Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Mercedes-Benz SLS 2009 "Gullwing" is one of the coolest sports cars of all time. So named because of its unique, roof-hinged doors, the Gullwing was the Enzo of its era: stupendously fast, outrageously expensive, and styled to make an entrance. Clark Gable owned one; Andy Warhol painted one; Ava Gardner crashed one. No Mercedes sports car since, not even the Mercedes-McLaren SLR, has come close to matching the Gullwing's iconic appeal.
The SLR was a bastard-child of a supercar that neither McLaren nor Mercedes-Benz engineers truly felt was their own. McLaren's Gordon Murray, designer of championship-winning Brabham and McLaren grand prix racers, driving force behind the McLaren F1 supercar, thought the SLR overweight and overwrought; the antithesis of his personal automotive design philosophy. For their part, the Mercedes-Benz engineers were uneasy with McLaren's free-wheeling, fast-moving development culture, and skeptical of its methods. The culture-clash car that resulted was blindingly fast and supremely robust, but oddly styled and strangely uninvolving to drive.

All of which perhaps explains the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, a lightweight, high-tech, 571 hp super-coupe that represents the distilled wisdom of some of the best and the brightest engineers at the world's oldest automaker. And yes, it has gullwing doors.
From Stuttgart's point of view, the SLS AMG is meant to take care of unfinished business. The press kit suggests the car is a collaboration between AMG, and the Mercedes Technology Center (MTC) in Sindelfingen. But as AMG is Mercedes' in-house hot-shop, the distinction is moot: the SLS is pure, 100 percent Mercedes-Benz, German down to the last rivet in its aluminum space frame.

Like the SLR, the SLS is a front mid-engine coupe, with its 6.3-liter V-8 (actually, it's 6208 cc) positioned entirely behind the front axle center-line. The engine is based on the M156 V-8 from the SL63 AMG, but has been tweaked and primped sufficiently to warrant a new in-house codename -- M159. Mercedes claims over 120 parts and components have been redesigned. The most notable change, however, is a dry sump system that allows the M159 to nestle low in the frame. The engine delivers 571 hp at 6800 rpm, and 479 lb-ft at 4750 rpm. Some 402 lb-ft is available from just 2500 rpm.
The engine drives the rear wheels via AMG's new seven-speed dual clutch transmission, repackaged in a transaxle housing at the rear of the car to help deliver the SLS's 48/52 front/rear weight distribution. Engine and transmission are connected by a sand-cast aluminum torque-tube, inside which is a carbon-fiber drive shaft. The transmission offers four modes -- basic, Sport, Sport+ and Manual -- each with different shift protocols. The transmission also has a launch-control mode that allows full-commando starts with electronically controlled wheelspin to prevent the engine bogging down off the line.


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