It's as tractable, as grippy, as lunge-worthy as any car we've driven short of a GT-R or a 911 Turbo--the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG just explodes from a standstill, grips as strongly as an eraser on a rubber desk pad, and stops dead now with optional, massive carbon-ceramic brakes.
The SLS' trump card isn't its accurate steering or its SL-like ride--it's the humpy AMG 6.2-liter V-8 cradled under the hood. It's Germany's big-block V-8, cranking out a hale and hearty 571 horsepower, with 479 healthy pound-feet of torque joining in the fray. Throttle-by-wire may call its shots, but the AMG engine talks back with a ripe metallic rumble that rips open into a fantastic howl near redline. There may not be a better car to plunge into long tunnels, driving up the revs and lifting off the throttle just to induce overrun in huge, juvenile doses.
A seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox tames the power, and it's smoother in actuation than when we first drove the SLS AMG two years ago. Developed by AMG, the transmission has four shift modes accessed on a console-mounted dial: Comfort, Sport, Sport +, and Manual, teamed with a RACESTART launch-control program and a standard mechanical limited-slip differential. Shifts are surely slower and mellower in Comfort mode, and everything from there is now quicker, and better-timed than in the first-year versions we've driven. Manual mode links your brain and the gearbox' controls, clipping off downshifts with just a bit of shudder, upshifting brilliantly. If you truly miss a manual transmission, the majority of SLS owners don't. The dual-clutch makes it more usable on the street, while it still executes shifts quicker than any driver on the planet.
All together, the drivetrain bits will slingshot the SLS AMG from 0-60 mph in an estimated 3.8 seconds. That's shy of the 3.0-second times generated by GT-Rs, or the 3.3-second times a 911 Turbo can turn in, but it's deeply in Corvette ZR1 territory. Top speed is a claimed 197 mph.
Startling power needs a talented suspension to deliver its goods, and the SLS delivers with an independent setup with track rods and most pieces cast in aluminum, to go with a wide track and performance tires. This year, there's also a new adjustable suspension with three modes of firmness, to go with the selectable steering, shifting and throttle programming. The SLS' very size and smart tuning of all these pieces deliver a ride that's a lot closer to something like the SL roadster than to a GT3 race car: especially in Comfort mode on RIDE CONTROL-equipped cars, the SLS has lots of vertical compliance dialed in, taking the stings off patchy city roads. It's amazingly controlled in either Sport or Sport+ mode, and still tolerable for Interstate drives at that. An AMG button lets you program in your favorite settings for instant-on driving feel tailored by you.
With huge 19-inch front and 20-inch rear tires, the SLS devours long sweepers and claws around apexes with stunning grip; it's a little too long to pivot cleanly around hairpins, but it's also steerable with the throttle, something tougher to do in an all-wheel-drive GT-R or 911 Turbo. For its astonishing grip, there's progressively heavier electric-assisted power steering, maybe the best rendering yet from Mercedes--but there's not a lot of excess weight for its size, since aluminum pieces and panels trim it down to about 3600 pounds.Want to keep tabs on all of the SLS' movements? New this year is an AMG Performance Media system that essentially puts an LCD face to your driving heroics. It translates lateral grip, acceleration, engine data and lap times into an ever-changing display that doubles as the car's navigation system when you blip out of AMG mode.