Two days, two totally different driving experiences, two key questions.
Can the new McLaren MP4-12C dethrone the Ferrari 458 Italia?
And how do these two high flyers compare to the sports car establishment?
True, it would have been nice to include the exciting new Lamborghini Aventador, and perhaps even the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, in this contest, but we had to draw the line somewhere. That's how the 1200-hp Bugatti and the $390K Lambo fell off the grid, as did the Gumperts, Koenigseggs, and Paganis of this world. In the end, we picked the following six competitors: Audi R8 5.2 coupe, Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Spyder Performante, McLaren MP4-12C, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, and Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Past masters like the Nissan GT-R, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, the Jaguar XKR-S, and the Aston Martin DBS would arguably also fit in, but for clarity and compatibility we decided to concentrate on the newest and most advanced variations of the breed. The showdown was staged on the "world's fastest" racetrack in Rockingham, Northamptonshire, England (day one), as well as on the most challenging rural roads of North Wales (day two). Ready for the ride of your life? Then come aboard, buckle up, and take a deep breath.
6. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Equally at home on Rodeo Drive and the Mulsanne straight.
Having driven the SLS extensively on the Sachsenring circuit in eastern Germany, I was expecting the gull-wing coupe to perform with similar aplomb in the U.K. But somehow, the white two-seater fell short of our expectations. One can always find excuses, such as well-used tires or Rockingham's tight infield corners, but in the end the SLS didn't make the grade in this company because it's really a GT rather than a hard-core sports car. Powered by a wonderfully vocal and amazingly torquey 6.2-liter V-8, the flagship AMG model struggles to conceal its considerable size and mass. It has very strong brakes and the best steering of any current Mercedes product, but when asked to deliver, the car can be its own worst enemy at times. Traits like roll, yaw, pitch, dive, and squat are all there in different quantities and various combinations. While the SLS loves long straights and fast corners, it feels less at home through the twisties, tends to pick a fight with every ripple and pothole it encounters, and occasionally squirms under pressure. Switch off the stability control, and the big Benz will shed its mask, smoking Continental ContiSportContacts over breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sideways becomes the Benz's preferred posture, with the accelerator offering additional direction-changing services. Shifting down to third or second is also perceived as an invitation to slide through the next corner. This is fast, furious, fabulous fun. Strong points include an intuitive paddleshift transmission, the rubber-peeling verve of the 563-hp engine, and the chuckability of the talented chassis. But at the end of the day, the SLS feels somewhat shirt-sleeved and uncouth in this dynamically sophisticated company. There's also an issue with the awkward driving position. You sit tall and upright in a rather wide cockpit, looking either at a set of flashy instruments or over a long, phallic front end, steering the car from farther back than what seems natural.
On the track: Hilarious, feels a half-g faster than it actually is, tends to be all over the place most of the time. Glad we didn't have to pay the tire bill.
On the road: Big, butch, bad, bold. Wide enough to mow the shoulder of the road, heavy enough to bottom out here and there, aggressive enough to momentarily raise your hackles through high-speed bends. A real handful but blindingly quick.
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG
Base price $188,500
Engine 32-valve DOHC V-8
Displacement 6.2 liters (379 cu in)
Power 563 hp @ 6800 rpm
Torque 479 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
Transmission 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Steering Hydraulically assisted
Suspension, front Control arms, coil springs
Suspension, rear Control arms, coil springs
Brakes Vented discs, ABS
Tires Continental ContiSportContact 5P
Tire size f, r 265/35YR-19, 295/30YR-20
L x W x H 182.6 x 76.3 x 49.3 in
Wheelbase 105.5 in
Track F/R 66.2/65.0 in
Weight 3783 lb
Weight dist. 46/54%
Fuel mileage 14/20 mpg
0-62 mph 3.8 sec
Top speed 197 mph
Top speed in lap