GULLWING TAKES FLIGHT
FIRST DRIVE IN NEW MERCEDES SUPERCAR
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.