There’s no concrete definition of a supercar, but to me the term conjures Carrera GTs and Bugattis and McLarens—kings of the jungle, with massive horsepower, a top speed measured in Mach and a price high enough to thwart the hoi polloi from ever laying sight on so much as a key. There are still cars that fit that mold, but Mercedes-Benz is one company that actually dared to dial back the outrageousness of its flagship two-seater.
Compared to the old SLR McLaren, the Mercedes SLS AMG GT has less power, a lower top speed and not even half the sticker price ($199,500 before destination charge—why, that’s not even $200,000!). In any given rolling drag race, an SL63 AMG might smoke it. There was never any doubt about the primacy of the SLR McLaren. The SLS is a different proposition.
For 2013, the SLS AMG gains the “GT” badge, which denotes 20 extra horsepower (for 583) and some fine-tuning of the transmission and suspension. And while 583 hp is not a pittance, it’s still barely more than you get with a Chevy Camaro ZL1 and significantly less than that of a Ford Shelby GT500. The 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds is impressive but not uncommon. Top speed is electronically limited to 197 mph, which makes me drastically curious to know what happens at 198.
Lofty though its numbers may be, this isn’t really a car that’s intended to claim the boldface stats on a performance chart. What it is, then, is a car designed to provide a particular experience, a sense of occasion that’s missing from everyday transportation—even the likes of hellacious fast hotrods like the AMG-fettled SLs.
The SLS has a hood that’s literally five feet long. Its chassis is aluminum and built by AMG. The dry-sump 6.2-liter V-8 is a high-revving, thunderclap-belching hand-built thoroughbred. The seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle is shared with no other Mercedes. And of course, there are those doors. The roadster is a fine piece of work, but I’d take the coupe just to get those gratuitously flashy and complex doors. I don’t know about you, but I like to feel like I’m opening the hatch to a lunar landing module every time I step onto a Target parking lot.
Any doubt about the SLS’ place in the Benz hierarchy is quickly dispelled at the track. Nothing with a three-pointed star on the grille can hang with this thing on a road course, and I suspect that assertion would also include the late SLR McLaren. You feel like you’re sitting on the back axle, which instills confidence on a road course like Streets of Willow. You always know what the rear end of the car is doing when it’s just behind your back pockets.
With its beautiful balance and linear, naturally aspirated power delivery, the GT is also great fun on the skidpad. I won’t ruin the suspense of what happened there, but let’s say that even run-flat tires have their limits. But while you’re sitting there waiting for roadside assistance to bring you a new set of 295/30/20s, you can gaze upon AMG’s first in-house creation and know you’re looking at a supercar.