SLS AMG “Gullwing” lands at M+Z

M+Z Motors recently unveiled the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG “Gullwing” vehicle at its state-of-the art showroom in Windhoek. To witness the occasion was President Hifikepunye Pohamba and other dignitaries and business people including CEO of Mercedes- Benz South Africa Dr Hansgeog Niefer.

With the launch, M+Z Motors becomes the first dealership in sub-Saharan Africa to launch the new sports utility vehicle at dealer level. Internationally, the car was launched in April this year and has been described as the car that says “everything about Mercedes-Benz with its bold, brutal and ballistically quick features”.

With an estimated price tag of N$2,7million, the car has become a luxurious item not meant for the faint-hearted. Although the model that was launched in Namibia was slightly cheaper than the US version, it was still on the deeper side of one’s pocket.

The two-door SLS coupe takes its historic inspiration from the 300 SL of the 1950s, but goes fully 21st century in everything from its safety package to comfort, quality and advanced materials.

It is a super sports coupe in almost every way, but promised to be just as good as a daily drive. Provided, of course, you have a bank balance that can take a half-million dollar hit. And it is so much more than just a Gullwing.

The SLS is the first road-up project for Benz’s go-fast AMG division, which was tasked with creating a flagship speed machine after the collapse of the F1-based collaboration with McLaren that created the fast-but-flawed SLR. The new coupe is officially the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, but it was to be called the Gullwing once the planning team decided to do an update on the roof-hinged door system that was also a signature for the fifties car.

This time around there is even a pyrotechnic escape plan if the car happens to go upside-down in a shunt — allowing the doors to be unhinged from the body following a crash. The Gullwing is a relatively conventional design for a super-coupe, with a front-mounted, naturally-aspirated V8 engine, two leather-wrapped seats in a cabin with a satnav-aircon-sound package, and rear-wheel drive.

According to Dr Niefer, The SLS AMG brings out the best that Mercedes Benz can offer, and is unrivalled by any car manufacturer, technology wise so far.

“Being an engineer myself with a research and development background, I cannot refrain from sharing some technical highlights of this vehicle with you,” he told guests at the launch.

“The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is affectionately known as the ‘Gullwing’. It’s naturally aspirated engine delivers an output of 420 kilowatt and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.8 seconds, before going on to an electronically limited speed of 317 km/h. The entire body structure is a unique design which weighs a mere 240 kg,” said Dr Niefer.

According to Paul Gover of the Herald Sun in Australia where it was expected to hit the market by July, the car has a transaxle gearbox below the back end, dry stumping for the engine, available ceramic brakes, and switchable settings for the seven-speed gearbox and stability program. Flat-finish paint is also available, and so are Recaro rack buckets.

The thundering exhaust note from the Gullwing signals serious speed. It’s a maximum-bass rumble that comes with splitting and popping on the over-run into corners, and a loud crack for upshifts in full manual mode.

It sets the SLS away from everything else in the class, claiming a character that is suitably masculine for a big-bore Benz. The rest of the car is similarly focussed, particularly on the road.

It turns wickedly-quick into corners, with no sign of front-end push or baulk, has great mid-turn balance, and can grip and go as soon as you pick up the throttle. The optional ceramic brakes — costing around AUD$20,000 are fade-free, do not squeak at low speeds, and give break feel and stopping power.

The seven-speed transmission can slur like an auto in traffic, or go thump-quick on upshifts if you hit the track.

“When you uncork the car on a track it responds incredibly well, particularly in 80-140km/h turns and climbs around the Laguna Seca in northern California. The torque pushes it out of any corner and it will charge quickly to 200km/h. Not that most owners will be doing that sort of driving,” writes Gover.

As a road car it feels strong, refined and suitably quick. Some people find the styling a bit clunky, and it’s definitely not as elegant as the fifties Gullwing, but the roof action is light and access is good. The boot is supercar tight and my real complaint is the space in the passenger seat. It is short of leg space, or headroom, and sometimes both. Even compared with Benz’s own SL.

Speaking of the SL, AMG is already working on an open-air SLS and promises a convertible would be just as quick and nearly as taut. The Gullwing is not a Ferrari, or even a track-scalpel car like the Lexus LFA, but it’s the sort of supercar that would be an easy daily drive.

The best comparison is probably with the Mercedes-McLaren SLR, which missed targets on both sides of the performance/liveability divide. The SLS hits them, and hard, to prove that AMG knows its customers and knows what is important to them and Mercedes-Benz. PF