Alpha-male mag­net

With its sexy motorsport looks, the SLS AMG Black Se­ries sits at the sweet spot of power and weight

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - Driving -

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

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