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Mercedes-Benz SLS 2014 Review

EXPERT RATING
9
It’s the fastest and most powerful Mercedes road car ever sold in Australia and, at $640,000, one of the most expensive.
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It’s the fastest and most powerful Mercedes road car ever sold in Australia and, at $640,000, one of the most expensive.

But even though Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series is effectively a race-car for the road -- with more power than a V8 Supercar, racing suspension and F1-style brakes -- most of the eight cars coming to Australia will never turn a wheel in anger. Cruelly confined to garages they’re destined to become future collector pieces.

Which is presumably why the company allowed the media to get behind the wheel of someone else’s cars in someone else’s country. Welcome to Willow Springs Raceway, a ratty ribbon of road etched into the side of a mountain, on the fringes of the desert, about 150km north of Los Angeles.

The oldest race track in the US, its surroundings looks like the set of the cult TV show Breaking Bad, except the campervans in the pits used by competitors don’t have meth labs in them. Well, that we could tell.

VALUE

The regular Mercedes SLS “Gullwing” starts at $468,320. (Incidentally, why Mercedes feels the need to clip the customer an extra $20, or an extra $320 on the end of the price for that matter, when they’re spending this much is beyond me.) The Black Series at least is a neat $640,000 plus on-road costs, which means it’ll be close to $700,000 by the time you’re battling with taxis.

For that you get more power but less weight. Much of the bodywork has been replaced with carbon fibre to trim 70kg of mass (to 1550kg). So what you have is a car that weighs about as much as a Volkswagen Golf with more power than the car that won this year’s Bathurst 1000. Ok, now I get it. That explains the 0 to 100km/h time of 3.6 seconds. Yikes. (Disclaimer: I may not have said “yikes” the first time I floored it).

TECHNOLOGY

This is a geek’s dream. The bits that are carbon fibre include the bonnet, the panel behind the seats, the underbody braces, and the torque tube (the thing that houses the driveshaft between the engine and the rear-mounted transmission halves its weight from 26kg in aluminium to 13kg in carbon fibre). A lithium ion battery, used in place of a starter battery, saves 8kg.

The gearbox is mounted 10mm lower for a lower centre of gravity, and there are four driving modes, all of which coax the obligatory “blip” from the exhaust during gearchanges, enhanced by a titanium exhaust system, the diamond-encrusted tooth of the automotive world.

There are several chapters on the upgrades to the naturally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8 (yes, no turbos or supercharger), the intricate changes to the suspension and scorching ability of the F1-style brakes, but I fear I may be losing you at this point. So know that they’re the business and they’ve been, in the parlance, “fully beefed up”.

DESIGN

The Herren at AMG went in to work one day and asked themselves, in German, “how can we make this awesomely wide SLS Gullwing look even more badass?” It was, of course, a much longer question in the native tongue and delivered in a tone that sounded like someone was in big trouble.

It must have scared the crap out of them because they tried really hard and created a second masterpiece from effectively the same ingredients. Translated: they made the already low and wide SLS Gullwing a lot lower and a lot wider. Then the engineers worked their magic. Oh yes they did.

SAFETY

Hmmmm. Well overtaking performance is rather breathtaking, so you would spend less time on the wrong side of the road. So there’s that. And there’s the fact that it has awesome grip from the super-sticky Michelin tyres. And it has airbags. But in every other regard, this car is utterly frightening (see next item).

DRIVING

We had a meeting at work the other day to see if I could use the word “shat” in a family newspaper. I had just returned from driving Mercedes’ race-car for the road and it was a word to describe what I had done to myself, figuratively speaking, of course, on every turn behind the wheel of this awesome beast.

Honestly, you should have a special licence before you cut loose in one of these. It’s absolutely epic. Most motor noters seek to impress their colleagues with tales of how close they got to the limit of any given car, from a Proton to a Porsche. On this occasion it’s the baddest Benz ever built.

The descriptions are inevitably accompanied with hand gestures indicating what they were doing with the steering wheel at any given time. Really descriptive blokes will even stick their bum out quickly to create the impression of a slide. It’s quite a, er, sight. I could do none of that on this day. I felt nothing but intimidated, a shell of my former self. The car’s capabilities were way beyond mine -- and we both knew it.

Sure it’s good in a straight line. But anyone can do that. Trying to eek the most of it on the bump and grind (literally) of the Willow Springs Raceway was an exercise in futility. You just knew it could all go horribly wrong in an instant, and you’d be picking desert rocks out of your eyes.

The speed at which it can arrive at corners is profound. Its ability to brake in time for them is equally and literally breathtaking, such is the force. It is surely the closest thing to a V8 Supercar for the road, a fitting exclamation point for the entire car industry, not just Mercedes-Benz.

The tragedy is that most of these cars will never get driven in the way they were intended, not only because most mere mortals lack the ability, but because they’ll be locked away in garages in pristine condition. It’d be like having Pharlap as a pony for the kids. I count myself lucky to have driven the SLS AMG Black Series as its maker intended. I also count myself lucky to be alive to tell the tale.

VERDICT

The Mercedes-Benz SLS is without doubt the most exhilarating car I’ve ever driven. It felt like it was trying to kill me, but that’s why I felt so alive.

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series
Price: $640,000 plus on-road costs
Engine: 6.2-litre V8 (no turbo, no supercharger, just raw power)
Power: 464kW and 635Nm
Consumption: 13.7L/100km
Emissions: 321g/km
Transmission: Seven-speed DCT
Weight: 1550kg
0 to 100km/h: 3.6 seconds
Spare tyre: Call a tow truck

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
SLS AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class 2014 SLS AMG Pricing and Specs
SLS AMG 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class 2014 SLS AMG Pricing and Specs
SLS AMG Black Series 6.2L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO No recent listings 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS-Class 2014 SLS AMG Black Series Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
9
Pricing Guide

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