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Mercedes-Benz may be riding a nostalgic wave with its heritage-tinged SLS AMG, but the gullwing and new roadster don't feel like anything from the Fifties--unless we're talking about interstellar flight.
These successors to the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing are true supercars, even better ambassadors for the AMG sub-brand than the old SLR supercar. The SLS is AMG's first complete car, each drivetrain built by a single engineer by hand, each copy capable of the kind of heroic acceleration and grip that vaults the SLS into the same rarified air as the Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo, Chevy Corvette ZR1 and Lexus LFA.
By any design yardstick, the SLS is the stunner of that select group. The gullwing rocks, visually, when the doors are open, but it's a bit thin on appeal when it's closed up and seen in profile. The roadster? It's lithe and focuses all its optical energy on everything in front of the windshield, with Silver Arrow hints in its profile and even a little of the best bullet-nosed T-Birds. The interior's lined with buttery leather, carbon-fiber trim if you must--and we recommend the Sepang brown trim, so mouthwatering they should have called it Valrhona.
The SLS AMG's admirably smooth ride and accurate, heavy steering are no match for the shock-and-awe histrionics of the AMG engine--but then again, what could be? It's 571 horsepower, thrumming and throbbing, hunting for a way out of the car through a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that's improved a lot since we first drove the gullwing two years ago. Massive 20-inch rear wheels and tires grab as much traction as they can under the circumstances, and absolutely flat cornering comes when the adjustable shocks are dialed down to their firmest setting, and when the adjustable steering, throttle and transmission shifts are dialed up to their most responsive settings. The SLS lunges from sweeper to hairpin, barking tires and raspy exhaust all the way. it's a little too long and wide to be nimble, but it's never short of thrilling--especially if you turn off the electronic helpers and skate on the wicked edge of oversteer, which it's wont to do, with its almost even weight distribution.
With most of the SLS' silhouette occupied by engine and transaxle, there's not much space left behind for passengers. The cabin's short on leg and head room, and the gullwing always reminds us of why gullwings aren't more common. Cost aside, they require taller sills, which means it's tougher to get in and out of the car--and even with hinged pieces, the SLS still has a thing for smacking its doors against the back of our heads. The trunk's tiny, and we're kind of aghast there's no custom-fitted luggage option, dyed to match the SLS's fab interior. This is how poor people live, isn't it?
With some of the big-ticket features from the true luxury Benz two-doors--COMAND infotainment controls, carbon-fiber trim and blind-spot monitors--the SLS AMG also has its own Performance Media channel. Tucked into the screens behind the navigation system, Performance Media keeps tabs on your performance driving and lays it out there graphically in real time, translating your cornering and acceleration and lap times into a PowerPoint-worthy presentation. It's one of the hooks that gives this supercar its light layer of modernity.
There's nothing dated about its performance, or its appeal. For $200,000, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG connects the dots in time between the original gullwing and today's hyperperformers--and it does it with more than the customary panache.