It’s doubtful the devil wears Prada, but it’s most certain he drives a Mercedes SLS AMG gullwing coupe.
Oh sure, the Lamborghini Diablo is the safe choice, the exotic supercar one would expect Satan to own. The Diablo’s scissor doors are cool, but the SLS’ gullwing doors, when both are raised skyward, bear a striking resemblance to the horns on Beelzebub’s head.
It helps that the car arrives for testing recently in AMG LeMans Red, Satan’s favorite color. Turning the key is a bit like unshackling the hounds of Hades, as the hand-built 6.3L naturally aspirated V-8 rumbles like a bubbling cauldron of fury, even at idle.
Shift the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission into gear, and the temptation to see how 563 hp feels and sounds under a disproportionately long hood is difficult to resist.
Cars this decadent may not survive an industry hell-bent on 54.5 mpg (4.3 L/100 km) as a fleet average by 2025, so anyone with $215,025 to spend on a dream car (including $1,700 gas-guzzler tax) may want to give the iconic SLS a long look.
Through September, Mercedes sold 706 SLS cars in the U.S., up 56% compared with like-2011, according to WardsAuto data. Much of the increase stems from the arrival in late 2011 of the roadster body style. The gullwing coupe went on sale in the U.S. in late 2010.
The original 300SL Gullwing was sold in the 1950s. This modern incarnation is Mercedes’ first gullwing since then. Although the doors would seem problematic in crowded parking lots, they actually need very little space on either side of the car because they open upward, rather than outward.
Although the doors give the SLS unmistakably devilish flair, they pose a challenge to occupants: Once seated in the Designo Exclusive Leather buckets, a person of average height struggles to reach the door handle to close it.
Our friends at Mercedes say there is a special way of getting in, which requires grabbing the handle while descending into the seat and bringing down the door simultaneously.
That process seems more difficult than it needs to be: A simple strap hanging from the door would be appreciated. And if minivans and SUVs can be purchased with power liftgates, why not the SLS?
The compact greenhouse makes for poor visibility, and there is no backup camera, which has become ubiquitous on mainstream vehicles.
The electronics and basic center-stack configuration carry over from other high-volume Mercedes vehicles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but wouldn’t a customer shelling out $215K expect something bespoke and more upscale?
Count on big changes to Mercedes’ infotainment strategy when the new S-Class arrives in first-half 2013.
Fellow editors have plenty to say about driving the SLS AMG coupe. Drew Winter says the car allows him to fulfill a fantasy to live like a “1 per center-for-a-day.”
Winter says the overall design harkens back to the golden age of automobiles. “The ultra-long hood makes me think of Duesenbergs and Cadillacs, straight-8 and V-16 engines, and later Jaguar V-12s,” he writes, channeling his newfound plutocrat personality.
“Those were the days. Back when guys like me did not even need tax shelters to avoid paying income taxes.”
Winter says driving the car lets you feel like a celebrity. “In one 10-minute span of moderate driving on the freeway, I found myself being stalked by a miserable Maserati Quattraporte and a peon in aM5.”
He also likes the adjustable AMG Dynamic Suspension (option priced at $2,500). “Sport settings really do show this car isn’t just about looks. It’s about power, performance and money, just like me.”
James Amend says the breathtaking styling overcomes the disappointing sightlines. “I sighed deeply to myself every time I turned my back to it,” he writes.
“One family of four taking an evening stroll around our court dawdled shamelessly past our house, clearly under its spell. It also packs as much performance as anyone would need. In sport mode with suspension at its stiffest, it bucks like a bronco when you blip the throttle.”
The car also captivates Amend’s 2-year-old son Nick. “He would not stop with ‘Sit Daddy, sit,’ until I told him the car was tired and had to go nighty-night.”
The devil is in the details when sizing up the SLS AMG, with its aluminum spaceframe, die-cast aluminum trim and $10,900 worth of optional carbon fiber adorning the passenger compartment and engine bay.
The 6.2L DOHC V-8, with old-school port-injection and placed behind the forward axle in this front/mid-engine layout, is hand-built in Affalterbach, Germany. The car, on the other hand, is built in Sindelfingen.
Although displacement comes in at 6,208 cc, Mercedes designates this V-8 a 6.3L, an important number in the history of AMG since its founding in 1967.
The engine enables the SLS AMG to sprint from 0 to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 3.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 197 mph (317 km/h). Still, the car fares poorly in the dollar-for-horsepower battle.
TheShelby GT500, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 all produce more horsepower and significantly more torque, and all three combined can be purchased for similar money.
Where to now for the SLS AMG? The car will continue on in 2013 as the SLS GT AMG with an extra 20 hp and sharper handling. There are no plans to end production.
Arriving in November is the new SL65 AMG with even more horsepower and torque and a higher base price, expected to be north of $210,000.
Bottom line is that despite its drawbacks, the SLS AMG remains a car people would kill for, even if the devil made you do it.
|Vehicle type||Two-seat gullwing coupe, front/mid-engine layout|
|Engine||6.3L DOHC all-aluminum 90º V-8, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Power (SAE net)||563 hp @ 6,800 rpm|
|Torque||479 lb.-ft. (649 Nm) @ 4,750 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (ins.)||4.02 x 3.72|
|Wheelbase||105.5 ins. (268 cm)|
|Overall length||182.6 ins. (464 cm)|
|Overall width||76.3 ins. (194 cm)|
|Overall height||49.7 ins. (126 cm)|
|Curb weight||3,573 lbs. (1,621 kg)|
|Base price||$189,600 ($215,025 as tested)|
|Fuel economy||14/20 mpg (16.8-11.7 L/100 km)|
|Competition||DB9 and V12 Vantage, Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, Audi R8 GT, MP4-12C, Ferrari California|
|Rumbles like bubbling cauldron||How long will decadence last?|
|Clean, dramatically classic styling||Where’s the power door?|
|Being bad feels so good||Justice system awaits|