This blog is an excerpt from the review by Adish Alwani for Auto Car, who gets a taste of supercar power as he drives the Mercedes-AMG SLS AMG on the de-restricted autobahns of Germany.
Being a vegetarian, food is always a problem when I travel overseas. It wasn’t any different this time too. The lunch, like all meals in the past four days, consisted of veg pasta with an additional delicious mushroom sauce. And though it was the best meal since I left India, it did not delight me as much as it should have.
Well, frankly, the Mercedes SLS AMG’s key lying on the table kept me distracted and I was unable to concentrate fully on the meal before me!
The SLS AMG is the first completely independent project undertaken by AMG since the tuning firm came under the Mercedes umbrella back in 1999. No doubt, AMG did a lot of homework before they started scribbling on the paper and came up with the concept of the SLS. The principles were clearly laid out: make it blisteringly fast, outrageously stunning, thoughtfully practical and profoundly futuristic, without, of course, forgetting the three-pointed star’s roots.
To start with, Mercedes AMG decided to go futuristic with the design but, at the same time, were inspired by the 300 SL Gullwing. Thus came the Gullwing doors that grab your attention more than anything else, which is a little weird for a car that goes from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds (just about 0.4 seconds slower than something like the Ferrari 458 Italia).
But are these Gullwings all show and no go? Not really. They are made of lightweight aluminium and operate perfectly if you learn the trick of closing them while getting into the car instead of trying to reach out for the handle once sunk deep in to the bucket seat. Also, don’t expect the option of pressing a button to close them electrically, because that mechanism would have just added the weight of electric motors on the roof – not an idea likely to sound great to the engineers.
The SLS’ long bonnet, small cabin and short tail give the car a killer profile from the side. The broad grille with the bold three-pointed star stuck on it reminds me of the classic design concepts of the 1950s and 60s. But make no mistake; this one has been interpreted for the 21st century and flawlessly at that. The interior is neat and clean with carbon fibre laid out generously. And though I was going to spend most of the time sitting in that awesome cabin, I was more interested in what was resting the long bay in the front.
A V8 6,208-cc engine, the same one that does duty in various other cars, powers the SLS AMG. Obviously, in SLS, it has been tuned to perform far better. It has also got a dry sump instead of a wet sump, which facilitates a lower centre of gravity and reduces oil drag. The engine is at the front, but behind the front axle, and drives the rear wheels, thus making the SLS an awesome front-mid engine and rear wheel-driven sportscar configuration.
The 6.3-litre (yes, it’s called 6.3-litre, though it displaces only 6.2-litre – it’s just Mercedes nomenclature) pumps out 579 PS of peak power at 6,800 rpm and a colossal amount of torque, rated at 650 Nm at 4,750 rpm. The engine has been mated to the AMG SPEEDSHIFT seven-speed double-clutch transmission that moves between cogs in as little as 100 milliseconds.
Now, the interesting point to be noted here is that you get several drive modes on the SLS like C (controlled efficiency), S (sport), S+ (sport+) and M (manual). In the C mode, the car starts moving in the second gear for achieving better efficiency. While the S and S+ modes give quicker shifts through the gears, the M mode along with Race Start (can be toggled on/off with a button near the gear selector) ensure berserk acceleration from standstill that you never anticipated.
It was elected to drive on narrow, country roads first before getting on to the no-speed-limit autobahns to try the car’s flat-out acceleration. However, the flavour of AMG’s 579 PS motor can be distinctly experienced from the moment you got your right foot working. The roar with which the SLS comes to life is phenomenal. And when you have the pedal floored, there is an extreme possibility of you getting a little frightened as the car darts forward with a wagging tail. The SLS is like a pile of dynamite that is ready to explode at the very slightest input at the throttle. But this mind-boggling stuff is available primarily when the throttle is being used viciously. At lower revs, the SLS might feel a little slow as compared with the high rev experience, which is a good thing in case you are to face slow-moving traffic.
Another point to be noted is that if you are in the M mode, the transmission is aggressively moody, in the sense that if you are moving at, say, about 45 km/h and decide to shift up to the fourth gear, it will simply refuse to do so.
Getting round corners is a different experience altogether. First of all, look at the spaceframe chassis and body, both built with aluminium mostly, which ensures light weight and good strength. The double wishbone suspension at the front as well as the rear ensures great handling. However, even in the normal suspension set-up, the car felt a little bouncy on country roads. As you build up speed, though, you realise the advantages of the stiffer suspension. The steering is quick, really quick, precise and sharp. It is well weighted, too, be it at high speeds or at slow parking speeds. The well-balanced chassis aids the handling and so do other factors such as the dry sump, which allows the engine to sit really low and thus help in lowering the centre of gravity. With rear transaxle and 47:53 weight distribution front:rear, steering with throttle input is also possible.
”Having driven enough on the country roads where I could experience initial acceleration up to 80 km/h due to speed limits, I got into the navigation system, searched my way to the autobahn and headed straight for the zone with no speed limits. This was the time I had been waiting for and the wait was worth everything.” says Adish.
”As soon as I hit the autobahn, I turned the rotary dial to the S+ mode and got on to the gas. The deep bass from the exhaust notes struck my eardrums as the V8 made better music than anything I had experienced before. And, within seconds, the speedometer was reading figures in excess of 250 km/h. If only the traffic had shown a little mercy, the Affalterbach would have travelled all the way to 317 km/h before hitting its electronic limit. And even at speeds a little shy of the 300 km/h mark, the SLS maintains its calm and composure. It shifts lanes as per the driver’s commands and with ease that we mortals can only imagine.”
Ahhhh… The navigation warned me of heavy traffic heading into Stuttgart and I had no option but to face it. This is where I panicked a little because of the size of the car. By no means is this SLS small. It’s long and quite broad at the same time. To put it in perspective, at 1,939 mm, it’s broader than the S-Class. While getting through the tight traffic, moving slowly and crawling through the narrow lanes until the hotel, the last thing that I wanted was to get a scratch anywhere on the car. But the ease with which the engine purred around as also the ease with which the car responded to the steering was phenomenal, which brings me to a very important point.
How is this car to live with? Look at it as a supercar, it feels far more practical than what you would think of it. It’s not too stiff to drive, has more than adequate juice to do 0-317 km/h in about 35 seconds, drives well at slow speeds and has enough space in the boot for the weekend trip luggage. As for me, it was the most exhilarating drive I had ever done. Long live AMG!