2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: First Drive

The Mercedes SLS AMG is as beautiful to drive, as it is to look at

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: First Drive

AMG and Mercedes-Benz have done many great things together. Not only can you add the 2011 SLS AMG to the list; you can put it at the top!

Just look at it. This modern redesign of the classic 1955 300SL coupe is beautiful. The gull-wing doors, which first appeared on the original 300SLR Silver Arrow race cars in 1954, are back.

Designed and developed entirely by Mercedes-AMG in Affalterbach, the SLS AMG is the new flagship for the Mercedes-Benz brand.


1. The SLS AMG is the first ground-up vehicle built by AMG.

2. The 6.2L engine is the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 on the planet with 563-hp and 479 ft-lbs of torque.

3. Thanks in part to an AMG Speedshift DCT 7-speed dual-clutch transmission it can hit 62 mph in just 3.8 seconds.

4. It will cost you $183,000 to get your hands on this masterpiece.


Underpinned by an aluminum spaceframe that weighs just 531 pounds and motivated by a hand-built 6.2-liter DOHC 32-valve AMG V8, the modern gull-wing coupe is no red sow.

Sitting low in the chassis and behind the front axle, the front mid-mounted engine makes 563 horsepower and 479 ft-lbs of torque for rear wheels to digest via the driveshaft, carbon fiber torque tube and a standard limited-slip differential.

The torque peak comes at 4750 rpm and AMG’s dual-clutch seven-speed transmission (transaxle-mounted) makes quick work of the shifting duties by pre-selecting the next gear.

Featuring changes to the engine’s breathing, oil supply and crank, more than 120 parts are either new or significantly improved on the M159 engine. Add to that a dry sump lubrication system that eliminates the need for an oil pan and the SLS AMG further benefits from a near perfect 47/53 weight distribution and road-hugging stance.


Although the gull-wing doors are significantly lighter than earlier attempts, and easy enough to pull down and shut, those with short arms might find themselves having to get up out of the seat to do so.

Once snugly in the driver’s seat, everything is nearby and of the utmost quality. The cabin is loaded to the brim with features like Comand APS with HDD navigation and power everything (with memory), and finished off in style with standard Alcantara headliner and designo leather upholstery.

On the day I tested the car, I believe my specific model even came with the available Bang and Olufsen 11-speaker 1,000-watt surround sound system; but I could have cared less. All that mattered was to enjoy what little time I had to drive it, properly, on a race track – Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada no less.

Though this is the production version (a GT3 race version was shown at the New York auto show) there’s a push-button race start on the carbonized center console amongst other sporty controls like AMG Speedshift, ESP, spoiler control and driving modes.

The difference between economically-inclined cruising and goosebumps-inducing performance is mere button pushes away. The transmission has four driving modes: “C” for Controlled Efficiency, “S” for Sport, “S+” for Sport Plus, and “M” for Manual. In addition, it features a race start function.


In my time at the wheel, I had the tranny set to sport plus (S+) with the ESP in sport mode. In can be thoroughly disengaged for track use, however.

Launches are hard but not violent. Bury the gas pedal and the gull-wing zips by 62 mph in about 3.8 seconds. That’s a hair faster than the V10-powered Audi R8 and, not too shabby for an all-motor RWD stock vehicle – and I should mention the 6.2-liter unit is currently the most powerful naturally-aspirated V8 in the world. Top speed is electronically limited to 197 mph.

Dual headers help the high-revving, big displacement engine play a symphonic exhaust note accompanied by smooth, precise and instantaneous responses from the transmission. It’s great in both automatic and manual modes and the AMG steering wheel is the perfect size too, with the flappy paddles at nine and three o’clock.

Sized 19×9.5-inches in the front and 20×11-inches in the rear, the AMG 10-spoke forged rims are shod with 265/35 and 295/30 series Continental ContiSportContacts that provide excellent grip and stability.

The optional massive carbon-ceramic AMG four-wheel disc brakes on my test car inspire confidence and make late-apexing (or any other kind of braking technique for that matter) in this car a breeze. With ABS and brake assist, they have heaps of stopping power and, during my afternoon at the track, didn’t fade at all.

They fill out the wheels nicely, too. Don’t you think?


A ride height under four inches, wheelbase of 105.5-inches and overall length of 182.6-inches translates into a potent handling package for road and track use. The speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering kit is communicative in fast sweeping corners and sharp turns alike.

The optional sport suspension stiffens the standard double-wishbone independent kit to offer handling that’s smoother and far more communicative than either the Nissan GT-R or Audi R8 (both of which benefit from AWD of course).

The SLS AMG chassis stays flat and predictable through corners and at times you even forget that it’s rear-wheel drive with such acceleration coming out of corners.


The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is already on sale in most markets with base MSRP price of $183,000. My mule sported some extras that bump it $20-30 grand. The upgraded AMG binders command at least ten grand while other options not already mentioned (the Le Mans Red metallic paint, carbon fiber engine covers, center console trim and AMG extended interior carbon fiber trims, for example) add even more to the already exclusive ticket.

All told, while it does cost more than an Audi R8 5.2 FSI with the R-Tronic transmission, the SLS AMG offers more power (from a V8 too), true rear-wheel drive performance and even sexier looks (did I really just say that?) And, if I had the cake and could eat it too, I would. Having had the opportunity to drive both machines in (different) track settings, a fully-loaded SLS AMG is my new number one choice.

Porsche’s 911 Turbo S, GT2 and the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 550-2 Valentino Balboni (the only current RWD Lambo) are more direct competition that could be considered.

Don’t expect fuel economy to be great and the A-pillars, combined with the long nose, do hinder visibility somewhat. A standard rearview camera with Parktronic technology tries to compensate.

Everything else is tickety-boo, but the fact remains that I got nowhere near the limits of this incredible car. If I had a couple hundred Gs burning a hole in my pocket, I’d certainly give it another go.


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