We never thought we would see another gullwing from Mercedes after a 55-year absence, but it's here, a coupe capable of taking on almost any sports car in the world.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is the first product designed, engineered, and developed from the ground up by AMG, the high-performance division of the company, which up to now has provided engine, brake, and suspension system upgrades, but never a complete car. The new SLS AMG was a clean-sheet design, sharing only a few small interior pieces with any of the other cars in the Mercedes-Benz or Mercedes-AMG stable. The SLS AMG competes in the super sports car segment, against the Bentley Continental Supersport, Porsche 911 Turbo, Audi R8, and Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Aston Martin.
The SLS AMG is built like no other Mercedes-Benz in history, with a combination of 146 pieces of aluminum sheet, 16 castings, 46 welded extrusions, weldments, and extensive use of rivet-and-bond joints, magnesium and carbon fiber. The SLS AMG is only 4 percent steel, and every single fastener on the car is made of aluminum.
The layout is front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, with an aluminum chassis and a torque tube or spine running down the center of the car, enclosing a carbon-fiber driveshaft that spins at crankshaft speed and feeds into a rear-mounted AMG 7-speed double-clutch automatic transaxle.
The SLS AMG certainly recalls the dimensions and proportions of the 300 SL Gullwing, but it is a much bigger car, because it has to be. There were no government dictates for automobiles in 1954, but in 2011 the new Gullwing will have to meet literally dozens of mandates for European, American, Japanese, Chinese and other markets, from safety to emissions to fuel mileage.
For instance, where the original Gullwing had very simple side glass, door latches and hinges, the SLS has power locks, power mirrors and power windows, and the gullwing doors actually include pyrotechnic or explosive bolts that will literally blow the doors open in the event of a rollover accident so that occupants can get out. The SLS has to pass front, rear, side, offset, pole impact and rollover crash standards and has safety bumpers and air bags to package as well, so it had to be bigger.
Living with the new SLS AMG requires some patience and a few concessions here and there. Like the old 300 SL Gullwings, the new car isn't easy to get into, requiring caution around the raised door, a butt-first entry followed by gathering the legs in one at a time. The steering wheel on the new one doesn't flip up out of the way, but the steering column has a power tilt-and-telescope feature that you can adjust all the way in and down every time you leave it parked so that entry and exit are easier.
To drive this new Gullwing coupe is to enjoy automotive performance at the very highest level. It has incredibly quick throttle response, immense power and torque available, a unique 7-speed double-clutch automatic transmission that shifts fast and hard, a power delivery system coupled to quick, sure steering, and race-quality suspension that doesn't beat you up with its stiffness. For those who can afford this kind of beautiful supercar, the rewards will be prodigious, and the resale value should be fantastic, because there won't be many of these cars imported.