It's easy to become intoxicated by the big numbers put up by the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series. It's also easy to see how the engineers in Alffalterbach are describing it as a GT3 racer with license plates (or, it would be if they'd let us test it on the road).
Instead, we were let loose on the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France and told to give chase to five-time DTM champ Bernd Schneider, Germany's version of Jimmy Johnson.
It was a pretty clear indication of the purpose of this Black Series coupe. As road legal as it may be, it belongs on a track where its vast array of go-fast parts can most effectively be put to good use. Well, put to good use by Bernd at least.
So What Are the Big Differences?
This is a lightweight special that tips the scales at 3,417 pounds, which is 154 pounds less than the standard SLS GT. The weight savings was achieved by swapping out the regular seats with carbon-fiber rib wrappers and making several of the body panels from carbon fiber. AMG has even ripped out the standard battery and replaced it with a lithium-ion unit. This sort of thing is repeated everywhere you look.
That thumping 6.2-liter power plant has had its own work to lift its power to 622 horses at 7,400 rpm. The critical thing isn't that there's more power, but that the revs have jumped skyward. Oddly, torque is actually down to 468 lb-ft from 479 lb-ft in the standard car.
It hasn't upgraded its old-school multi-point fuel-injection system, though, because the engineers were confident that the system is still capable of delivering at the 8,000-rpm rev limiter the Black Series has been given. To get it to spin that fast, AMG had to redesign its cam profiles and free up the air intake system, too. The other upgrades include the entire water and oil delivery system, strengthened connections on basically everything inside the block and new crankshaft bearings.
Then there's a very light titanium exhaust system that was engineered to be especially loud at higher revs. With its 2.8-inch pipes, the exhaust system weighs just 37 pounds (28 pounds lighter than the standard SLS system).
It Certainly Sounds Different
But there is a lot more to the Black Series than just a stronger engine and less mass. For starters, it's louder, thanks to a combination of the exhaust, little interior deadening and carbon-fiber seat shells. Actually, that's wrong. It's much louder.
The stock SLS isn't quiet and isn't for the shy, but the Black Series opens the door to an entirely new world of anger management. It starts with the traditional snarl of this engine, but adds a metallic rasp across the top that sounds like corrugated iron water tanks being torn apart.
It's not an easy car to get comfortable with and even the painted white lines on the exit of the Le Castellet pitlane deliver a demonstrable jolt into the cabin. We only drove it on the track and its management of the (few) bumps there doesn't auger well for on-road driving. If you want something to cruise around on a Sunday afternoon, look elsewhere.
The car initially feels so stand-offish that it is remarkably difficult to be smooth in it, especially if you drive it like it wants to be driven. Part of this is down to the tires, which aren't efficient until they're warm and remain efficient until they reach the upper end of their temperature range. And even with the rear tires warmed up, it's always the rear end that lets go first, even in very fast corners.
And it doesn't like bumps, even the friendlier kind you get on racetracks. With its suspension in the Race mode, we found it couldn't track behind a standard SLS over the curbs on a couple of key corners on the track.
Yes, There's More
Besides the lighter mass and the freer-breathing engine, perhaps the biggest upgrade is in the differential. By dropping the final-drive ratio 20 percent, AMG has given the Black Series SLS a lower top speed but gained a quantum leap in throttle response and aggression.
The body upgrades are all about added downforce and midcorner security, including new intakes, a lower splitter and an optional rear wing, complete with a Gurney flap moulded in carbon fiber.
That purposeful appearance continues inside, where it's hard-core central. The seats are anorexically padded, Alcantara is everywhere (including all over the flat-bottomed steering wheel), and there is a wall of carbon fiber where the sat-nav screen used to be.
For all the cost, all of the changes and all of the engineering, AMG has claimed only a single tenth of a second improvement in its 0-62-mph sprint in the upgrade to the SLS Black Series. It would appear AMG has approached the limits of longitudinal grip for the SLS's aluminum architecture.
