Review: 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG poised to become icon

For just one moment, if you possibly can, forget that the 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG is a spectacular looking supercar, with a long hood and gull-wing doors and sizzling top speed of 197 mph.

2011 Mercedes SLS AMG
The 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG is a spectacular looking supercar, with a long hood and gull-wing doors and sizzling top speed of 197 mph. (Courtesy Mercedes/MCT)

For just one moment, if you possibly can, forget that the 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG is a spectacular looking supercar, with a long hood and gull-wing doors and sizzling top speed of 197 mph.

OK, all that is impossible to forget, even for a moment. But I wonder this, being a classic-car guy and proud owner of a 1981 DeLorean for 10 years, is this SLS ready to follow in its tire prints? A classic waiting to happen?

No question, if you listen to Mercedes: "Our aim with this interpretation is to create the classic car of the future," said design chief Gordon Wagener.

Sports Car Market magazine felt it was worth a story in itself, though their conclusion was more wishy-washy than Mercedes. "The SLS doesn't look much like the car that inspired it (300SL)," it said. It then surmised that it could appreciate, and maybe even in the near term.

I say it has classic written all over it -- at least as a second-generation classic like the 40th anniversary Mustang. But, heck, buy it for today, not tomorrow. It's worth the $183,000, if you're the type who isn't aghast at those figures.


The SLS marks the first time Mercedes' sport folks at AMG built a car from scratch. It blends the heritage styling of its 1950s kin, with its gull-wing doors and grille, with the sophisticated technology of today like an aluminum space-frame shell and a 6.3-liter front-mid V-8 engine that can do awesome things with the road and your senses.

Suffice it to say, it's a head-turner, too.

OK, for those impatient ones, let's get to the meat: This thing will do 0-to-60 in 3.8 seconds and has a top speed of 196 mph which, by the way, is electronically limited by Mercedes. They're just looking out for your safety.

And its resonating growl announces what this car is capable of.

Its looks scream classic sports car: a six-foot-long hood, short rear and extendable spoiler (it automatically rises at 75 mph or at the touch of a button), wide track and short overhangs are all prerequisites for a stunning sports car.

The SLS engine not only is new but represents a whole new engine family for Mercedes. It has an output of 563 horses at 6,800 rpm, making it one of the most powerful in the supercar segment. It's a naturally aspirated powerplant, and it provides an enormous 479 pound-feet of torque at 4,750 rpm.

There's 40 years of racing that went into this engine.

Oh yes, it gets up and goes. You'll get where you're going before you've had a chance to enjoy the thrill. Still, for those who live for pure speed, know that the SLS could get edged by a fraction when competing with the Audi R8 or the Porsche 911 Turbo.


Shifting is swift and smooth with a seven-speed automatic tranny with automatic double-clutching function. One clutch drives the odd-numbered gears, the other the even. The result is that one clutch is applied just when the other is disengaged. And it all works with automatic shifting or while using the paddle shifters on the wheel.

If you seek simple and pleasurable, the one of four driving modes you want is "C," which starts in second gear. In "S" mode, the engine reaches higher speeds in each gear. S-plus cuts shift times by 20 percent. In "M" (manual) mode, the tranny shifts in under 100 milliseconds, says Mercedes.

Steering is crisp and responsive, with a speed-sensitive power assist. There's probably not a car on the planet that can corner with this one.

On the road you'll find visibility is satisfactory but hampered slightly by a wide B pillar.

Like the sleek and timeless DeLorean, the SLS's outstanding physical feature is its gull-wing doors, which always attract attention. They swing wide open -- up by 70 degrees and five feet high from the road -- for easy entry. And gas dampers make them feel lighter and easy to open.

Also, just like the DeLorean (John Z. DeLorean was an engineering genius), they actually are better in tight spaces than swing doors.

Of course, taller folks will have to keep an eye on that door. Even I, with all those years of gull-wing access, banged my head on the dang thing.

Stepping inside requires takes a little patience due to SLS' wide door sill. Once inside, you'll quickly see that Mercedes tried to replicate the feel of an airplane cockpit. The first clue: the AC vent-nozzles that resemble jet engines.


The interior is trimmed in nappa leather, real metal and carbon accents. White, circular instrument dials have red pointers; the speedo scales out at 225 mph.

Seats are on the firm side, with integrated headrests and side bolsters, but the backrests are built for the long haul with four-way lumbar support. Comfort in a sports car? What a great concept.

Also rare for a sports car is decent storage. The SLS accommodates with a glovebox plus a storage bin below the arm rest. And there's one behind the console as well as mesh pockets in the footwells.

The 6.2 cubic-foot trunk can handle weekender bags, not much more.

Eight air bags, including knee bags for driver and passenger, help cushion the impact of a collision we hope never happens. Seat-belt tensioners hold tight to occupants if a collision does occur. Traction, stability control, brake assist? Yes, yes, yes.

Mercedes has reminded us all that it still knows the winning formula for a super-sports car. The Robb Report, connoisseur of all things exotic and spectacular, apparently agrees, choosing it as 2010 "Car of the Year." It topped such stars as the Audi R8 V-10, Aston Martin DBS Volante and a Lamborghini Gallardo. (In all fairness, Motor Trend liked the R8 better in its comparison).

If you're still debating whether the SLS is a classic waiting to happen, I say let your kids worry about it. Just love it and live for today.




--Base Price: $185,750

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