around it is an aluminum spaceframe and lightly adorned body. The spaceframe itself is seven kilograms lighter than the engine, and roadster's body-in-white is but two kilograms heavier than the coupe. The mass of the fixed roof has been transferred into trusses behind the instrument panel, the center tunnel, the soft top and gas tank, a carbon fiber support behind the seats, and higher door sills with more reinforcing chambers. All up, the roadster is 88 pounds heavier than its gullwinged brother.
The three-layer cloth softtop surrounds bones of aluminum, magnesium and steel, and stows behind the front seats. It folds into the shape of the last letter of the alphabet in just 11 seconds, only debits you a smidge of trunk space compared to the coupe, and it doesn't take up any more space when it's stowed. It will answer your command at any speed up to 31 miles per hour.
With powerplant alight, we pulled down the jetty, past the 100- and 200-meter yachts that reign over the Monte Carlo flotilla. Although the SLS Roadster is a lean cut of meat – its only strip of "fat" being the ample cushion between the grille and the front mid-mounted engine –it is also a wide one. This isn't a problem through the streets of La Condamine, past the Prince Albert Swimming Pool complex and marina, nor over Boulevard Louis II. Nor is it a problem through the Formula One circuit tunnel under The Fairmont Hotel, where every other driver is giving his exhaust a workout as if testing its thunder against the hell-beckoning drone of a Renault V8 on overrun.
Get out of Monaco proper, though, to neighboring cities like Roquebrune or especially the hilltop hamlets like Èze where the streets take a more narrow, Continental bent, and you'll be snapped to attention. With a front track just 1.5 inches narrower than a Lamborghini Aventador, even a Peugeot touching the center line in the opposite lane will get you focused on running the slot between it and the right shoulder. When you meet an oncoming truck, that glorious V8 bellow gives way to the sound of both your sphincters at DefCon 5 and Alec Guinness telling you to "Use the Force" as if you're a young Skywalker trying to put a missile down the Death Star's air vent.
But no matter your state of relaxation or anxiety, you will look very, very good behind the wheel. The car is unconscionably low – you have to look up to make eye contact with the copious number of women in the equally copious number of Ferrari California droptops cruising the Côte. The removal of the roof eliminates the aesthetic issues arising from the stubby cap atop the gullwing, so that the portion of the car behind the engine appears more stretched out and relaxed. The fixed-roof version also has blind spots so large they should be called eclipses, and eliminating the roof makes three-quarter vision to the rear much better, naturally. Yet the stack of the stowed roof combined with the ground-floor seating means you only see the upper pieces of cars close behind. You can raise the lower bolster, but that robs you of your billionaire raconteur profile, and there's no reason to acquire such rakish accommodations and then sit in a booster seat. With the roof up, sightlines aft are comparable to a leather-lined, cross-stitched pillbox. But really, why would you be driving with the roof up anyway?
Additionally, removal of the roof positively soaks the cabin in exhaust music, so that any other noise – your passenger speaking, for instance, or actual music through the 1,000-watt, 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system – has to work its way through that low-level-earthquake medium. Even with the slot-in wind deflector, the cabin isn't quiet, it's sporting. Don't be surprised if you become a man or woman of few words when behind the wheel. But really, why would you be talking, anyway?
One of the roadster's most welcome features is its AMG Ride Control suspension, with adaptive damping. Your author drove the coupe at its launch two years ago and found its one-setting-only manners so severe that we still remember the exact stretch of Northern California highway when he thought, "Oh my God, this is annoying." It was outstanding on the track – the only problem being that it was always braced for circuit use. With the Ride Control suspension, the same recently experienced on the CLS63 AMG, there's now a Comfort setting that is genuinely comfortable. What we have here, fellow mavens, is a properly grand, grand tourer.
What we also have here, when aimed at Alpine switchbacks, is a properly fettled ballistic missile. Crossing through into Ventimiglia, Italy and turning northward into the mountains, we entered AMG's warped arcade world: We were like a zig-zagging pinball in reverse, going up instead of down. But since we're not talking about a lightweight – the SLS Roadster weighs about 600 pounds more than a Porsche 911 and about 80 pounds less than an Aston Martin DBS – the action was is less pinball, more pin-boulder. Yet it was none the less awesome for it.
The Route de Col de Brouis is a concrete boa slithering its way up the cliff's edge on its way to Brouis, our rest stop, through tunnels and past nearly abandoned villages scarred by the acne of abandoned stone buildings, broken windows and rusted industrial works. It is a brilliant test of the go-fast game with sweepers to test at-speed cornering stability and mid-curve undulations, tight-blind corners where the rock face juts in into the apex to test quick steering jinks, construction crews placed strategically around blind corners to test the six-pot carbon brakes up front (in back are four-pot calipers straddling cast iron discs), and the occasional ancient Citroën Berlingo coming around yet more blind corners, in your lane, tilted up on its outside wheels like a drunk camel, to test your sangfroid.
