With the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG set to arrive in dealerships around May of 2010, those desiring a new Mercedes sports car with a measure of exclusivity not possible with the popular SL-Class will have their wish granted.
Despite its name, the SLS AMG is not some special version of an SL retractable-hardtop roadster, but rather a unique sports car wholly designed and built by Mercedes' AMG high-performance division. Inspired by the 300SL Gullwing sports car of the mid-1950s, the new SLS shares that icon's long hood, short deck proportions and upward-opening doors.
The gullwing doors allow easy access to the car's interior. The cabin is instantly recognizable as something from Mercedes, but the sporting quotient has been upped with handsomely stitched upholstery, racing-style bucket seats and carbon-fiber accents. Of course, there are plenty of luxury features as well, including a superb Bang and Olufsen audio system.
Behind the classic grille is a hand-built, naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8. The latter is a tweaked, dry-sump version of the V8 in the SL63 (and other AMG Benz models) that cranks out 563 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. A seven-speed automated dual-clutch manual transaxle (the first for a Mercedes-Benz) that sends the power to the rear wheels is the sole transmission choice.
The SLS is about 4 inches longer and nearly 5 inches wider than an SL63 AMG, yet weighs 700 fewer pounds. Those properties, along with the V8's prodigious output, give the SLS noticeably sharper performance overall. All this helps to further differentiate the SLS from the SL63 Â? the former is a true sports car, while the SL63 -- though capable -- is more of a grand touring car.
Though we have yet to fully test the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, we did have the opportunity to briefly drive one on a racetrack. We found the SLS's performance to be quite impressive, highlighted by potent acceleration, precise steering and well-balanced handling. Mercedes estimates the car can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds.
Check back later for a full review of the SLS with additional driving impressions and buying advice.