With its sexy motorsport looks, the SLS AMG Black Series sits at the sweet spot of power and weight
If there’s a feeling as good as doing a few laps in a fast car, it’s handing it back intact, without a scratch — before you’ve ripped open your talent envelope and fed it into a shredder.
This is especially true when it’s the only example in the country and it wants to stay nice for a date with 100,000 people at Albert Park.
The car is a Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series, shipped here immediately after its first European exposure to be the Formula One VIP in Melbourne in March. Based on the brand’s GT3 race car, it’s $639,000 of extreme Mercedes in the colour of the noonday sun — the KillBill version of its retro gullwing coupe.
Someone else who’s flown here specially is AMG development chief Tobias Moers. He says on performance and handling, racer and road car go toe-to-toe.
“The target was race car, street legal. Because in the supercar segment, when you do a Black Series it’s very clear where you have to put the focus — on more racetrack performance.’’
The German word for “racetrack’’ is “Nurburgring’’ and the target for its 21km loop was sub-7 minutes 30 seconds. It can take a couple of seconds off that, Moers says, which puts it in exalted company.
In anatomical terms, the body, steering and some of the suspension components have been borrowed from the racer. The Black even has more power.
However, the racer has an edge thanks to slick tyres and the fact it doesn’t need to comply with an A-Z of global regulations or deal with mundane tasks such as carrying luggage.
Nevertheless, the Black packs in a checklist of sexy motorsport stuff such as titanium exhausts, a carbon fibre torque tube, lightweight battery and forged lightalloy wheels.
Thanks to all that, it’s gone down a weight division, losing 70kg, but punches harder than ever. As well as being the flag-bearer for Mercedes’s AMG performance arm, it’s a tech showcase, says Moers.
For example, the carbon fibre bits are made to three different recipes, and it has special dampers for the drive train to stop it moving about when you’re setting lap records.
It’s at the sweet spot, he says, with a perfect power-toweight ratio giving it Goldilocks dynamics. “The car must be driveable without the electronic stability control switched on,” Moers explains. “If you switch ESP off, for a good driver the car must not be tricky, always under control. It gives you an understanding of what AMG stands for.’’
Whatever else it stands for, in this car AMG tags the driver: alpha-male god. Dentists and real estate agents need not apply. Journalists must approach with caution, clutching their egos.
Phillip Island looks different from the last time I was here, and that’s partly because it’s been resurfaced. But it’s also because my angle of vision has changed. In the SLS Black I’m sitting very low in a bucket seat and staring through a narrow windscreen.
Ahead is AMG’s 6.2-litre V8 turned up to 11. It has 44kW more power more than the cooking SLS — 464kW — and its rev ceiling has blown out to 8000rpm. It can hit 100km in 3.6 seconds, one-fifth quicker. Around a racetrack, that adds up to a lifetime.
It doesn’t scream, this engine; it rumbles like an extreme climatic event. There’s a seven-speed automatic sports transmission that can be left to its own devices so I can focus on getting more familiar.
Heading into turn one and I’m learning that the steering is so quick that just a little movement of the wheel is all it takes. The car turns in and keeps turning in, with a front end that really grips. It adjusts to directional changes like a pinball.
Brake for turn two, the Southern Loop, and the ceramic stoppers are stronger than I expect. I pull up so early I need to accelerate again to reach the corner. I could have picked up a passenger. Except there isn’t room. Mercedes has taken the wise precaution of getting a pro to ride shotgun. He knows this circuit backwards and I’m picking up tips.
Confidence develops slowly because this is a more capable car than I imagined. Unlike the standard car, it doesn’t feel as though the rear wants to overtake you all the time. Part of the reassurance is thanks to an in-house electronically controlled rear differential, helping to get all that power down. It’s still easy enough to lose traction if you stab the accelerator, and the tail will wiggle until the software smacks it back. Wisely, we’re forbidden to turn the stability control software off.
Even if we were allowed, I would fail Moers’s test of wheelmanship. Power slides at 200km/h are out of my league.
But I realise Phillip Island feels different not just because it’s been resurfaced. The other reason is this car. It would change any track.
Happily, the car itself is still the same.
The SLS AMG Black Series can mix it with the top supercars, bettering a lap time of 7min, 30sec on Germany’s Nurburgring