The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT is a halo car with a devil’s tail rather than an angel’s wings. From the snarl of the twin-cam V-8 housed under the extravagantly long hood to the dramatic gullwing doors arcing up from the low-slung body, the two-seat supercar exudes a palpable sense of menace. With a claimed 0-to-60-mph time of 3.6 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 197 miles per hour, the bad-boy looks are more than skin deep.
Aesthetically, the SLS AMG was inspired by the original Mercedes-Benz gullwing sports car, the 300SL, which debuted in 1954 and laid the foundation for the company’s tradition of flagship two-seaters. But while the iconic 300SL was essentially a roadgoing version of the 1952 Le Mans-winning race car, the SLS AMG began life as a street machine. Then again, it’s full of race car touches, from a forged-aluminum double-wishbone suspension to an optional data display that logs lap times. AMG would have it no other way.
Founded in 1967 as a small German race-tuning shop, AMG has always focused its attention on Mercedes products. In 1999, DaimlerChrysler acquired a majority stake in the company, and in 2005, AMG became a wholly owned subsidiary of Daimler. The SLS AMG, which debuted in 2010 in both gullwing coupe and conventional convertible form, was the first car designed and developed from the ground up by AMG.
For 2013, the SLS AMG gets a GT designation and benefits from several styling tweaks and a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission remapped to produce crisper shifts. AMG engineers also coaxed 20 additional horsepower out of the 6.2-liter engine, raising maximum power to 583 horses at 6800 rpm and trimming the 0-to-60-mph time by one-tenth of a second. Like all AMG powerplants, each GT engine is hand-built by a single technician. To lower the car’s center of gravity, the engine incorporates a dry-sump lubrication system with a pair of oil pumps. In the unlikely event that owners plan to change their own oil, they’ll have to stock up on 14 quarts — yep, 14 quarts — at their local AutoZone before getting started.
The SLS AMG GT is too stunning and too pricey — $200,405 for the coupe, $206,905 for the roadster — to see much track-day duty. Still, Mercedes insists that the car is more than a poseur. To prove it, the company brought a quartet of GTs to The Streets of Willow, a test track in the desert north of Los Angeles. It’s positively frigid, at least by Southern California standards, when I arrive, so I give the convertibles a pass even though they’re fitted with neck-level heating systems that blow warm air from the head restraints. Not only do I figure the coupe will be more comfortable, but I’m also looking forward to popping the gullwing door.
The door scissors up with the pull of a retractable handle. Sweet. Climbing into the cockpit requires fewer contortions than expected. (Climbing out is a bit trickier.) The seat is supportive yet comfortable, emblematic of the rest of the interior, which features a satisfyingly Teutonic mix of luxury and efficiency. The engine starts instantly and settles into a docile idle. I slide the transmission into gear and blast off — a fitting metaphor.
Straight-line performance is rocket-like. From 0 to 60 mph, the SLS AMG GT will outrun most race cars, and I see triple digits on the speedo before catching my first breath. The rear-mounted transaxle offers four modes — one manual and three automatic. In manual mode, there’s a brief but perceptible delay before shifts are executed, as if the on-board computer is asking the driver, “Are you sure you want to shift now?” On The Streets of Willow, at least, the Sport Plus — the most aggressive of the automatic modes — is more satisfying than working the paddle shifters.
The low-slung chassis and sport-tuned suspension do an admirable job of minimizing body roll and disguising the car’s substantial heft. But at 3573 pounds, the coupe is too heavy to be nimble. On the other hand, with 479 lb-ft of torque on tap, kicking out the rear end is child’s play, and the stability control system allows for progressive doses of hooliganism. But be forewarned: with 53 percent of the weight at the rear, this isn’t a car for impressing friends by drifting around highway cloverleafs.
I’m not expecting anything special when I finally sample the roadster. But, much to my surprise, it is more enjoyable than the coupe. Although it doesn’t look as dramatic, the roadster feels more spacious, and, with the top dropped, the sounds of the V-8 roaring in all its Wagnerian splendor is compelling. In this case, less — as in less roof structure — is more.
On sale: Now
Price: $200,405/$206,905 (coupe/convertible, including destination charge)
Engines: 6.2L V-8, 583 hp, 479 lb-ft
Drive: Rear wheel
Fuel mileage: 13/19 mpg