What is the Mercedes SLS AMG?
On one level, this beauty is a homage to that most famous Mercedes of all, the 1954 300SL, which first provided the gullwing door concept seen on coupé versions of the SLS. On another, it’s a tool Mercedes designed to grab its brand and haul it even further upmarket. Either way, it’s the first car wholly designed and engineered by the German car maker’s high-performance AMG division and is Mercedes’ way of saying to BMW and Audi – hell, even Ferrari – that no brand is safe from it. It comes in coupé and convertible versions, with variants including an even quicker Black Series edition, an all-electric model (SLS AMG Electric Drive – see separate review) and the end-of-line Final Edition 591. SLS AMG GT models get an extra 20bhp, a sharpened-up throttle and transmission tweaks.
For all its apparent sophistication, at its heart the SLS is an old-school bruiser. It has a spaceframe chassis with aluminium bodywork, a large, normally aspirated V8 up front and a transaxle gearbox behind — classic stuff. That engine is the same 6.2-litre job used in many more prosaic AMG models, but dry-sumped and turned all the way up to 11 – or, to be precise, 563bhp in the ‘standard’ variant – driving through a seven-speed paddle-shift transmission.
The result is fabulously fast, but it is the way performance is delivered that’s worthy of special mention. This is not a machine that, like the Ferrari 458 and Lambo Gallardo, needs revs, and lots of them, to work properly; like some old American muscle car, the SLS requires no stronger hint than the twitch of a toe to explode up the road, its growling V8 tearing chunks out of your eardrums.
It’s a shame, then, that the SLS’s chassis fails to reach similarly high standards. The ride is firm enough to suggest the car’s not sure whether it’s a GT or a sports car, and while grip levels are amazing for a front-engined machine, only skilled hands should start testing its limits. A pussycat it ain’t.
The fabulous doors are reason enough not to spend the extra on the well-engineered but less visually arresting convertible; the cabin, however, is merely adequate given the money involved. It all works as well as you’d expect from Mercedes, but, inside, the SLS is little different from lesser models in the range. Yes, there are swathes of stitched leather and AMG badges adorning most surfaces, but the instrument binnacles, gearlever and centre console are lifted directly from other AMG models. If only Mercedes had spent as long on the inside of its flagship as the outside. Legroom for tall drivers is also limited.
The coupé’s gullwing doors demand some patience and tolerance, too — even taller drivers could have problems reaching up and pulling them shut once strapped into the low-slung cockpit. Its 176-litre boot’s not bad, though owners report that it does get hot because of its position over the exhaust, so be careful what you put in there; selecting Comfort mode for the suspension helps for long-distance travel.
What to look out for when buying a used Mercedes SLS AMG
The SLS has sold in small numbers and hasn’t shown up in the main British reliability surveys, but so far feedback suggests that it’s solid. The transmission is the same basic Getrag gearbox as in the Ferrari 458 and California, which have had problems, but it is differently set up and there are no reports of concerns as yet.
Mercedes’ general record for reliability and customer service has not been great in recent years, though it appears to be doing better again and its ratings in customer satisfaction surveys have begun to improve once more. Check that all the complex software and electronic control systems appear to be working well, look out for damage or premature wear that may have been caused by overenthusiastic track-day use, budget for specialist or main dealer maintenance and buy only with a complete service history.
Additional reporting by Farah Alkhalisi
The one to buy
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG coupé
- 6208cc, V8
- 563bhp @ 6800rpm
- 479 lb ft @ 4750rpm
- 7-speed dual-clutch semi-auto
- 0-62mph in 3.8sec
- Top speed:
- 21.4mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4638mm, W 1939mm, H 1252mm
Mercedes SLS AMG rivals
Aston Martin DBS (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Bentley Continental Supersports (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Lamborghini Murcielago (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Ferrari 599 GTB (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)
Porsche 911 Turbo S (click here for used prices on driving.co.uk)