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Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

by Drew Johnson

The \"gentleman\'s racer\" version Mercedes-Benz\'s gullwinged supercar is put to the test.

Mercedes-Benz may have been a bit tardy to the supercar party but, as they say, better late than never.

Introduced in 2009 as the SLS AMG, Mercedes-Benz has added two extra letters and 20 extra horsepower to its supercar to create the SLS AMG GT for 2013. And more, in this case, is a very good thing.

What is it?

Introduced as a reincarnation of Mercedes-Benz' iconic 300SL, the SLS is the first-ever vehicle to be completely designed by Mercedes' in-house AMG performance division. Although still in its first generation, the 2013 SLS has been graced with enough updates to earn a new GT tag (think of it as the SLS 2.0).

Although most Mercedes vehicles are typically noted for their civility, the SLS is somewhat of a wild child, boasting the world's most powerful naturally-aspirated V8, outrageous proportions and look-at-me gullwing doors. The SLS AMG GT is a bonafide supercar, albeit with a greater emphasis on brute force than overall athleticism.

What's it up against?

Playboys with enough cash to buy the SLS AMG GT will have their veritable pick of the litter, but other cars vying for the SLS' spot in the garage include the Aston Martin Vanquish, Audi R8 V10 and Lamborghini Gallardo. Although not as polished as the SLS, the SRT Viper is probably closest to Mercedes' supercar in terms of overall attitude.

What does it look like?

Long, low and wide, the SLS looks like a combination of a modern SL and a classic 300SL.

In supercar terms, the exterior design of the SLS isn't overly outrageous - it doesn't have any of the flamboyant cues of a Lamborghini or a Pagani, and the SLS' rear spoiler even tucks away sensibly when not in use. From straight on, those less in the know might even mistake the SLS for a run of the mill SL.

However, stand to the side and some of the SLS' absurdity starts to come into focus. The hood is long enough to land a small plane on, which is only exaggerated by the car's short passenger compartment and compact rear deck lid. Open the SLS' gullwing doors and you'll be sure to attract attention in any parking lot.

Out back the SLS' styling is once again somewhat subdued, featuring handsome taillights and modest dual exhaust outlets.

Overall, we like the SLS's gentleman racer looks, particularly in our tester's matte gray paint. The SLS AMG GT doesn't quite turn heads like some cars in its price category (that is, unless you are getting into or out of the car) but it features enough unique cues to keep the overall design interesting while paying homage to the original 300SL.

And on the inside?

If the S-Class was a sports car, it would have the SLS' interior.

Although the SLS' dash and center stack may look familiar to anyone that's driven a modern Mercedes, there is nothing common about the materials and fit and finish of the car's cabin. Seemingly every inch of the SLS' cockpit if covered in soft leather with hand stitching.

Our particular test car was done up in a unique red and tan two-tone - which is part of Mercedes' designo STYLE Interior Package -- but we'd probably opt for another palette if we were buying our own SLS (hey, we can dream, right?). However, our tester's quilted leather was quite striking.

The SLS' radio and HVAC control panels have clear familial ties to the rest of Mercedes' lineup, but the car's console lets you know you are behind the wheel of something special. Nestled in the console are a series of angled buttons that control the SLS' performance settings. The knob responsible for toggling between the SLS' Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Manual settings sits comfortably at an arm's reach, making it easy to change the car's attitude whenever the mood strikes.

Move on down the line and you'll find a button marked 'AMG.' Pressing that button access Mercedes' AMG Performance Media, which can keep track of your 0-60 time or tell you just what percentage of the car's power you're using.

The SLS' shifter is a nice styling touch, but is somewhat annoying to use in practice. The lever must be pulled down to shift into neutral, and then bumped either up or down to grab reverse or drive. To put the SLS in park, you simply push the 'P' button near the base of the shifter.

