2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing - Second Drive

November 2009

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing


Let’s start with an unassailable premise: In a corporate history overflowing with exceptional automobiles, few if any have more enduring cachet than the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing coupes of 1955–57. It’s no exaggeration to call them automotive immortals, which makes the prospect of a contemporary sequel downright daunting to those responsible for its execution—the denizens of AMG, Mercedes’ in-house performance division.

AMG has an impressive track record for creating sophisticated hot-rod versions of just about every vehicle Mercedes produces. But the 2011 SLS AMG is different. AMG says the car shares no structural elements with other Benzes and was created to “show how sporty a Mercedes can be,” according to Thomas Weber, Benz’s head of research and development.

No question about the sporty part. The latter-day Gullwing is a bullet, covering 0 to 60 mph in a claimed 3.7 seconds, a forecast we feel we can beat by a couple tenths. A top speed of almost 200 mph. The agility and precision of a high-wire acrobat. Bulldog grip. Massive braking power. But in the context of today, is the SLS AMG as sensational as its legendary ancestor? Is it fabulous? We’ll get back to that. But first, a little hardware review.


The SLS, which goes back to concept sketches created nearly five years ago, was rooted in two fundamental principles: minimal mass and maximum structural rigidity, goals that aren’t exactly parallel. To achieve these objectives, the design that emerged was a unitized aluminum space frame and aluminum body shell.

Bodies are fabricated by Magna Steyr in Austria, which also contributed to the Gullwing’s design. Then they’re shipped to the Mercedes facility in Sindelfingen, Germany, where they’re united with aluminum control-arm suspension components, a 6.2-liter V-8, a carbon-fiber driveshaft, a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transaxle (from Getrag, and specific to this car), and a limited-slip rear differential. It all adds up to a car that weighs about 3600 pounds and has a sense of structural solidity we’d associate with something much heavier. A railroad trestle, for example.

Amplified 6.2-liter V-8

The engine is AMG’s familiar 6.2-liter, 32-valve DOHC aluminum V-8, referred to as the 6.3 in company propaganda, commemorating the engine that propelled the brutal AMG Hammer. But the SLS version packs a bigger punch than the standard 6.2. Upgrades are extensive and include dry-sump lubrication, revised camshafts, a stiffer crankcase, a stronger crankshaft, and a low-back-pressure exhaust system, for a total of 563 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque.

The new Getrag seven-speed transaxle handles the thrust via multiple operating modes, and its “brain” is a quick learner. During lapping at California’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the gearbox quickly picked up the rhythm of the circuit and began executing perfectly timed downshifts on corner entries.

This was not unwelcome, since the Laguna Seca routine for this event had us following five-time German Touring Car champ Bernd Schneider. His lead-follow technique went like this: Run a moderately hot lap, then check the mirrors. If the civilians are still within sight, turn up the heat on the next lap. And so on. Inevitably, despite considerable experience with the storied track, your humble narrator struggled to hang onto the flying German as speeds picked up and the laps zoomed by. His smooth lines never seemed to vary by more than an inch or two, while ours began to be increasingly untidy, marked by a certain amount of slithering around on corner entries and more slithering when we picked up the throttle on exits.

Although the SLS isn’t a torque monster like the SL65 AMG, picking up the throttle can produce more results than one might have planned, particularly from low speeds, even with the three-stage stability control in its normal default setting. The thresholds are high, and power oversteer is definitely achievable. Do not stab the throttle. Ease it on. That is, unless you’re hanging it out for the camera.

Circuit Revelations

The take-away from the Laguna Seca experience is that the SLS might not be quite as well suited to track work as some of its competitors are. The Audi R8 comes immediately to mind. Bernd Schneider is certainly smooth, tidy, and fast in this car, but he was also one of its development drivers. And besides, he’s Bernd Schneider, and we’re not.

The SLS has plenty of grip from its fat Continental tires (265/35-19 front, 295/30-20 rear); the speed-sensitive, variable-assist power steering delivers feel and accuracy that approach perfection; the brakes are formidable; and, of course, there’s no shortage of power. But for all that, there was sliding around that came on with little or no warning. This chassis is exceptional, but for some reason it wasn’t telling us everything we needed to know about its limits.

We hasten to add that these little episodes of slippin’ and slidin’ weren’t remotely fraught with peril or even excessive drama. Still, they did add seconds to our lap times. And the responses of the transmission in pure manual mode seemed a little slow compared with those of other dual-clutch units we’ve encountered. Perhaps more track time would improve our performance and thus our reaction to the SLS as a track-day ride? We’re happy to volunteer.

