When the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL shook the world in 1952 by winning both the 24 Hours of LeMans and the Carrera Panamericana, its never-before-seen gullwing doors made just as much of an impression as its performance on the track. Almost 60 years hence, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG stands ready for a repeat, with several features and firsts positioned to potentially overpower its performance – and it even comes with gullwing doors.
AMG has a long-standing history of improving the offerings from Mercedes, but the SLS AMG is a new breed: fully designed from the ground up by AMG. It’s also the first production Mercedes to be constructed wholly of aluminum, a decision that helped AMG meet its goal of keeping the vehicle at an incredible 3,500 pounds. While two suspensions are offered, base and performance versions, both use a unique dual-control arm, fully independent setup at each corner, another feature never before seen on a Mercedes.
In order to achieve the car's impressive 48/52 front/rear weight distribution, the engine was mounted as far back against the firewall as possible, and the driver likewise sits well back in the cabin. Its dual-clutch, seven-speed transmission is integrated into the rear axle and mated to the engine via a carbon-fiber driveshaft, spinning within an aluminum torque tube, more weight-saving measures.
The engine received its own attention as well, with bucket-style tappets, dry-sump lubrication, and twin exhaust headers being added to the 6.2-liter M156 AMG V8, now designated the M159. With 571 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque – over 400 of which is available at just 2,500 rpms - the trip to 60 will happen in around 3.5 seconds. Chomp down on the optional 15.4-inch front and 14.2-inch rear carbon-ceramic rotors, and you’ll find zero again in less than 100 feet, says AMG.
The rear differential is a traditional limited slip, and with the weight distribution, unique suspension, and tight 13.1:1 steering ratio, the SLS AMG is able to push its specially designed 265/35ZR19 front and 295/30ZR20 rear tires through the skid pad for a purported 1.38g. There’s also a three-stage stability control system that allows for an incredible variance of governance, and yet testers note the SLS AMG remains composed even with the system fully disengaged. This is undoubtedly helped by the car’s 105.5-inch wheelbase and 66.1- and 64.9-inch front and rear tracks, respectively.
And yet, with all this concentration on tire-wasting performance, the SLS AMG is not a race car. The cabin has a proper cockpit-style dash, with lots of leather, aluminum, and carbon-fiber to go around. You sit in power, heated leather seats and grip a leather-wrapped steering wheel. You even get a stereo and nav system. The SLS AMG doesn’t even feel like a race car inside, despite the aggressive seating position, as it seems AMG has found that snug and uncomfortable don’t have to go hand in hand.
With a suspected €177,310 (almost $240,000) MSRP when the car goes on sale next year in Germany, don’t expect to see too many rolling down your local Main Street. In fact, with the lap times testers have been putting up, you’re more likely to see one at the track. It’s hard to decide where it looks better, sitting still, plowing through a chicane, or roaring down the back straight, but all settings will evoke the same pangs of jealousy and covetous envy. Just keep repeating to yourself, “It’s only a car. It’s only a car. It’s only a car.”