The SLS AMG's large tachometer is easy to read, but the car's optimistic speedometer is a little more difficult to use during around town driving. Thanks to a top mark of 240 mph, the numbers around the dial can seem a little scrunched, so we found ourselves using the center mounted LCD screen to keep tabs on our speed.

For those wondering, the bar between the SLS' turn signal acts as a shift light indicator when the car is switched to manual mode.

Although expensive at $6,400, we found that our car's optional Bang & Olufsen audio system added a welcomes dash of opulence to the SLS' interior. The system gets even better looking at night when LEDs illuminated the dash-mounted speakers.

It's hard to ding the SLS' interior appointments, but we did have one petty gripe about the location of the air vents. When pointed at the driver, the vents blow directly at 10 and 2, so your hands freeze while the rest of you stays hot. The SLS doesn't have cooled seats, either. First world problems, we know.

But does it go?

The main draw of the SLS AMG GT is its 6.2-liter V8, which has been upgraded from 563 horsepower to 583 horsepower.

The SLS AMG GT accelerates like nothing else we have ever driven - Mercedes says it can go from 0-60 in just 3.6 seconds - but driving the SLS around town is probably a lot like how Superman feels when posing as Clark Kent. We kept wanting to exploit the SLS' super powers, but found it nearly impossible to do so (at least responsibly) on public roads. Still, during the handful of times we pointed the SLS down a desolate country road, the car's power, along with its out-of-this-world exhaust note, was nothing short of extraordinary.

Our tester wasn't fitted with Mercedes' optional carbon ceramic disc brakes, but the SLS' standard anchors did an excellent job of scrubbing off speed and never felt grabby during daily driving.

There are some cars that drive much smaller than their dimensions might suggest, but the SLS AMG GT is not one of those vehicles. The first thing you notice once you climb behind the wheel of the SLS - almost quite literally thanks to thicker rocker panels and a narrow opening -- is the vastness of its hood, which stretches six-feet (!) in front of you. The SLS is also extremely wide, coming in just a couple of inches narrower than a full-size pickup truck.

That being said, the SLS isn't overly difficult to drive - especially by supercar standards - it just takes some getting used to. Just be careful when parking that long nose head first.

Rear visibility isn't great thanks to thick B-pillars, but the SLS comes with with blind spot monitors, parking sensors and a rear-view camera.

In Comfort mode, the SLS' seven-speed dual clutch gearbox closely replicates a torque converter slushbox, with only a hint of hesitation when moving from a complete stop. Move the dial to Sport or Sport+ and gear changes come fast and hard. We used the Manual mode during most of our time with the SLS - mainly to control that awesome exhaust note - and found the shifts to be much quicker than the original SLS AMG, which would seemingly take seconds to respond.

The SLS has two suspension settings -- firm and rock hard. Although the base setting is certainly stiff, it's not uncomfortable unless you come across a particularly pimply stretch of tarmac. We found the SLS' racier suspension to be a little too jarring for the roads of the real world, but imagine it would be fantastic on a race track.

Tire noise is an issue for the SLS, but that can be easily drowned out with a stab of the gas pedal.

We weren't able to test the SLS' outer performance limits - that whole Clark Kent thing - but the AMG-tuned machine exhibits excellent steering response and virtually no body roll. We could imagine the SLS being a little hairy at the limit, though, given its raucous nature.

MG's bottom line

More of an exotic muscle car than a light-footed supercar, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT is a rare offering in the automotive world. Whereas most sports car are focused on finesse and fast lap times, the SLS is all about being loud, showing off and having fun.

And that theater is what we love. The SLS may be over-the-top, but that absurdity is what makes it great.

2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT Coupe base price, $199,500. As tested, $225,255.

designo Magno Grey paint, $3,950; Carbon Fiber Engine Compartment Covers, $5,400; SLS GT designo STYLE Interior Package, $4,500; AMG Performance Media, $2,500, Bang & Olufsen 1,000 Watt Sound System, $6,400; Destination, $905; Gas Guzzler Tax, $2,100.

Photos by Drew Johnson.

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