And there are definitely racetracks in this car’s future. One of the revelations of this preview was that the SLS will serve as the official Safety Car for the 2010 Formula 1 World Championship. It’s a hallowed AMG tradition, and according to AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg, the cars are already set up and ready to go.


2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG


On the Road Again

If the SLS leaves some questions about its limits on the track, there are none about its performance on public roads. Cornering limits are high, the chassis seems to have no objection to trail braking in decreasing-radius corners, and the V-8 makes short work of tight passing situations, emitting a surprisingly virulent bark when the throttle goes to the floor. Lovely.

We should note once again that although the SLS is the most exotic member of the AMG family, it’s probably not the pin-you-to-the-seat champ. That distinction undoubtedly continues to belong to the SL65 AMG, with its twin-turbo, 6.0-liter V-12 churning out 738 lb-ft of torque. But the SLS will certainly stretch your facial tissues into a big grin, and there’s no doubt it would leave the muscle-bound SL65 gasping for breath on a mountain road. Better still, the SLS’s athleticism doesn’t seem to be at the expense of comfort. Our driving impressions were gathered on California roads that have never been subjected to the rigors of real winter, but even so, there were enough rough patches to give us an appreciation for the compliance this super Benz brings to the party.

Pros and Cons

As a place to be while the scenery is whizzing past, the SLS is tough to criticize—unless you happen to sit tall in the saddle. Our friend and former Car and Driver teammate Barry Winfield answers this description, and his hair was brushing up against the low ceiling. The twin seats are superb in providing lateral support and general comfort, but the range of fore-and-aft adjustability is limited; adjusting for long legs requires an excessively vertical seatback angle that compromises headroom, and dialing in more rake improves room up top but at the expense of legroom.

Interior décor is elegantly simple, set off by tasteful carbon-fiber and aluminum trim. The control array is easily accessible to the driver, and the instrumentation binnacle includes a set of LEDs that let the driver know when it’s time to upshift. But aside from the glove box, and a console cup holder, small-object storage is conspicuous by its absence. You can probably get a weekend’s worth of luggage into the trunk, but that’s about it.

Is this car beautiful? We feel very strongly both ways. The retro touches—the grille, the front-fender gills, the long hood, the short deck—pay homage to the 300SL. But in profile that long hood seems out of proportion, reminiscent of the Cadillac 16 concept car from earlier in the decade. We were surprised the hood didn’t intrude on the driver’s vision; it falls away nicely, and forward sightlines are very good, augmented by an A-pillar that provides a decent view of upcoming apexes.

Then there are the gullwing doors. It’s a tough stretch to grab the door pull when the wings are up—we had to hike one bun up onto the door sill to reach it—and of course owners will whack their heads more than once before they learn to wriggle into and out of the car. But those doors attract attention as few automotive design elements can. The SLS isn’t exactly invisible to other motorists—how could it be? But stop somewhere, pop one of the doors up, and watch the crowds gather. To some, that alone will be worth the price of admission.

The Bottom Line

And what, you ask, will that price be? We don’t know yet. The SLS goes on sale in Europe at the end of March, and at the end of April in the U.S., so no one from AMG or Mercedes-Benz was willing to go on the record about MSRP. However, we did encounter a deep-throat source who provided an off-the-record base-price estimate of “about $200,000,” which is about the price of an SL65 AMG.

The gullwing coupe will be followed by a roadster in 2011, an even faster and lighter Black Series edition at the end of the model run, and an all-electric version sometime in between. Mercedes says 2012 for the zero-emission SLS. We’ll see.

So, is it fabulous? The 300SL coupe stood out against an automotive universe that was a little thin in terms of exotics, while the SLS is surrounded by all sorts of gee-whiz rides, many of them considerably less expensive. Still, it’s fast, it’s athletic, and it’s clearly something special. If not fabulous, then certainly superb, and a worthy successor to an immortal. You can’t do much better than that.


2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing

 (7.14 MB WMV Video)

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing

Click Here: For Test Driver In The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing (7.14 MB WMV Video); Now This is a car roll;  For any of you who have ever rolled a car, this is the RIGHT way to do;  it.

The stretch of highway that this ad was filmed on is in the Fraser Canyon , British Columbia , Canada . The tunnel they did this in is the China Bar Tunnel on Hwy 1 just North of Spuzzum. The car is a 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Gullwing. You can't do this with a Toyota Prius or a Smart Car or a Mini Cooper (7.14 MB WMV Video)!


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