First Drive: 2011 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

"Ugly don't mean nuthin' when you're sleeping on Ralph Lauren sheets." Such was the dating mantra of an old friend who evaluated the attractiveness of potential mates solely by the number of zeroes in their portfolio balance. In automotive terms, we suspect, ugly don't mean nuthin' when you've got gullwing doors. Ugly is, truthfully, too strong of a word to describe the new Mercedes-Benz supercar, but so, too, is beautiful. Until you open the gullwing doors, that is. Then, suddenly, all the world stops and stares. The rear end of the SLS, which apparently was inspired by the Buick Reatta and the Acura CL coupe, becomes irrelevant. The widemouth-bass face even fades away, just like the wrinkles on that old man's liver-spotted, shaky hands when they're holding his shiny black American Express.

Chronologically and alphabetically, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is a direct follow-up to the Mercedes SLR McLaren. In reality, however, it's a clean-sheet design intended to resurrect the original 300SL Gullwing from fifty years ago. The SLR, as you'll remember, was a joint project between Mercedes and McLaren; the SLS was developed by AMG, Mercedes' in-house performance brand. It marks the first-ever car engineered by the brand that was once nothing more than an aftermarket tuner.

It's also the first-ever all-aluminum Mercedes, and as a result, it's impressively light-in fact, at 3573 lb, it's some 300 lb lighter than the carbon-fiber SLR was. And it costs less than half as much. Perhaps the SLS is starting to look better already.

The SLS's engine is mounted so far back in the enormous engine compartment that, with the hood open, it looks possible to insert another engine up front. A carbon-fiber driveshaft weighing only 10.3 lb connects the engine up front to a rear-mounted dual-clutch transaxle, which houses a mechanical limited-slip differential.

The engine itself is a reworked version of AMG's 6.2-liter V-8. Since the original 300SL Gullwing was the first-ever production car to use direct fuel injection, this would have been a historically convenient time for AMG to equip its powerhouse V-8 with the technology. Alas, even though DI is quickly becoming de rigeur in inexpensive vehicles, the engine still uses port fuel injection. AMG's head of powertrain development explains that, due to the size of the 6.2's cylinder bore, the benefits of direct injection weren't significant-and so AMG relied on more conventional tuner tricks to coax more power out of the engine.

A revised intake (with eight, 11.4-inch by 2.0-inch velocity stacks) and less restrictive exhaust (with equal-length headers) help the V-8 breathe more freely; forged rather than cast pistons shave more than a pound off the reciprocating mass, and when allowed to run free, the engine puts out 563 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers are enough to take the trophy: this is the world's most powerful normally aspirated production V-8.

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I thought the new Ferrari 458 had the highest hp of a normally aspirated V8@570hp.
Not quite sure why a person would put his or her seatbelt on before closing door, even in a regular car. And I'm not sure why anyone would expect this car to be anything but claustrophobic; it might be the same size as the C-Class but half the car is the engine!

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