Bill Clinton, cigar enthusiast and former boss of the world, once said: "You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle." Wise words, we're sure you'll agree. But what he neglected to inform his minions was that, if you put wings on a Mercedes-Benz, you end up with one of the most incredible supercars known to mankind -- the £157,500, 571bhp Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.
Mercedes-Benz and its AMG performance division have been pretty bullish about the launch of the SLS AMG. In their eyes, the car isn't here to play second fiddle to established supercars, such as the Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 or Aston Martin V12 Vantage -- it's here to rip them all a new exhaust pipe. On paper, it has a very good chance of doing so.
Under the SLS AMG's long bonnet lies a massive, 6.3-litre engine that produces a whopping 571bhp. In theory, that's considerably more impressive than the Ferrari 458 Italia's 4.5-litre V8 engine and the V12 Vantage's comparatively measly 510bhp.
Drop down and get your eagle on
The SLS AMG is a beautiful car. Its long bonnet makes it look somewhat phallic, but, unlike most vehicles of its ilk, it doesn't have that familiar, flamboyant wedge shape. Its meaty front grille tapers off abruptly, giving it a wide-mouthed, slightly maniacal appearance that's reminiscent of an American muscle car. The design will appeal to younger drivers, as it should, but it'll also appeal to older drivers, as it isn't quite as pretentious as that of some Italian rivals -- until you open the doors, of course.
The gullwing doors are the SLS AMG's signature feature. Hit the remote key fob and a set of handles pops out on each side. Lift these, and the doors arc open under the user's full control, their motion smoothly modulated by a set of gas dampers in the hinge. They open up by a full 70 degrees, which gives you plenty of room to get in and -- unlike standard doors -- they only stick out horizontally by a few inches, so they're a godsend when you're parked in narrow spaces.
There are a couple of drawbacks, though. Short people will find it hard to reach the handle to pull the door closed when sat in the car, and tall people will bang their heads on the doors every time they try to get out, which can prove hugely embarrassing when you're trying to look cool.
Your wish is myComand
Mercedes-Benz has tried to make the SLS AMG's interior as special as its exterior by going for an aviation theme. Its dashboard resembles the wing of a WWII fighter plane, its air vents resemble aeroplane jet engines and its centre console (complete with throttle-style gear selector) is reminiscent of a plane's operating console. It's a pleasant place to sit, but it's slightly too clinical for our tastes. Supercars should be completely bonkers and this just seems too sensible and -- well -- German.
The SLS AMG has some impressive cabin tech, though. It uses the Mercedes' myComand interface, as seen on the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The interface consists of a centrally-mounted, 8-inch display and an 11-way knob used to move an on-screen cursor from icon to icon.
It's not as intuitive a system as Jaguar's touch-screen-based interface, but, after some practice, using it becomes second nature. You simply slide the wheel up, down, left or right to move the cursor in those directions, twist the wheel to cycle through options and push the wheel down to select.
Sadly, Mercedes seems to have got its priorities wrong as far as some of the on-board tech is concerned. The car offers a couple of fairly pointless features, including a DVD player that you can only use when the SLS AMG is stationary.
The player also supports DVD audio discs, of which there are about three in existence. Bizarrely, though, it doesn't let you do more important things like enter full, seven-digit postcodes in its sat-nav. The maximum number of digits you can enter is five, meaning you'll need to waste time entering a street name as well.
One thing Mercedes has certainly got right with the cabin tech is the awesome audio system, supplied by Bang & Olufsen. The 11-speaker set-up is right up there with the very best high-end factory-fitted audio systems, and it comes as standard on all SLS AMGs. It's loud, punchy and, above all, very accurate, delivering a balanced sound with volume levels that increase or decrease dynamically depending on how much noise there is inside the cabin.
The SLS AMG truly excels when it comes to performance. The car's 6.3-litre V8 engine produces a whopping 571bhp, which is about 60bhp more than the V12 engine in an Aston Martin DBS. It can't quite out-accelerate a Ferrari 458 Italia -- not many cars can -- but its 3.8-second 0-60mph time is only four-tenths of a second off the prancing pony's pace.
The SLS AMG gets its own back with its sensational engine note. Floor the go pedal and you'll elicit a guttural roar from the engine that eclipses the noise made by most sports cars. Lift off the accelerator in preparation for a bend, slam on the epic carbon ceramic brakes, and the exhaust backfires in angry fashion. It's a truly glorious symphony that not many supercars can match.
The SLS AMG corners at a velocity that many car owners can only dream of, even on the damp handling circuit on which we tested the car. The car doesn't know the meaning of the word 'understeer' -- go too fast into a corner and it'll just grip harder, turning in with aplomb. It'll happily oversteer, though. Apply too much power coming out of a bend and it has a slight tendency to chase its tail, but that's great news for anyone who likes to drive like a hoodlum.
The car lets itself down slightly with its gearbox. It uses Mercedes' AMG Speedshift dual-clutch system, which promises gear changes in as little as 100ms. That sounds lightning-fast, but, in practice, it feels rather slow to respond. The dual-clutch system in the Ferrari 458 Italia allows for 60ms gear changes and even the single-clutch Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano HGTE gets the job done in just 80ms. Mercedes clearly has some work to do in this area.
When we think of supercars, our minds usually drift towards established Italian thoroughbreds, like the Ferrari 458 Italia or Lamborghini Gallardo LP560, or British stalwarts, such as the Aston Martin V12 Vantage. As of now, you can add a new name to that list, because the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is every bit as fast, desirable and fun as its rivals.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG stats
- Top speed: 197
- Acceleration: 3.8
- Max power: 571bhp
- Economy: 21.4mpg (combined cycle)
- Emissions: 308g/km of CO2
- Price: £150,000 (starting price)
Edited by Charles Kloet