Chronologically and alphabetically, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is a direct follow-up to the SLR, the supercar that was the offspring of a seven-year fling between Mercedes and McLaren. In reality, however, the SLS is the Mercedes that's supposed to make you forget about the SLR and hark back five decades to the magical 300SL Gullwing. One look - from any angle - at an SLS with the doors ajar is akin to being slipped a dose of Rohypnol. Memories of the SLR simply fade away.
Given that the Gullwing is such a prominent icon in the annals of automotive history, Mercedes wasn't going to trust just anyone - including, or perhaps especially, McLaren - with the development of its new flagship. So AMG, formerly an independent aftermarket tuner and more recently Mercedes-Benz's in-house skunk works, was tapped to do the job.
Let a performance division develop a front-engine car, and the handling-obsessed engineers will shove the engine as far back as possible. The resulting SLS has its V-8 mounted so far rearward under the pornographically long hood that it looks as though you could fit another V-8 ahead of it. A carbon-fiber driveshaft weighing only 10.3 pounds connects the engine to a rear-mounted transaxle. And that's the only carbon fiber you'll find - whereas the SLR McLaren unibody was made of the stuff, AMG chose to construct the SLS out of aluminum, a first for a modern Mercedes. Not only is the SLS some 200 pounds lighter than the SLR, the material choice no doubt helped keep expenses down: the SLS costs half what the SLR did. And, of course, the SLS does the one parlor trick that no SLR could ever do: open its doors straight up. (That thud you just heard was the SLR's resale value hitting the ground.)
However, the SLS has a slight problem right out of the box: it isn't pretty. Its face looks like that of a wide-mouth bass. The rear window is reminiscent of the Buick Reatta, and the truncated rear recalls the Acura CL. Luckily, people over five feet tall will smack their heads on the bottom of the gull-wing door getting into or out of the SLS, and perhaps the optical-nerve degeneration from repeated head trauma will help SLS owners grow to love the way their Gullwings look.
Actually, all it should take is for them to fire up the 6.2-liter V-8.