2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: San Francisco and Back in 32 Hours
June 10, 2013
"The FR-S has to go to the track, so you can't take it on your trip. The only car available is the SLS."
So read the e-mail, and I can't exactly say it's the most crushing news I've ever received. True, I did declare that the SLS wasn't the ideal road trip car for me, and my journey to San Francisco and back within 32 hours would be a significantly longer haul than the relatively paltry hop, skip and jump down to San Diego that inspired that declaration. But hey, when would I ever again be able to take such a journey in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster? "Never" is most likely the answer, and away I went.
Originally, the plan was to take the more scenic California 101 to San Francisco, but given I needed to be at AT&T Park for a 7:15 p.m. first pitch between the Giants and Blue Jays, it seemed prudent to take I-5 for most of the journey and then cut across CA 152 to the 101 briefly and then I-280 into town.
To alleviate the cramped cabin that grew tiresome on my previous journey, I pulled out the driver floor mat to give myself a precious centimeter or two of extra legroom. More importantly, lighter traffic made it possible to use cruise control for much of the entire trip, allowing me to stretch out. Spacious the SLS shall never be, but it didn't feel like the V8-powered coffin I feared.
Once settled, I found it wasn't as loud as I remembered and quickly grew to appreciate the SLS's family genes. The same excellent controls you find in other Benzes are also there in the SLS. No sea of incomprehensible Porsche buttons, no aftermarket parts bin Aston Martin nonsense, no borrowed-from-Bentley Volkswagen touchscreen. If it wasn't for the constant stares, warbling exhaust and Batmobile view out, you're basically in any other Mercedes. Maybe some would think that makes it less special, but I say it makes it actually usable.
The decision to take the shorter route proved to be a wise one, as it deposited me quite perfectly at around 5:30 p.m. on my friend's quintessentially San Francisco street. Providing wonderful views of the Transamerica building in one direction and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in another, it's also hilariously steep. This presented a challenge when parking the low-slung and long-nosed SLS in my friend's garage.
As the photo above shows, adding to the degree of difficulty was a garage entrance that did not line up with the narrow driveway ramp and a rather perplexingly placed fire hydrant. A mail truck parked on the left made the scenario almost laughable, but with a spotter, a bit of care and only a smidgen of truly unavoidable nose scraping, the SLS was tucked safely away for the evening while we walked to the palace that is AT&T Park to watch my Blue Jays once again lose.
I stopped there the next morning to take a photo and was once again back on the road. In total, I would only be in San Francisco an hour longer than I was in the SLS. And even then, I was sleeping for much of the stay.
This time, I kept going on the 101 after I-280, enjoying both highways' scenic beauty and sweeping curves. The drive between Paso Robles and Santa Barbara is truly one of my favorites, and with the SLS's abundant power, it made it so much easier to make my way around left lane hogs doing their damndest to ruin my carefree drive. Just plant my foot, relish the bwaaaaaaaa! bellowing forth from the exhaust and suddenly I'm going 90. That purple PT Cruiser and its flock of tailgating sheep I was once a member of are now in my rearview mirror and cruise is once again set at speed limit +9. Power really is an absolute necessity on a road trip.
It was less so during my final 45 minutes stuck in abysmal West Los Angeles traffic, which proved to be the downside of taking the 101. As I eventually pulled into my own, far more accessible garage, I was frankly rather happy to be out of the car. Part of that is driving for 15 out of 32 hours, and part is indeed being folded into a space not large enough for me. Now, would I have been more comfortable in the Lexus GS, Mazda CX-5, or heck, even the Scion FR-S and its greater legroom? Oh yes, without question. But there's no way in hell I would remember that trip so vividly.
The Mercedes SLS made the drive as much of the event as the baseball game. It certainly turned out better.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 25,770 miles