For this, you press the AMG Ride Control until both lights illuminate, beyond Sport, to Sport +, for the firmest damping and the least intrusive ESP program. Then you turn the driving mode dial to from C (for "Controlled Efficiency"), past S and S+, to M (for "Manual"). That sharpens the throttle and transmission responses, with the V8's throttle flaps going wide open in just 150 milliseconds and shift times cut in half to less than 100 milliseconds.
For further thrills, you can turn on the AMG Performance Media, introduced with this car, and replace the nav screen with a series of digitally reproduced analog dials that monitor everything from fluid temperatures to power and torque output and throttle and brake position, to acceleration and quarter-mile times, to G-forces. You can even teach the system a racetrack – it comes with the Nürburgring and Hockenheim pre-installed – and keep track of lap and programmable sector times. Since you won't have time to watch the screen while you pilot – well, not if you're doing it right – you can download the information to a USB stick in the glove compartment and bask in your own motoring afterglow.
All that is in a world far, far away, however, once you work the gas pedal and the tires. The V8 roars as it sucks in air and spits out hundreds of horsepower and pound-feet, the tires quietly grope the tarmac beneath and the SLS Roadster leaps to 60 miles per hour in 3.6 naturally-aspirated seconds. With yachtloads of gumption on hand, you're never short of might. You could run up to fifth gear and down to second for hairpins, taking advantage of the double-declutching that keeps rapid downshifts from upsetting the balance, but even through the 180-degree bends, you could leave the convertible in third and easily claw out of most apexes. It feels as if not a lick of energy is lost in chassis twisting, either, as the roadster has been engineered to require 18,000 Newton-meters of force to flex a single degree, and later on, we would discover that it is still compliant enough not to end up on three wheels while navigating hairpins with insanely cambered apexes.
With two of your fingers on the metal paddles behind the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, your right foot burying the throttle and brake as the mountain demands, your eyes fixed just beyond the end of a snout as long as Montana, and somewhere beside your right hand the red dot on the G-Meter caroming all over its sphere, your head is filled with the buzzing of three killer Bs: Brutal, Breakneck, Brilliant. Here again, though, pay attention: as with the coupe, it will be kind to the competent, but take your mind off the task and the back end is ready to swap places if you've turned off the babysitters. The SLS AMG Roadster is not the Ferrari 458 Italia, nor is it meant to be – but the SLS AMG Roadster sits at the same table in terms of how well it does everything it does.
For when it's time to slow down, as we did when we reached the Auberge du Col de Bruis, we remembered and could enjoy the fact that we were in a Mercedes. Tucked among the thick Espresso Brown leather – a new color for this year – are the Airscarf system in the headrests to blow climate-controlled gusts on delicate necks, leather-lined roll-hoops with integrated mesh, rather wide Alcantara-bound A-pillars, eight airbags and screen after screen of motoring, technology and safety aids. And also that 1,000-watt B&O auido that, having eased off for a breath and a café, you can finally hear again should you wish. It would be the perfect ride later on that evening, sashaying through the groves of pink buildings jutting from Monégasque cliffs, headed to our seafront room in the Le Mèridien Monte Carlo to enjoy a glass of wine and meditation to the sight of billions of dollars of yachts lolling just offshore.
But first there was coffee and pastry to be had, along with some assistance from Anouk at the Auberge, who was kind enough to demonstrate the working of the softtop. As I handed her the key and she admired our Sepang Brown wonder, she noted, in a Franco-Belgian accent as seductive as the convertible itself, "This is a beautiful car."
She could not be more right. The SLS AMG gullwing might be the most badass SLS, but make no mistake about it, this, the roadster, is the perfect SLS.
New Car Test Drive
Return of the Gullwing!.
We never thought we would see another gullwing from Mercedes after a 55-year absence, but it's here, a coupe capable of taking on almost any sports car in the world.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is the first product designed, engineered, and developed from the ground up by AMG, the high-performance division of the company, which up to now has provided engine, brake, and suspension system upgrades, but never a complete car. The new SLS AMG was a clean-sheet design, sharing only a few small interior pieces with any of the other cars in the Mercedes-Benz or Mercedes-AMG stable. The SLS AMG competes in the super sports car segment, against the Bentley Continental Supersport, Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, and Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Aston Martin.
The SLS AMG is built like no other Mercedes-Benz in history, with a combination of 146 pieces of aluminum sheet, 16 castings, 46 welded extrusions, weldments, and extensive use of rivet-and-bond joints, magnesium and carbon fiber. The SLS AMG is only 4 percent steel, and every single fastener on the car is made of aluminum.
