First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell

Tom Salt

The runway at Norway's Kristiansand airport has been closed for our test, and the final takeoff section has been converted into a challenging autocross course. I taxi slowly down the tarmac, turn around, wait for the thumbs-up-and give it stick. The sensation that follows can be described only as mind-boggling. After four seconds, the yellow cruise missile, with a combined 526 hp and 649 lb-ft of torque coming from its four electric motors, passes the 62-mph mark. A few heartbeats later, we tick 100 mph. Past the airport tower, the speedometer indicates 125 mph, and before the first cone appears, I swear I see 150 mph.

"No, you did not. Not quite," says the smiling AMG chief project engineer, Jan Feustel. "But if everything goes according to plan and we make some more progress on the battery front, the production version should be able to top 160 mph."

Through the cones, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-cell feels as fast as the current that feeds it. The nearly neutral balance is sensational. The handling is a little ponderous at first, but as car and driver learn to waltz with each other, the rear wheels load up so fast even Mozart would have loved it. The brakes are experts at multitasking. They decelerate the vehicle as vigorously as the thrust reversers of the DC-9 parked at the gate while recovering electrical energy at an amazingly efficient rate. The transmissions (one for each axle) are single-speed affairs and seem to suck us toward the horizon as if attracted by a huge invisible magnet. Only the steering isn't quite perfect. It could be quicker, it could be more positive on-center, and it could be more communicative.

"Problem recognized; solution under way," comments radio AMG.

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