2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: Panamericana Refined and Revisited

Sometimes it's important to ignore your instincts. Say, for instance, you're going 130 mph down an empty stretch of highway in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG wearing European plates, and suddenly you see blue lights flashing in your rearview mirror. Instinctively, you're going to breathe in sharply and let off the gas. Which is silly. The only rational thing to do in this situation is to let the patrol car - a dark blue Dodge Charger emblazoned with the seal of the PolicĂ­a Federal - fly by and then lay back onto the throttle to stay on his tail. Welcome, amigos und Freunde, to Mexico. At least, that is, the version of Mexico brought to you behind the wheel of Mercedes-Benz's newest halo car.

Ostensibly, the purpose of our adventure is to commemorate the 300SL's 1952 victory in La Carrera Panamericana, a race that was run across Mexico from 1950 to 1954 and in recent years has been reborn as a more relaxed (but still plenty dangerous) vintage race. To this effect, Mercedes has brought along a 300SL race car replete with buzzard-blocking windshield bars and legendary driver John Fitch. AMG also used the journey as an opportunity to announce its new SLS AMG GT3 race car. But, in truth, all this is merely window dressing. Our real reason for flying down to central Mexico is to get a taste of grand touring in the inimitable Mercedes Gullwing tradition. Our condensed journey would skip the portion of the Panamericana that heads through the heart of drug-infested Juárez and instead start in the more rural southern leg that connects Puebla to Oaxaca.

Speaking of crime, the U.S. State Department, just before our departure, advised American travelers to avoid displaying "expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money, or other valuable items" in Mexico. How about a dozen or so European exotic cars? The pack of Gullwings was sitting casually in an alleyway as we emerged from our hotel. Much has been said about the new Gullwing's awkward proportions, but as the doors hiss open and we fire up the 6.2-liter V-8, it's hard to think of a vehicle with more presence. The drama is partly spoiled, however, when this vertically challenged writer has to lean awkwardly out of the driver's seat to reach the door handle. Taller participants look no more graceful as they stoop to avoid hitting their heads, sometimes to no avail.

We start off by driving through the historic center of the colonial city of Puebla, today home to a large Volkswagen plant that stopped producing the original Beetle only in 2003. Given all the reports of brazen shootings in broad daylight, we had been worried about drawing the wrong kind of attention in our $200,000 supercars. But as we advance through Puebla's narrow, cobblestone city streets, we encounter only a few harmless gawkers and excited children. If anything, we soon become aware of how few people even pay us a glance, let alone pull out a camera phone. Apparently, the folks around here have learned it's safer to mind their own business.

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