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FIFTY very wealthy Aus­tralians will be liv­ing their dream be­fore the end of 2010.

They will be strapped into a Mercedes-Benz SLS, pulling the ex­otic gull­wing door closed on a car which prom­ises more than any­thing in the re­cent his­tory of the three-pointed star.

But you don’t have to wait. And you don’t have to pay the $ 464,000 — min­i­mum — it takes to drive a gull­wing into the garage.

Three cars are brimmed, warmed and wait­ing for the Aus­tralian press pre­view of the car that takes Benz into bat­tle with Lamborghini, Fer­rari, Porsche — and even Audi, with its R8 su­per­car — at the top end of the su­per­coupe class. So let’s go.

First im­pres­sions count at any level, but be­come vi­tal at this price. So the front of the SLS looks suit­ably ma­cho — with a vis­ual link to the orig­i­nal gull­wing of the 1950s — the cabin is all leather and lux­ury and the bark from the 6.2-litre V8 prom­ises a nasty bite. And it has those doors.

Out on to the road in full auto mode and the SLS drives rel­a­tively lightly and eas­ily. There is noth­ing quirky or wor­ry­ing be­cause it’s just like ev­ery other Benz — but not.

The en­gine set­tles to a dis­tant­thun­der rum­ble and there is time to check the sat­nav and sound sys­tem. But then I hit the fi rst bro­ken con­crete patches in an in­ner-Syd­ney scrum and the SLS thumps and crashes.

So I’m al­ready won­der­ing what the gull­wing is all about.

Mercedes-Benz has no doubt.

“ It’s our true halo car,” Horst von San­den, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the star car com­pany in Aus­tralia, says.

``Ev­ery per­son who as­pires to one day drive a Benz looks at the SLS and says ‘wow’. This is what the car does for us. It’s a very spe­cial car.˝ The back­ground to the SLS is as ex­cit­ing as the end re­sult.

The car was born af­ter the messy divorce be­tween Daim­ler and McLaren, F1 part­ners who also col­lab­o­rated on the su­per-quick but su­per-flawed MercedesMcLaren SLR. The $ 1.2 mil­lion road rocket was too raw for Benz, but too soft for McLaren.

So the job of cre­at­ing its suc­ces­sor was passed to the safe hands at AMG, Benz’s own in-house hot-up shop and the en­gi­neer­ing base re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing from the pocket rocket C63

PAUL GOVER Ev­ery per­son who as­pires to one day drive a Benz looks at the SLS and says ‘wow’.

This is what the car does for us. It’s a very

spe­cial car” to the out­ra­geous $ 500,000 SL with “Black Se­ries” tweak­ing.

This is the first time AMG has done a com­plete road-up project, from the al­loy space­frame to a tweaked ver­sion of its own 6.2-litre V8, all crowned by the sig­na­ture gull­wing doors that open up in­stead of out.

The ba­sics are sim­ple: 420kW and 650Nm in a car that weighs 1620kg, with a 46: 53 weight dis­tri­bu­tion helped by an en­gine tucked be­hind the front axle line. Per­for­mance is sim­ple: floor the throt­tle and 100km/ h comes up in 3.8 sec­onds, wait long enough — but not long at all — and it gets to 317km/ h.

The num­bers are rolling around my head as we rum­ble south from Syd­ney to the high­lands, home to great de­serted driv­ing roads with ev­ery chal­lenge in the book. Fast sweep­ers, hair­pins bends, snaking de­scents and thump­ing climbs, it has them all.

And the SLS crushes them. It thun­ders through the sweep­ers, turns and goes from the hair­pins, is barely chal­lenged on the de­scents and rock­ets up the hills.

But the gull­wing is also a 21st-cen­tury su­per­coupe. So the B&O sound sys­tem

is a mon­ster, the leather is plush, the car­bon-fi­bre trim is per­fectly de­signed and fit­ted, and there is com­fort and qual­ity ev­ery­where. So, it’s per­fect? No, not at all. The ride is too fi rm for bro­ken sur­faces and the big tyres make the car wan­der over back roads with acne. The manu-matic gear­box shifts much slower than a Fer­rari and the ac­cel­er­a­tion doesn’t match the manic feel of a Porsche turbo.

For me, the stan­dard seats pinch too much leg and head­room, though I feel right at home in the race-style buck­ets fit­ted to one of the gull­wings. I also en­joy its op­tional track-tuned sus­pen­sion and car­bon brakes, though the ini­tial bite is too se­vere for stop-start city traf­fic.

So, I have to ask: is this a su­per-fast Mercedes or a Benz-wrapped su­per­coupe? The cabin is not dif­fer­ent enough from the rest of the Mercedes fam­ily for my lik­ing, though I love the idea of an ex­otic daily driver with gull­wing per­for­mance. It’s def­i­nitely bet­ter than an SLR and less than half the price.

But noth­ing at the top end of mo­tor­ing is per­fect. It’s all about find­ing a car — and of­ten not just one car — that rings your bells and al­lows you to live your dreams.

At the end of the day, af­ter some great driv­ing in a beast of a car, the SLS has done its job.

There has been frus­tra­tion be­cause it’s hard to find the time and space to let the mon­ster run, and I won­der about a price tag that can jump over $600,000. But I step out and look back again at the gull­wing doors. And smile.

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