2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

Photo Gallery:
2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

If ever a car could justify its price on sound alone, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG might be the one. Pressing the start button on the centre console awakens the AMG-designed 563-hp 6208-cc naturally-aspirated V8, bringing it to an ominous idle. Blip the throttle and the revs jump like there’s no flywheel. From there on it bellows like the hounds of hell, wailing to a metallic 7,250 rpm redline if you have the road (and nerve) to do so.

But it doesn’t stop here. On overrun, there is a cacophony of burbles, blats and pops spewing from the twin tailpipes that only a conservatively muffled large-displacement bent-eight can provide.

Check, please.

This $198,000 two-seat rear-drive sports car from the denizens of speed at AMG (their first fully in-house vehicle) is gloriously, and unapologetically, retro – in a very modern way. We all know it is a spiritual successor to the iconic 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, and as such, does a wonderful job of straddling the old and new. The roof-hinged gullwing doors, classic long hood, stubby rear deck and large side vents are blended into a respectful, and yes, large interpretation of the original icon.

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Click image to enlarge

On approaching the SLS AMG, one is struck by how long, low and wide it is. At 1940 mm, it’s broader in beam than a Porsche Turbo (by 89 mm) and an Audi R8 (35 mm). With a wheelbase of 2680 mm, it easily outstretches those similarly priced competitors as well.

This is not all for show. Lift the long hood and that dry-sump V8 is nestled low and well back behind the front wheels. It connects to the new seven-speed dual-clutch rear transaxle (developed in conjunction with Getrag) via a 167-cm carbon-fibre drive shaft. This front-engined, rear-drive supercar has a 48/52 front to rear weight bias.

Balance is the name of the game here, and I got to get a taste of this on a racetrack set up for members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada during the annual TestFest in Niagara, Ontario.

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. Click image to enlarge

Despite its appearance, sound and mechanical layout, the 2011 SLS AMG is not an untamed rear-drive beast waiting to bite you at the first opportunity. On the contrary, its formidable performance is easily accessible. It is neutrally balanced, shows astounding grip and very quick turn-in. This car follows its nose and hunts down apexes like a cochon hunts tasty truffles. With the standard limited-slip rear differential, you can put the power down hard and early when exiting corners.

The steering might not be as tactile as in the Audi R8 or Porsche 911 Turbo, but it is surely accurate, and the best of any Mercedes vehicle I’ve driven. The shift paddles are steering wheel-mounted.

A rotary switch on the centre console gives the driver a choice of four shift maps. Controlled Efficiency (C) is the most relaxed – it starts in second gear – while Sport (S) gives 20 per cent faster shifts with rev-matching on downshifts. Sport Plus (S+) further sharpens shift time (40 per cent) and Manual (M) gives you complete control over upshifting with 50 per cent quicker cog-swaps, although the transmission will still downshift when coming to a stop. There is also an RS (race start) launch control setting.

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