A Truly Serious Track Machine
Between the electronic rear diff and the three-stage ESP system, the SLS Black is astonishingly responsive to the gas pedal. While it still runs the SLS's double wishbone suspension layout all round, the Black Series has basically new or tweaked bits all through it. The three-stage damping is gone, replaced by a choice of Sport or Sport+ for the suspension dampers, and the spring retainers are now threaded so the spring rates can be adjusted for track work.
The track widths have been pushed out by 0.78 inch at the front and 0.95 inch at the rear and part of that is to accommodate new wheels with Michelin's all-new Pilot Sport Cup 2 tire (also found on the upcoming Porsche 918), with 275/35 R19s at the front and 325/30 R20s at the rear. They're mounted on 19-by-10-inch front wheels and 20-by-12-inch rears that are forged and save 8 pounds over the standard units. They've also gone for the biggest anchors in the kit bag, with 15.8-inch carbon-ceramic rotors up front and 14.2-inch rotors on the rear axle.
The trick with this car is to drive it with mega aggression. Stay off the curbs and it will make time on a very well-driven SLS at every corner. It wants you to stand on the brakes hard, then turn it and hammer it, hard, again. And it trusts both you and its own skid-control systems to catch the oversteering slides it hits you with, even at 125 mph and in spite of the 110 pounds of rear downforce the Aero Pack brings with it. It's both frightening and completely addicting at the same time.
Worthy of its Black Mark
The changes to the Black Series make it a more than formidable machine on the track. From the suspension to the brakes to the tires, it all comes together in a way that few cars with license plates can muster. The fact that it sounds barely removed from a real racecar only makes it that much better.
All of this is great if you own your own private road course. But even those with the roughly $250,000 it will take to buy an SLS Black Series aren't likely to have that kind of access.
Like so many other cars of its type, this Black Series stands a good chance of being nothing more than a weekend toy to impress the local car cruise, and that's a shame. It's too good at going fast, real fast, to be left dawdling along at any legal road speeds. It deserves to be stretched out, pushed and otherwise beaten on in a proper environment and in a way most owners won't be comfortable with. In other words, it's a proper Black Series.
|Year Make Model:||2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series 2dr Coupe (6.2L 8cyl 7AM)|
|Vehicle type:||RWD 2dr 2-passenger Coupe|
|Configuration:||Longitudinal, front midengine , rear-wheel drive|
|Engine type:||Naturally aspirated, port-injected, V-8, gasoline|
|Valvetrain:||DOHC, 4 valves/cylinder|
|Compression ratio (x:1):||11.3|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||622 @ 7,400|
|Torque (lb-ft @ rpm):||468 @ 5,500|
|Fuel type:||Premium unleaded (required)|
|Transmission type:||7-speed automated manual|
|Transmission ratios (x:1):||I=3.39; II=2.19; III=1.63; IV=1.29; V=1.03; VI=0.84; VII=0.72; R=2.79|
|Final-drive ratio (x:1):||4.44|
|Differential(s):||Electronically locking rear|
|Suspension, front:||Independent double-wishbones, coil springs, stabilizer bar|
|Suspension, rear:||Independent double-wishbones, coil springs, stabilizer bar|
|Steering type:||Speed-proportional power steering|
|Tire make and model:||Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2|
|Tire type:||Performance front and rear|
|Tire size, front:||275/35R19|
|Tire size, rear:||325/30R20|
|Wheel size:||19-by-10 inches front -- 20-by-12 inches rear|
|Brakes, front:||15.8-in two-piece ventilated cross-drilled carbon-ceramic discs with 6-piston fixed calipers|
|Brakes, rear:||14.2-in two-piece ventilated cross-drilled carbon-ceramic discs with 4-piston fixed calipers|
|0-60 mph, mfr. claim (sec.):||3.5|
|Fuel tank capacity (U.S. gal.):||22.5|
|Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.):||3,417|
|Track, front (in.):||67.0|
|Track, rear (in.):||66.2|
|Turning circle (ft.):||39.0|
|Legroom, front (in.):||41.7|
|Headroom, front (in.):||39.1|
|Shoulder room, front (in.):||58.4|
|Free scheduled maintenance:||1 years / 3,000 miles|
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.