It may be one of the fastest, most expensive and most exclusive cars on the road, but none of that really matters to the people you meet when you’re driving a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: all they really want to talk about is its doors.
Designed by Briton Mark Fetherston, the SLS pays homage to its famous forebear, the Mercedes 300SL of the 1950s, by sharing that car’s most famous feature – its upward-opening gull-wing doors. When both doors are open their shape mimics the curves of a bird’s wings – hence the name – and they make every arrival in the SLS an occasion. But they’re not entirely for show, because low sports cars need wide doors to make entry and exit easy, and wide doors are difficult to open in confined spaces. The gull-wings make better use of space, though parking barriers and toll booths can be a problem, and until you’re used to the doors it’s all too easy to bash your head on one while getting in or out.
Inside, there’s space enough for two in the leather-swathed cabin, but oddments space is limited (and the boot isn’t large, either). There’s little to distinguish the interior of the SLS from that of any other high-end Merc. For a car with a £170k price tag, the interior is a bit ordinary.
But punch the engine start button on the centre console and you’re quickly aware that this car is anything but ordinary. The front-mounted 6208cc V8 engine erupts into life with a hard-edged growl that underlines the motor’s potential: there’s 563bhp available, delivered through a slick seven-speed twin-clutch transmission to the rear wheels. That’s enough to propel the SLS from rest to 62mph in 3.8 seconds, and give it a top speed of 197mph. The performance is kept in check by enormous brakes, the optional carbon ceramic discs on our test car providing fade-free stopping at the expense of slightly uneven response at very low speed.
Thanks to the sheer efficiency of the hand-built motor – and the clever control strategy of the gearbox in automatic mode – the SLS managed 22mpg during our test, a creditable result for such a rapid machine. Add in direct steering and a well-composed ride and this is a highly accomplished grand touring car that’s easy to drive and to live with – and thanks to those doors, it turns heads wherever it goes.