What's New for 2012
A new roadster body style arrives for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, joining the coupe that debuted last year. The SLS is pretty much unchanged otherwise, though there's now a standard blind-spot monitoring system plus new options that include onboard performance telemetry, an adaptive suspension system and piano-black interior trim.
Exotic supercars are demanding. Most require higher levels of attention while driving and compromises in regard to comfort and practicality. But such is not the case with the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, a relative newcomer that delivers stunning performance without the typical supercar drawbacks.
The SLS is 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 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 norm.
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 engine in 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.
Adding to the appeal of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is this year's new soft-top roadster body variant. Naturally, the signature gullwing doors had to be discarded in favor of conventionally hinged openings, but the car's overarching spirit was left blissfully intact. It's also worth noting that the convertible top deploys/stows in a very quick 11 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 30 mph.
With a price tag of under $200,000, the SLS represents a relative bargain among supercars. Among these, the hot-blooded 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia and Lamborghini Gallardo still embody Italy's passion for motoring. Elsewhere from Europe, there's the 2012 Audi R8 and 2012 McLaren MP4-12C. As there's no loser in this bunch, choosing one will come down to personal preference.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is offered in both coupe (Gullwing) and roadster body styles. Standard features include 19-inch front/20-inch rear alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, power-folding mirrors, a blind-spot monitoring system, auto-dimming mirrors, rear park assist, a 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 six-speaker sound system with a CD changer, satellite radio and iPod integration. The SLS AMG roadster features a three-layer power-folding soft top, a removable wind deflector and Mercedes' AirScarf passenger-warming feature.
SLS AMG options include different wheels, carbon-ceramic brakes, adaptive suspension dampers, even more performance-oriented suspension tuning, special exterior and interior trim, AMG Performance Media (onboard telemetry that measures performance data and lap times), an 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system and a steering wheel wrapped in leather and faux suede.
Powertrains and Performance
Powering every 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is a hand-built 6.2-liter V8 that produces 563 hp and 479 pound-feet of torque. 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; in Edmunds testing, the SLS leapt to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds. 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 (coupe only), knee airbags, blind-spot monitoring 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. Such braking performance is truly impressive, given that only a few cars can come to a halt from 60 mph in less than 100 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
The SLS coupe'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 you can lower yourself into the cockpit, and the fact that there's a long reach up to close the door. The SLS Roadster features conventionally hinged doors.
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 Coupe's official trunk capacity is just 6.2 cubic feet (6.1 cubes for the Roadster), but it's still enough to stow a set of golf clubs or a couple's weekend luggage.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG 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 most 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 lightning-quick as similar transmissions from Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche.