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First look: Mercedes-Benz bares all with the SLS AMG

Gullwing returns: The Mercedes-Benz SLS super-coupe harks back to the 1950s 300SL with its upswinging doors.

All-new Mercedes super-coupe emerges in full ahead of Frankfurt world debut

11 Sep 2009

A MATTER of hours after McLaren Automotive unveiled the first photographs and official details of its marvellous MP4-12C coupe, Mercedes-Benz has returned fire with a full range of images and further details on the SLS AMG – the supercar that serves as a replacement for the million-dollar SLR built in collaboration with, yes, McLaren.

Not since the 300SL of the 1950s has Mercedes-Benz produced a model with roof-hinged ‘gullwing’ doors – and never before, in four decades of turning out high-performance hero cars, has the Mercedes-AMG division developed a vehicle from scratch in-house.

The fact that McLaren and Mercedes are now competitors has made the world debut of their respective all-new super-coupes, which occurs at the Frankfurt motor show next week, one of the most anticipated automotive events of the new millennium.

Both are expected to be priced from around half a million dollars when Australian sales commence, although for McLaren this will not occur until at least 2011. The SLS, on the other hand, enters production in the coming months and will arrive in Australia in June 2010.

Both coupes with also rival a host of formidable competitors, both new and established, including the Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche 911 Turbo – two superheroes also set to make their international debut in Frankfurt next week.

4 center imageWith the SLS, Mercedes has conducted an agonising teaser campaign in which it released provisional specifications and now fewer more than 50 official photographs of the car in March, albeit in disguise while conducting final hot- and cold-weather testing.

Interior shots emerged soon after, then eight weeks ago the German manufacturer revealed that it was “well advanced” in the development of a plug-in electric version of the SLS, further details of which remain undisclosed.

The protracted pre-launch campaign was enough for five Australians to place orders for the SLS sight-unseen. And now that it has emerged, those orders – which are certain now to increase and will draw from Australia’s initial allocation of 50 vehicles – look to have been well placed.

Daimler chairman and Mercedes-Benz Cars chief Dieter Zetsche describes it thus: “With the new SLS AMG, Mercedes-Benz is presenting a fascinating super-sportscar that will quicken the pulse of any car fan. The SLS AMG bolsters both the Mercedes-Benz and AMG brands equally, and will surely become one of the most alluring sportscars of our time.” The aims and intentions of Mercedes-AMG chairman Volker Mornhinweg are also clear: “It is more than just the exclusive gullwing doors that make the design of the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG so special. Our aim with this interpretation is to create the classic car of the future and put the most beautiful sportscar of the 21st century on the road.

“Another of our goals is to create a new design icon that, like other Mercedes-Benz models such as the CLS and the SL, will help shape future models of the Mercedes-Benz brand. At the same time, the new SLS is a harbinger of the design philosophy of future Mercedes-Benz sportscars.” As for the Australian response, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific senior manager of corporate communications, David McCarthy, had this comment on Australia’s first batch: “We don’t think that’s going to be enough.” There are good reasons for this. Emotive gullwing doors, Mercedes’ first-ever aluminium space-frame body, a dry-sump 420kW 6.2-litre AMG V8, seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual gearbox (another Benz first) in a Ferrari-style rear-mounted transaxle, 47:53 front/rear weight distribution for the front/mid-engine chassis layout, aluminium double-wishbone suspension, provisional 0-100km/h acceleration of 3.8 seconds … Those technical details, and more, which GoAuto has described in detail in previous reports, were issued months before to leave us to concentrate on the distinctive “purist” design that has now emerged and which reinterprets the 300SL – considered one of the most recognised cars from the star-spangled brand, ever.

Mercedes is quick to point to the SLS’s two-metre-long bonnet, low-set cabin, short rear end, its long wheelbase, wide track and large wheels.

Specifics? The wheelbase measures 2680mm, the track 1682mm/1653mm front/rear, the wheels 9.5J x 19 at the front, 11J x 20 at the rear, wrapped in 265/35 R19 rubber at the front and 295/30 R20 astern. Three light alloy wheel designs are available, all providing a view of the AMG high-performance composite disc brakes, internally ventilated and perforated at each end.

Overall length is 4638mm, width 1939mm and height 1262mm.

According to Mercedes, the mechanical configuration above all else determined the proportions of the all-new SLS – and to emphasise the point it refers to the low-slung, front/mid engine mounted well back, and the transaxle incorporating the AMG Speedshift DCT.

While the gullwing doors hark straight back to the 300SL, the classic Benz was also a reference tool for the wide grille with prominent silver star and wing-like fin.

The designers also note the 3D sculptured nose with low V-shaped front skirt with lateral indentations, the six large air intakes and the wide-set vertical headlights with “intriguing internals” – the latter referring to central bi-Xenon low-beam lamps with metallic wing elements that are framed by LED indicators above and LED daytime running lights below.

Aircraft themes run across the SLS, with the cone in profile meant to resemble the air intake of a jet engine and the curvature of the long bonnet – further emphasised by four ‘silver shadow’ fins – also echoing aircraft design.

There is a misleading ‘6.3’ badge for the 6208cc SLS on the flanks alongside the air outlets, which is also the position where a bold character line and lower convex indentation kick in. The cockpit has a high waistline, low side windows and a steep windscreen, while the B-pillar tilts toward the front and transitions to the rear window with what Benz describes as an “elegant curve” that “gives the impression of pure dynamics”.

The SLS has a pronounced shoulder extending from front to rear and aims to look like a taut muscle, flowing at the rear end into flat, wing-shaped tail-lights that are designed to give the sportscar a wide appearance.

Motor racing references come to the fore here, such as the F1-style LED foglamp treatment, black diffuser insert and chrome tailpipe baffles of the sports exhaust. The rear skirt has sharp indentations to allow a clear view to the wide rear tyres, while the spoiler integrated into the boot lid extends automatically at 120km/h for extra stability. Boot volume is 176 litres.

The seats are positioned 269mm above the bitumen, but Mercedes promises that the wide-opening gullwing doors – which swing open up to 70 degrees – ensure effortless entry and exit. The cabin, which GoAuto described in detail back in April, was designed to impart a spacious feeling for the two occupants and will come with a fair whack of features that befit the circa-$500,000 pricetag.

Mercedes-Benz Australia has this week advised that these should include the Comand multi-media unit and central controller, ‘Designo’ leather interior appointments, an electronic park brake, Headlamp Assist, Keyless Go, Parktronic, heated sports seats, brushed stainless-steel sports pedals, cruise control (with Speedtronic), a comprehensive alarm and Thermotronic climate-control air-conditioning.

Having said that, optional extras will include a six-disc CD changer and electric seat adjustment – surprising additions for a car of this magnitude – plus a Bang & Olufsen BeoSound AMG surround-sound stereo, an even more substantial alarm system (with tow-away and interior protection) and unique one- and two-tone Designo leather trim.

The AMG Performance Studio will offer a number of customisation features, including carbon wing mirrors, carbon bonnet, carbon ornamental trim for the cabin, a more comprehensive interior carbon package (which extends to side panels for backrests and seats, and door sills), performance chassis tuning, forged 10-spoke wheels, sports bucket seats and a performance sports steering wheel covered with a leather/Alcantara combo.

The SLS will be available in nine colours, including two matte finishes (“designo magno Allanite Grey” and “AMG magno Sylvanite Grey) and a unique “AMG Alubeam silver” paintwork, which according to Mercedes shines like liquid metal – something no other car manufacturer has managed before.

The car will be built at Mercedes’ Sindelfingen plant, where Mercedes Technology Centre (MTC) technicians developed it, with pre-assembly taking place at German vehicle specialist Magna Steyr.

As GoAuto has reported, a soft-topped convertible version is also under development and is likely to wear an SLC badge when it surfaces in 2012 – the same year the next-generation SL is due to appear, wearing SLS styling cues and riding on a variation of its all-alloy body and chassis.

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