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With its classic sports car proportions and upward-opening doors, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG revives the spirit of the classic Mercedes 300SL sports car of the 1950s. But in terms of performance and comfort, it's as modern as can be.
Supercar performance; sharp handling; everyday functionality; exotic door design; seductive exhaust note.
Transmission response is a little slow for an exotic; short on passenger legroom; doors are tough to close.
Available SLS AMG Coupe Models
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The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is all-new.
Normally a Mercedes-Benz isn't a car you get excited about. Sure, it might be impressive and even desirable. But when it comes time to get excited in the way that young boys get excited about red exotic sports cars from Italy, a Mercedes typically isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But now there's the 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG. (Get ready to fist pump.)
Despite its name, the SLS AMG is not some special version of the current Mercedes-Benz SL hardtop convertible, but rather a unique sports car designed and built by AMG, the high-performance division of Mercedes-Benz. Inspired by the classic Mercedes 300SL (known as the "Gullwing") of the 1950s, the new SLS shares the iconic SL's proportions with its long hood and short rear deck as well as the SL's unique upward-opening doors. The SLS is meant to be Mercedes-Benz's ultimate automobile, but it's also meant to be more affordable and practical to drive than the now-discontinued Mercedes SLR McLaren.
Behind the SLS's classic-style grille is an exotic all-aluminum chassis and a potent, hand-built 6.2-liter V8. This engine is an upgraded version (it even has a racing-style dry-sump oil system) of the AMG engine in the SL63 and other AMG Benz models and it cranks out 563 horsepower here. A seven-speed, dual-clutch automated manual transaxle (a first for a Mercedes-Benz) sends the power to the rear wheels. At about 3,600 pounds, the SLS isn't a lightweight, but it's still got the goods to compete against the world's best sports cars like the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo.
Throw a few options on the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and you're looking at a $200,000-plus sports car. Considering the combination of high performance and superior practicality, the SLS actually seems like a good deal when compared to such weekend-only trinkets as the Lamborghini Gallardo. You might also see it as a step up from cars like the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and Audi R8. Either way, the Mercedes SLS is bound to catch your imagination just like some red sports car from Italy.
The SLS AMG comes solely as a coupe. Standard features include 19-inch front/20-inch rear cast-aluminum wheels, bi-xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, power-folding mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors, headlight washers, park assist with rearview camera, leather upholstery, a microfiber suede headliner, power/heated seats with memory functions, dual-zone automatic climate control, the COMAND interface, a navigation system and a premium audio system with a six-disc CD/DVD changer, satellite radio and iPod integration.
Options include special paint colors, carbon-fiber trim (for the engine compartment, mirror housings and interior), ultra-high-performance carbon-ceramic brakes, a racetrack-tuned suspension, lightweight forged-aluminum wheels, an 11-speaker surround-sound Bang & Olufsen audio system, a steering wheel wrapped in leather and suede, and a custom-fitted indoor car cover.
A hand-built 6.2-liter V8 cranking out 563 hp and 479 pound-feet of torque comes with every Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox is the only transmission available, and it features aluminum shift paddles on the steering wheel and a choice of several modes that range from efficiency to high-performance.
As expected, performance is thrilling, as the SLS can leap to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds and fly through the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds. Mercedes-Benz says the car's top speed is 197 mph. EPA fuel mileage estimates stand at 14 mpg city/20 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, side airbags, side curtain airbags, knee airbags and Mercedes-Benz's "mbrace" emergency telematics system. As expected, the SLS's brakes are very powerful and the tires deliver very good grip, bringing the car to a stop in just 98 feet from 60 mph with a firm, consistent feel to the brake pedal action that inspires confidence. Such braking performance is truly impressive, given that only a few cars can come to a halt from 60 mph in fewer than 100 feet.
The SLS's gullwing-style doors swing upward, revealing a larger, less obstructed opening than is typical of cars with conventional doors. This advantage is offset somewhat by the wide sill that must be navigated before lowering yourself into the cockpit, and the fact that there's a long reach up to close the door.
The interior features finely stitched leather not only on the seats but also on the dash, console and doors. If you're familiar with other Mercedes products you'll recognize a fair amount of the SLS's switchgear, but the brushed metal air vents and the optional carbon-fiber accents provide a sporty touch, while the overall fit and finish is to the highest standards.
Driver space is excellent for this class of car, with a good driving position even for tall drivers. However, the front passenger will likely find legroom a bit cramped. The trunk's official capacity is just 6.2 cubic feet, but it's still enough to stow a set of golf clubs or a couple's weekend luggage.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS has the balance of a sports car, thanks to a weight distribution of 47 percent front/53 percent rear. It steers quickly into a corner like a sports car, yet has the straight-line stability of a GT car. Odds are you'll run out of talent a lot quicker than the SLS will, though some drivers might find the stability control a bit too intrusive in its default mode.
Although the suspension is on the firm side, it's still compliant enough to take the edge off of broken pavement. Thankfully, ground clearance isn't the issue it is in low-slung exotics, allowing the SLS to enter driveways or parking structures without the requisite gritted teeth and occasional scraping noises.
The potent V8 gives the SLS a proper exotic car soundtrack with its powerful and entertaining staccato beat. The versatile seven-speed transmission offers a relaxed demeanor in its "Controlled Efficiency" setting or can provide on-point response when Sport Plus mode is selected. Still, its shift response isn't as immediate and lightning-quick compared to similar transmissions from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche.
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