First Drive: 2011 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG

It's also enough to cause some problems at the other end of the driveshaft: for durability reasons, the engine isn't permitted to produce full power in the first two gears. It seems that the Getrag-sourced twin-clutch transaxle-the same seven-speed unit found in the Ferrari California-isn't quite robust enough. Even still, Mercedes claims the SLS AMG will hit 60 mph in 3.7 seconds with the assistance of the transmission's Race Start clutch-dump launch control. Top speed is electronically limited to 197 mph.

That which speeds up needs to slow down, too, so the SLS is equipped with enormous brakes-and is optionally available with Mercedes' first-ever composite ceramic discs. At 15.8 in., the enormous front rotors are bigger than the wheels on the original Gullwing, and the 14.2-inch rears aren't far behind.

The most important measurement in the SLS is the distance from the ground to the bottom of one of the opened gullwing doors: 60 inches. If you're over five feet tall, you will repeatedly smash your head when trying to get in or out. Despite the potential for head injury, climbing in isn't nearly as difficult as mounting, say, a Lotus Exige. Since the lower sill is only eighteen inches from the road, there's actually quite a large opening through which to fold yourself. You quickly learn to pull the door closed before buckling your seatbelt-it's a long reach, and in the interest of low weight (and a low center of gravity), there is no power mechanism to close the doors for you.

Given the SLS's exterior dimensions (it's about the same size as a C-class sedan), the interior is surprisingly claustrophobic. The door support structure in the middle of the roof hangs down considerably, enhancing that intimate feeling. If you require legroom, you'll have to get used to a vertical backrest. Storage is limited to a covered center console bin and a tiny glovebox whose flimsy door feels like it belongs in a Tata Nano.

Okay, so AMG's first glovebox door isn't a dynamic masterpiece. But the car is. The suspension, with control arms at all four corners, provides a comfortable ride on the road without the assistance of air springs, active dampers, or other trickery. At the same time, it allows almost zero body motions on the track. Turn-in is immediate, and chassis balance is brilliant-ask for any amount of oversteer and this two-seater will happily oblige. Luckily, the steering is quick and accurate, and the brakes instantly responsive and eternally fade resistant. The SLS doesn't feel like a lightweight-perhaps due to that enormous hood in front of you-but as a driver, you get the sense that all of its mass is low to the ground and concentrated well between the axles.

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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