The layout is front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, with an aluminum chassis and a torque tube or spine running down the center of the car, enclosing a carbon-fiber driveshaft that spins at crankshaft speed and feeds into a rear-mounted AMG 7-speed double-clutch automatic transaxle.
The SLS AMG certainly recalls the dimensions and proportions of the 300 SL Gullwing, but it is a much bigger car, because it has to be. There were no government dictates for automobiles in 1954, but in 2011 the new Gullwing will have to meet literally dozens of mandates for European, American, Japanese, Chinese and other markets, from safety to emissions to fuel mileage.
For instance, where the original Gullwing had very simple side glass, door latches and hinges, the SLS has power locks, power mirrors and power windows, and the gullwing doors actually include pyrotechnic or explosive bolts that will literally blow the doors open in the event of a rollover accident so that occupants can get out. The SLS has to pass front, rear, side, offset, pole impact and rollover crash standards and has safety bumpers and air bags to package as well, so it had to be bigger.
Living with the new SLS AMG requires some patience and a few concessions here and there. Like the old 300 SL Gullwings, the new car isn't easy to get into, requiring caution around the raised door, a butt-first entry followed by gathering the legs in one at a time. The steering wheel on the new one doesn't flip up out of the way, but the steering column has a power tilt-and-telescope feature that you can adjust all the way in and down every time you leave it parked so that entry and exit are easier.
To drive this new Gullwing coupe is to enjoy automotive performance at the very highest level. It has incredibly quick throttle response, immense power and torque available, a unique 7-speed double-clutch automatic transmission that shifts fast and hard, a power delivery system coupled to quick, sure steering, and race-quality suspension that doesn't beat you up with its stiffness. For those who can afford this kind of beautiful supercar, the rewards will be prodigious, and the resale value should be fantastic, because there won't be many of these cars imported.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG ($185,750) comes as a single model with dual-zone climate control, premium leather seating and trim, eight-way power seats, navigation system, multi-function steering wheel, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, power tailgate, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with auxiliary plug and iPod compatibility.
Options include carbon composite disc brakes, carbon fiber interior trim, carbon fiber engine cover, carbon fiber side mirror housings, a leather-and-alcantara steering wheel, forged aluminum 10-spoke AMG alloy wheels, a fitted car cover, and fitted luggage.
An AMG performance suspension is available for racetrack use. A Bang & Olufsen 1000-watt, 10-speaker sound system is available. Special paint and interior fabrics and colors are available, including a carbon fiber interior trim package.
Safety features include front, side and roof air bags, ABS, traction control, yaw control, adaptive cruise control.
All design is subjective, and we confess that, after having lived with the SLS for three days, we think the design is a success. There is no second side window this time around, the fender gills are horizontal, not vertical, the door handles are much larger, and the hood is much longer, but it all holds together in a unified design.
The aluminum body of the SLS is the first of its kind for any Mercedes-Benz product, with a decklid made of plastic so it doesn't interfere with all of the antennae built into it for radio, satellite radio, cellphone and navigation systems. The decklid also houses a deployable rear wing that can be put up or down via a console-mounted button, but normally rises to its full height at 74 mph and recedes into its housing at speeds below 50 mph, to aid in high-speed stability.
The SLS rides on a 105.5-inch wheelbase, with an overall length of 182.6 inches, 76.3 inches wide and 49.3 inches high. Front track is 66.2 inches and rear track is 65 inches. Compare those numbers to those from the 300 SL: 94.5-inch wheelbase, 178 inches overall length, 70 inches in width, 51.3 inches in height, with a 54.5-inch front and 56.5-inch rear track, at a listed weight of 2815 pounds, some 750 pounds lighter than the new car.
Being a super sports car, the SLS comes with every convenience imaginable, including Keyless Go, Parktronic, DVD navigation, six-disc CD changer, iPod and MP3 connections, Sirius Satellite Radio, dual air conditioning, headlamp washers, premium designo leather and alcantara interior, and all the usual power amenities.
For such a big car, the cockpit is small and intimate. Like all the SL models that followed after the Fifties, the new one has a limited range of seat adjustment to the rear and, although I wasn't particularly comfortable with my own 6-foot, 4-inch frame slid back and down all the way, the fit was tolerable.
The instrumentation package, the center console and the lower console are all laid out and designed beautifully, and every control knob and switch is close at hand. Two deficiencies we found with the interior are the lack of pull straps on the gullwing doors so shorter people can pull the doors closed when seated, and the complete lack of a dead pedal on the left side of the floor for bracing your body in hard cornering. Other than those two minor complaints, we loved being inside this beautiful car.
