Sunday, May 5, 2013

Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Review: Sydney to Brisbane road trip



One day, one car, and nearly one thousand kilometres to cover. That was the challenge at hand when a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG arrived at CarAdvice headquarters in Sydney with a plan to get to Queensland’s capital. If there’s ever been a list of first-world problems, this would top it.
The drive from Sydney to Brisbane is a mixed bag, depending on traffic, police presence, road works and natural disasters. What would generally take about five hours on European highways can take as long as 12 in Australia.
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Even when your car has ‘wings’ like the $486,320 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG ‘Gullwing’ with its distinctive upward-lifting doors, unfortunately.
Our plan was to leave Sydney around dawn, miss the traffic and get to Brisbane before the day finished.
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We didn’t want the most direct route, but the inevitable intervention of the weather gods meant flooding of the Pacific Motorway past Newcastle was diverting regular traffic to our favoured, more scenic New England Highway.
The rain proved relentless and we never managed to outrun it for the entire journey despite the SLS AMG being capable of reaching 100km/h from standstill in just 3.5 seconds thanks to its mighty 6.2-litre V8 that produces 420kW, 650Nm and a pretty epic power-to-weight ratio.
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When we think of supercars that we’d like to drive long distance, not many come to mind. Most are uncomfortable, unsuited for Australian roads with track-tuned hard suspension and generally unforgiving handling in poor weather. Thankfully then, the SLS AMG is more of a Grand Tourer with supercar performance.
The SLS won’t win any beauty contests, but its Germanic design is bold, sharp, confident and yet not outlandish. While the Italians have become obsessed with flamboyant styling of late, the Germans have aimed to create a modern incarnation of the iconic Mercedes-Benz 300SL of the 1950s that, just like its ancestor, is likely to stand the test of time.
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Ferraris and Lamborghinis may turn more heads when you’re on the move, but you’ll gain instant attention with the SLS AMG by simply stopping and opening those doors. In many ways, this is perfect: remaining inconspicuous on the road and then looking the part when it matters.
Every time we pulled over for a petrol stop (fewer times than you might imagine for this car), we entertained eager car enthusiasts who had rushed up to see the SLS. Its appearance may be relatively subtle, but the fact that only 80 Coupes and 15 Roadsters have been sold in Australia to date makes them highly exclusive.
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The gullwing doors could be seen as a gimmick, as the original only featured them as an engineering solution to the 300SL’s unusually high sills created by its high-strength tubular space frame chassis.
But even though you’re likely to bump your head the first few times you attempt to get out looking like Brad Pitt, the way in which they open and close is easy, simple, and in a way quite practical.
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We managed to park the SLS in car parks without compromise. In fact, in some cases the manner in which the doors open is an advantage over traditionally long doors of other supercars that often require lots of room on the side.
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Closing them is a little bit of a different story. If you’re not that tall or lack extra-long arms, you’ll need to either bring them down with you as you enter, or reach out of your seat to grab the handle. Once gripped, the doors are super light and close gently with limited pull.
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Given the heavy rain and filming requirements (video to come soon), the actual drive from Sydney to Brisbane took us 18 hours via the New England Highway. During this epic drive, one minor issue we noticed with the SLS AMG is its windscreen wipers. They’re simply not made to deal with torrential rain, even if the car is stable in the wet and seems to deal well with puddles of water at speed.
Behind the wheel, the SLS is not like your typical coupe. Though it’s easy to drive, in the sense that you get in, press the start button and away you go, its long bonnet and low stance makes it a unique driving proposition.
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In comfort mode the V8 is subdued and almost lazy, working nicely in tandem with the smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Move the drive selector dial to Sport or even Sport+ and the SLS becomes a different beast. The exhaust system comes alive with a sound that would scare children, the V8 barks with every downshift, and even the lightest touch on the accelerator is met with instantaneous response.
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It’s the ultimate way to burn fuel, and every litre is well and truly worth it (during our drive we averaged a very healthy 13.4L/100km, this will easily balloon out to 17L/100km in stop/start traffic).
This is no different to the character change of Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (which shares this engine in a different state of tune), but it’s just far more dramatic – and louder.
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Having driven the SLS around the Philip Island race circuit, it’s pretty obvious it’s not designed to be a track car (which is where the new SLS Black Series comes in). It’s better suited to the road, where it shines.
On long highway stretches the SLS adopts a GT mode; it’s comfortable and absorbs potholes and poor surfaces without breaking your back. Around mountainous roads with switchback turns and corners, its size is felt but is never intimidating. It just feels like a big SLK (with its roof up).
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Steering is spot on in all modes and the SLS is nicely balanced, though it does require extra attention to get the perfect entry and exit angle. It’s not a giant robot that will do the driving for you.
The stability control system only ever activated when we hit big puddles of water, and for skilled drivers it will gradually give you more freedom as you go from Comfort to Sport, Sport+ and Race mode.
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Inside, our test car was covered in gorgeous red leather with black and silver highlights on the instrument cluster, air-conditioning vents and switchgear. Carbonfibre covers the majority of the centre console while the steering wheel’s grip points are wrapped in anti-slip Alcantara.
The satellite navigation system is typical Mercedes-Benz, though it uses an older version of COMAND that doesn’t include Bluetooth audio streaming (in case you wanted to listen to anything but the exhaust sound), but does have telephone connectivity.
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There are numerous shared parts with other Mercedes-Benz models and certainly a lot of buttons on the centre console – one could say too many – but overall it’s hard to fault the interior’s quality.
Though we hardly turned it on, given we had a better soundtrack to listen to, the 1000 watts 11 speaker Bang & Olufsen BeoSound System is world class with incredible bass and clarity. It will need a new-generation adapter to work with the iPhone 5 and fifth-generation iPod (a universal problem that Bluetooth audio streaming would have solved) but once you get it going, it’s studio quality.
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Our road trip to Brisbane was more about comfort than performance, and the SLS’s seats are so outrageously comfortable I was tempted to take them out and put them in my living room. There’s heaps of support around corners yet after 18 hours of driving we got out of the car without any back or neck pain.
The car also required less than two tanks of fuel (85L) and had no issues along the way (unlike ourLamborghini Gallardo road trip in Italy in 2010 which saw the car lose power to its headlights, fuel cap and internal switchgear).
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CarAdvice will bring you a full video review of the SLS as part of our road trip to Brisbane in the near future.

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