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Mercedes-Benz SLS spreads its wings

The SLS GT is a sublime mix of monster and sophisticated long-distance grand tourer

The SLS GT is a sublime mix of monster and sophisticated long-distance grand tourer

  • by Iain Dooley
 

ASK any racing driver and they’ll tell you that you can never have too much power. And while you might think the 20 horsepower hike for Mercedes’ SLS is small beer, the car’s new total stands at a healthy 591. Surely that’s got to be enough?

In reality this revised SLS – now with an added “GT” in its name – is plenty powerful enough for the open road, and at first glance it’s no less of an intimidating beast than when it was first launched. The only obvious external clues to this being the revised car are the red brake calipers (bronze if you opt for carbon stoppers), carbon mirror housings and darkened headlights.

The car’s bonnet is long and wide, making you doubt your ability to thread it through traffic even before you’ve sat behind the wheel. And before you do, you’ll experience the theatrical motions of the car’s gullwing doors.

Once behind the wheel – there’s a quickly learnt knack to not hitting your head and deftly sliding down into the car’s bucket seats – your view is filled with that long bonnet. The various controls and displays will be familiar to fans of other AMG cars, but the noise after pressing the starter button will not.

The SLS might use AMG’s 6.2-litre V8 engine, a staple unit for many years, but its raucous, hard-edged sound is the result of some serious fettling by AMG engineers.

The result is 591 horsepower for this revised motor and the promise of a limited 199mph top speed and a zero to 62mph sprint time of 3.7 seconds – 0.1sec faster than the old car. With its twin, flush tailpipes emitting everything from thunderous roars to the pops and bangs of a race-tuned competition car, the SLS not only looks the part but sounds it too.

On the road the SLS makes no 
attempt to disguise its performance potential. Rumbling around town at 
sedate speeds, you know people are looking. It’s partly the car’s appearance but mainly the noise – even at low speeds there’s an urgent rumble from the car’s tailpipes.

Thankfully the SLS is anything but a beast to drive in town. You sit low down but you soon get used to the cabin layout, the auto gearbox and how to best position the car for roundabouts, junctions and the like.

Predictably, though, the SLS excels away from the city limits. Even if you don’t plan on exploiting its full potential, acceleration is rapid and the engine noise intoxicating. GT spec also means a faster-acting auto gearbox. And while not as quick as a dual clutch gearbox, the unit is noticeably more responsive than of old.

Still, for all the car’s hi-tech driving aids – and there are many – the experience has remained pleasingly old school and rewarding. If the original car was famed for its sledgehammer approach to devouring Tarmac, it was also known for being a little too stiff for some of the UK’s less than perfect A and B roads. More than the occasional 
pothole and mid-corner bump would unsettle the SLS – hardly ideal when you’re travelling at speed.

The changes to the car’s suspension set-up might be subtle but the result is a more composed experience when on the same, rubbish country roads. Thankfully the revisions haven’t diluted the car’s manic performance, and the SLS remains refreshingly analogue in a world of digitally enhanced supercars.

However, the very rough edges have been smoothed out, allowing you to more confidently position the car ahead of a corner and put the power down earlier and for longer.

Hardened AMG fans have nothing to fear, though. In the right hands the SLS GT remains a thunderous, tyre-smoking hooligan: turn off all the electronic aids and it’s amazing what this car can do.

And when you’re done shredding tyres, the SLS GT easily slips into the role of grand tourer. The ride might not be as plush as an SL, but the car’s cabin gets the full leather treatment. From the sports seats to the door linings, there’s no escape. And with the GT spec comes a more generous level of kit to complement the high-class cabin ambience.

In the SLS GT, Mercedes has created a sublime mix of monster and sophisticated long-distance grand tourer. It boasts all the luxury of an SL, but packs the punch of a genuine supercar. Some rivals might deliver a more precise and clinical driving experience, but there’s something great about being able to rumble along to an old-style V8 soundtrack. And forget the extra 20 horsepower, the one thing the SLS has in spades is star quality.

VITAL STATS

CAR Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT

PRICE from £165,030 on the road.

PERFORMANCE Max speed 199mph (limited); 0-62mph, 3.7 seconds.

MPG (combined) 21.4mpg

CO2EMISSIONS 308g/km

 

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