The switchgear is familiar Mercedes, although the silver-backed gauges look a little boy-racerish for a car in this price league. The materials are first-rate, of course, but the interior isn't any more special than, say, a regular Mercedes-Benz SL. A substantial support member hanging from the center of the roof exacerbates feelings of claustrophobia. We're told that the trunk will hold two golf bags, but the SLS isn't exactly a cargo hauler. Cabin storage is limited to a small center-console binnacle and a tiny glove box whose door is so flimsy it belongs in a Tata Nano.
Not that you'll care about the glove-box door once you put your foot to the floor, because dynamically, the SLS is a masterpiece. The suspension, with unequal-length control arms at all four corners, provides a comfortable ride without the assistance of air springs, active dampers, or other trickery. At the same time, it allows almost zero body motion, even on the track. Turn-in is immediate, and balance is brilliant - ask for any amount of oversteer, and this two-seater will happily oblige. The steering is quick and accurate, and the brakes (whose optional carbon-composite front rotors are bigger than the wheels on the original Gullwing) are 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.
Unfortunately, it is also clear that the transmission is the weak point of the driving experience. AMG engineers warned that our preproduction prototypes were running transmission software a full release generation behind that of the cars that will make their way to Mercedes showrooms in May. The gearbox's numerous issues - slow response, reluctance to downshift, and occasional harsh shifts - will be resolved, officials promise.
None of this will be an issue when the all-electric SLS debuts in 2013. AMG is proud of the fact that the chassis was developed from the get-go to accommodate batteries in the center tunnel. Lithium-ion batteries with an energy capacity of 48 kWh are slated to power four electric motors that will produce a combined 392 kW (526 hp) and 649 lb-ft of torque.
We also expect roadster and Black Series variants of the SLS, the latter possibly with a twin-turbocharged V-8 with monumental horsepower. To be honest, though, AMG has already done a phenomenal job of making a very fast, very capable supercar, and the SLS doesn't need more power or better handling. What it needs is a little injection of special - a glamoured-up interior and a face-lift would go a long way.
Then again, the SLS's gull-wing doors do perform a parlor trick that no other new car can pull off. For that reason alone, the SLS AMG receives a permanent entry in automotive history books right next to the 300SL Gullwing. And for half the price of the SLR McLaren, that's pretty cool. Wait, SLR? What SLR?