New Cars for 2010: Europe

Mark Bramley Greg Pajo

Unlike the tail-happy C63 AMG and the slightly ponderous SL63 AMG we drove to acquaint ourselves with the track, the SLS AMG is so stable and composed that it feels - up to a point - strangely uneventful and uninvolving. That's because the new dry-sump lubrication helps provide a lower center of gravity, the transaxle layout ensures a more neutral handling balance, and the staggered-size tires (265/35YR-19 in front, 295/30YR-20 in back) provide an almost insane amount of grip. As a result, the 3570-pound two-seater is as expressively dynamic in one direction as it is absolutely unshakable in any other. Although confidence is quickly established, it takes at least half a day - and an eye-opening ride with former DTM champ Bernd Schneider - to fathom the true potential of this very special Mercedes. But even then, the prevailing impression is compiled of such practical virtues as a compliant ride, accessible performance, perfect balance, and just enough noise, but no undue vibrations or harshness. For a rear-wheel-drive supercar, the SLS is incredibly benign and forgiving.

One key strong suit is the steering. Meatier and less damped than in other AMG models, the steering system in the SLS opens up a new level of man/machine dialogue. It's a precision tool that fuses minimum input and maximum control, even through that adrenaline-pumping, 110-mph, uphill kink where the coupe's fat rear end wants to play catch and release. Then there's the electronic throttle, which allows you to modulate and time the torque flow to perfection. The free-breathing, high-revving V-8 responds to the driver's right foot like a thoroughbred to a horse whisperer. Especially when set in manual mode, where the transmission holds the chosen gear no matter what, the SLS surfs the torque so expertly that every approach is a trough, every apex is a crest, and every exit is a mighty tidal wave. Equally impressive are the brakes. One can specify extralarge carbon-ceramic rotors that are immune to high temperatures and offer a 40 percent weight advantage, but even the standard cast-iron discs are very good at neutralizing excess kinetic energy. Despite the commendably short pedal travel, the massive six- and four-pot calipers cover the complete deceleration spectrum from touch-then-go-again to all-anchors-dropped.

To boost the 6.2-liter V-8's power output from 518 hp to 563 hp, AMG developed a larger intake plenum, hotter camshafts, a more ambitious valvetrain, and a low-resistance, multiple-pipe exhaust system. Other measures include forged pistons, reinforced crankshaft bearings, toughened reduced-friction bore liners, a stiffer crankcase, a shorter cooling circuit, and more efficient lubrication. Lighter, torquier, and quite a bit more powerful, the tweaked 6.2-liter V-8 actually uses less fuel than the version in the E63 and the S63 (although U.S. EPA figures are not yet available). Mercedes is quoting a 0-to-62-mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 195 mph.

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