Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Review
Icon Reinvented? By Dan Trent - Contributing Editor
What is it?
The iconic Gullwing, remixed for the 21st century Why should I care?
It’s AMG’s first ever standalone car How fast and how much?
6,208cc V8, 563hp@6,800rpm, 197mph (limited), MSRP $187,750
Reviving the legendary 300SL Gullwing of 1954 wasn’t something Mercedes was going to take lightly. Rehashing iconic cars is a risky business after all – just look at VW’s first attempt at a Beetle redux.
But Mercedes knew the SLS project was in safe hands, AMG taking it on to create its first wholly designed new car.
So, now we’ve had a couple of years to get used to the SLS how does it measure up? Well, in a case of history repeating the gullwinged coupe will shortly be joined by a roadster version. And though open-air motoring will always have a thrill factor, like the 300SL, the SLS is defined by those gullwing doors.
First thing to get out of your head with the SLS is the idea that this is merely a hot SL. The cleansheet design presented AMG with a massive opportunity and from the spaceframe aluminum body to the dry-sumped version of the familiar naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 this car distils all that the guys at Affalterbach know.
Compared with the two-ton AMG SL hotrods the SLS is a real lightweight too. 3,573lb is 200lb or so less than a Ferrari 599 GTB and 300lb less than an Aston Martin DBS, both comparably sized super GTs and both built from aluminum.
That V8 is truly epic too and the equal of anything created this side of the pond. Fierce and muscular at tickover there’s real high-rev drama too, the computer contrived over-run crackle admittedly pure grandstanding but always sure to raise a smile. Save yourself the $6,400 on the optional Bang & Olufsen Beosound upgrade too – the only soundsystem you need to worry about is the one under the bonnet!
Centred weight distribution with the V8 way back in the chassis and a transaxle-mounted seven speed dual-clutch gearbox – the same Getrag unit Ferrari uses – mean the SLS is brilliantly balanced too. AMG has also avoided the temptation to load up the chassis with unnecessary tech too, fixed rate dampers refreshingly straightforward and beautifully set up. A sports package with +10% springing and +30% damping is a $1,500 option but on the road the standard dampers are spot on.
There’s a lot of movement in the chassis too, more than you might expect. But the SLS never feels unstable, merely communicative and responsive to the demands you’re making of it. More exciting for it too, your seating position way back in the chassis allowing excellent seat-of-the-pants feel for the easily exploitable steer from the rear throttle adjustability.
The steering is similarly fluid and predictable, the SLS as approachable and easy to drive as any Mercedes around town but far more able as the speeds increase.
A true feel-good supercar, the SLS isn’t perhaps as ultimately composed and, against the clock, fast as some. But it makes you feel like a hero more of the time, sounds fantastic and has the instant draw of those iconic looks.
There are flaws. Some of the interior fittings smack of parts bin Mercedes. But the biggest issue is the gearbox. For a dual-clutch transmission it’s just too lethargic. Fine, the auto mode is Mercedes smooth. But when you dial in the manual setting you want punch-to-the-back shifts, on demand. The pause, especially when downshifting for corners, is unforgivable and often it’s best to leave it in S+ and give up on trying to shift yourself.
This is surely no more than a software tweak away from improvement so let’s hope AMG does so. Because other than that the SLS is, pretty much, the perfect supercar. Sure, there are faster cars out there. But none with the heritage, the breadth of ability or sheer sense of fun. For sure, an icon reinvented.