Even though the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is entering its third year of production, don't be surprised if you haven't seen one yet. Priced at close to half a million dollars, the car isn't exactly accessible to the average buyer. Nor has Mercedes been moving a whole lot -- only about 350 had been sold in the U.S. as of the end of the 2006 model year.
So what's the plan for the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren? Make it even more exclusive! For 2007, the SLR gains a new 722 Edition moniker. Any guess as to what this year's "722 Edition" addition to the name means? Horsepower? Torque? Top speed, maybe? No, no and no. As any Benz buff worth his three-pointed-star polo shirt will tell you, it refers to the 7:22 a.m. starting time assigned to the original Mercedes-Benz SLR racecar for the 1955 Mille Miglia road race. The SLR won, of course (hence this celebration half a century later), driven by race legend Stirling Moss.
Compared to last year's SLR, the 722 Edition upgrades with 24 more horsepower, larger brakes, an adjustable rear spoiler, firmer suspension dampers, a 10mm-lower ride height, a carbon-fiber front splitter, carbon-fiber seats and cockpit trim, red accents (including seatbelts, stitching and instrument faces) and "722" badges and embroidery.
The rest of the car is pretty much as it's been since inception. With this being Mercedes' performance flagship, no expense was spared in its development and production. A joint venture with McLaren (Mercedes' Formula One partner), the SLR boasts extensive use of light but strong materials, such as carbon fiber and aluminum, in its construction. Still, at nearly 3,800 pounds, this ain't no Lotus. Actually, the SLR is more of a GT than a hard-edged sports car, though it is still capable of performance that can shame many of the latter.
The SLR's long-nose styling seems, and perhaps is, exaggerated. But there's a reason for that big schnoz: The engine is located behind the front axle for optimum weight distribution. And what an engine! Developed with AMG, the 5.4-liter supercharged aluminum V8 delivers well over 600 hp and allows the SLR to hit a top speed of over 200 mph. Keeping all that kinetic potential in check is a massive braking system that consists of ceramic rotors fitted with eight-piston front calipers and four-piston rear calipers. In a nod to the old racecar, the SLR McLaren also boasts a rear deck-mounted airbrake that automatically deploys under hard braking conditions.
In the quarter-mil-and-up price range, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 Edition effectively splits the difference between grand tourers (such as the Aston Martin Vanquish and Ferrari 612 Scaglietti) and pure performance machines like the Lamborghini Murciélago. On one hand, this means stronger performance than the Aston and Ferrari and more amenities and features than the Lambo. However, serious driving enthusiasts will find the lack of a true manual-transmission option unforgivable, whereas those expecting a quiet ride will be unpleasantly surprised at the amount of wind and road noise that infiltrates the cabin, even at moderate speeds.
With only two dozen 722 Editions coming to the states, we doubt that any of the preceding is going to sway potential buyers one way or the other. But were we lucky enough to be in a position to be making such purchase decisions, Ferrari's new 599 Fiorano would seem to be a less expensive and more enjoyable choice for a dual-purpose exotic.
Interior Design and Special Features
Swing open the semi-gullwing doors (a nod to the 300 SLR racers of the 1950s) and a dramatic entry or exit is assured. Some car enthusiasts may be somewhat disappointed by the look of the interior, as it's similar to that of the less prestigious SL-Class. But the cockpit features simple controls and plenty of carbon fiber, aluminum and leather trim to provide the proper exotic car atmosphere.
The SLR's seats are unusual in that they don't provide much adjustment. Instead, Mercedes offers special upholstery modules to specifically tailor seat comfort for each individual owner. Out back, the SLR's trunk can swallow nearly 10 cubic feet of cargo, significantly better than the capacity of most other exotic sports cars.