The racing-style bucket seats are nicely cushioned and hold your upper body tightly, the column can be adjusted for cruising or racing, and the sightlines are pretty good except for the views blocked by the massively thick A-pillar.
The engine in the SLS is an AMG-developed 6.3-liter V8 with every known technology inside it. The all-aluminum M159 engine, individually hand-built by one man at AMG, uses plasma-sprayed cylinder bores, double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable intake and exhaust valve timing, Bosch digital fuel injection, forged steel crankshaft, forged aluminum pistons, dry sump lubrication with a front-mounted oil tank, twin throttle bodies and velocity stacks, and a high compression ratio of 11.3:1 to generate 563 horsepower and 479 foot-pounds of torque.
The company says that's enough power to accelerate the 3574-pound SLS from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, and from 0 to 124 mph in 11.7 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 197 mph. Mercedes-Benz says the SLS AMG will generate 1.2g on the skidpad.
The new transmission, with both a floor shifter and steering-wheel paddle shifters, has software that gives it four operating modes. The C or Comfort position on the center console switch gives it second-gear starts and quick upshifts for fuel economy while driving in traffic. The S setting, for Sport, makes it start in first gear, shift at higher rpm, and shift 20 percent quicker, with less throttle input. The S+ or Sport Plus setting speeds up shifts another 20 percent quicker. M or manual mode provides full manual control of shifting and adds another 10 percent faster shifting speed, down to 100 milliseconds.
The dual-clutch system allows full-throttle, full-torque shifting with no interruption in power delivery to the tires, and provides rev-matching throttle blips on downshifts to keep the tires from breaking traction. There is a race-start mode that ties the transmission into the electronic stability program or ESP chassis electronics and allows full-throttle first-gear launches. The final drive system includes a limited-slip differential.
The mid-mounted engine, steering and front suspension systems are all carried on an isolated aluminum subframe. This layout gives the SLS a 47 percent front, 53 percent rear weight distribution. The suspension on all four corners is a racing-style forged aluminum upper and lower arm or double-wishbone system with canted springs and gas-filled aluminum-bodied concentric shock absorbers, with stabilizer bars front and rear, a system designed for massively high cornering speeds and minimal squat and dive on acceleration and deceleration. Steering is variable power rack and pinion with a quick 13.1:1 ratio.
Stopping duties are handled by gigantic 15.4-inch front and 14.2-inch rear ventilated steel-rotor ABS brakes 1.4 inches thick in the front and one inch thick at the rear. Our silver SLS AMG came with the optional gold carbon composite brake calipers. These are the least noisy, least grabby, least temperamental and most powerful high-performance brakes we have ever used, a generation or two better than the noisy, grabby carbon ceramic brakes on the $450,000 SLR McLaren AMG we drove. The optional gold carbon SLS brakes are so powerful that they an change your driving style, allowing you to wait until the last millisecond before squeezing them on or, in a real emergency, stopping shorter than you ever imagined, less than 110 feet from 60 mph to 0, according to Mercedes-AMG.
For road driving, we left all the transmission and chassis controls in their normal Comfort positions, and didn't use the paddle shifters at all, letting the computers figure out the downshifts and upshifts. That left us to concentrate on seeing, throttle, steering and brakes, of which this car has plenty.
The SLS engine is wonderfully loud and sonorous at full throttle. Acceleration through the 7-speed double-clutch automatic is astonishingly quick, pinning you right back against your leather bucket seat. Going into a dark downhill corner in the California coastal mountains, you can concentrate on placing the car through the amazingly connected, quick and accurate steering, and slowing the car just enough with trail braking. The transmission will downshift to exactly the right gear, blipping the throttle between shifts, so that you can fly out of every corner. The more throttle you apply, the louder it gets, all the way up to the engine's 7500-rpm redline.
The tires, 265/35ZR-19s front and 295/30ZR-20s at the rear, provide an amazing connection to the pavement, and they have huge contact patches that generate quite a bit of tire noise, all part of the car's charm.
With each driving session, the SLS grew more familiar, we pushed it harder, and were rewarded accordingly, with absolutely blazing performance without a single sweaty palm on the wheel. The SLS is amazingly easy and comfortable to drive at extralegal speeds, and with the ESP system set to just this side of completely off, there is plenty of latitude to let the tail come out and allow the car to rotate through the tighter corners.
We think the new SLS AMG will prove to be one of the great sports cars of the early 21st century. It has all the engine torque and performance most drivers can handle, an excellent, responsive chassis and steering system, world-class brakes, all-day touring comfort and amenities, and a street presence like no other coupe currently on the market.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw filed this report after his test drive of the SLS near Carmel, California.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG ($185,750).
Options As Tested
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG ($185,750).
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