Who loves you baby? Just like Telly Savalas, you'll feel like a card-carrying member of the player's club when you're driving the Mercedes SLS. Or maybe a wealthy French playboy on his way from Nice to Monaco to place million dollar bets at the craps table. And regardless of how fast it may be, you can't escape the paparazzi when driving this car. Everywhere I went, people were whipping out their phones to snap a picture of this beauty.
But despite how nice it may look on the outside, driving it is an even better experience. With the 6.3 liter V8 burbling and popping away, and the long bow rising as you accelerate, you feel like you're at the helm of a cigarette boat for the road. And the choppy west side highway added to the illusion by making it feel as if I were motor-boating on a rough lake.
Yes, I really lucked out when I stopped by the Classic Car Club this morning and noticed that the Gullwing was still there. Being one of the newer and more popular cars, it's hard to get your hands on this one. The woman who handles the reservations confirmed that no one had booked it, and asked if I'd like for it to be washed. After having a brief out-of-body experience and pinching myself to see if I was dreaming, I think I just said "It doesn't matter". She took that as a yes, and 20 minutes later, the silver bullet was washed and ready to go.
I took my usual route up the Merritt Autobahn to the back roads of Greenwich, Connecticut and had plenty of opportunities to get a feel for the car's handling. Just as Rolls Royce used to say, "it's adequate". There's nothing you can throw at this Mercedes that it can't handle including the many bumps, potholes and road imperfections you'll find in the Northeast.
And of course, the power is incredible. I don't think I even managed to completely floor the throttle because the acceleration is so ferocious. In an era when Mercedes is strapping turbos or superchargers to nearly all of their engines, it's a nice surprise to find that this engine is naturally aspirated. There is ample torque everywhere, and though the redline is at a relatively tame 7200, you rarely get a chance to go that far on public roads. Disabling the traction control will get the tail stepping out pretty quickly and it's clear that this car is capable of extreme hooning. But being the refined and relaxed gentleman that I was today, I did not indulge (too much).
I typically put more value on performance, clutch pedals and high revving engines, but this car had me re-thinking my priorities. Whereas the Ferrari I took out on Tuesday had me laughing maniacally and constantly revving it to redline, today I was perfectly happy to just cruise at 60 mph with a contented smirk. In the real world of potholes and traffic jams, this is a super car you can enjoy every day. And while I'm sure it would be perfectly at ease power sliding around a track, you don't necessarily feel the need to engage in any tomfoolery with this car. Whereas I felt a bit strung out after my day in the 430, this car had me feeling more like Mitt Romney's hair.
The whole interior is beautifully crafted and understated despite the red leather seats. There's nothing tacky or cheap feeling here. Even the air vents turn as if they're mounted on ball bearings, so smooth is there operation. The headliner is made of rich, black suede, and everything else is covered in smooth leather or aluminum all perfectly stitched together. And I'm happy to say that I have no idea who makes the stereo for this Mercedes. Unlike many high-end cars, the SLS doesn't have Bose, Bang & Olufsen, or Harman Kardon logos scattered all over the place. Some discrete AMG logos on the seat backs and the Mercedes symbol on the steering wheel are the extent of the branding.
Despite the no-name stereo, the sound out of the speakers was excellent. The ipod hookup in the glovebox worked well, and I was soon listening to "Lovely Day" by Bill Withers. With the spring-like weather we had in New York today, it actually could have been a perfect day were it not for the traffic. But with my new-found positive attitude, I used the time to try out the out the car's "infotainment" system. The Mercedes COMMAND system resembles older versions of BMW's iDrive and can be equally annoying to use. There's a small wheel in the center console and 2 buttons: back and clear. No short-cuts to go directly to the radio, navigation or telephone menus. It took me a while to get the hang of it, and even then, it was never quite intuitive. But despite the clunky nav interface, the radio faceplate has a nice Braun calculator, minimalist look about it.
I ended up using the clunky voice command to enter an address into the navigation system. You have to say the city, state and street separately as opposed to the single sentence that some other systems allow. Siri she's not. The nav lady sounds like she could use some Xanax. She tends to end her phrases with an anxious-sounding upward inflection. And the directions themselves are a bit odd as she'll say things like "Turn right..drum roll...in 1/2 a mile".
While the car's onboard phonebook was filled with useful entries such as "Dd" and "CCc", I could not get it to sync my phone's contacts. But then, if I owned this beast, I'm sure I'd have a live personal assistant to take care of boring details such as programming the nav system or calling friends to tell them how awesome my car is.
Rounding out the electronic fun is an "AMG" menu buried in the car's computer that contains a lap timer as well as water, oil and transmission temperatures. There's also a Ferrari-like dial that allows you to easily select various modes for the transmission and throttle response. To be honest, I couldn't really tell the difference. And with so much torque, the 7 available speeds are more a way of deciding how much noise you want to make at any particular moment. An AMG button lets you save your favorite setting for quick access. On this car it had been programmed to select "Sport plus with traction control on". Probably a smart move.
I headed back into Manhattan quite low on gas. Yes, the SLS drinks faster than a Bavarian at Oktoberfest averaging somewhere around 11 mpg. But that concern was soon swept away by the constant smiles, thumbs up and waves I got. Everyone loves this car. When I finally pulled into a gas station to fill up, the gas station attendant was beaming and just kept saying "nice car man". And as I swung open the gullwing door, some teens in a Honda Civic drove by screaming and cheering. Even Kim Kardashian would be hard-pressed to get this much attention. You'd expect Manhattanites to be pretty jaded about nice cars, but nearly everyone stopped and did double takes as a I drove by. It's hard not to feel a little like you've just cured cancer.
As I pulled back into the garage, the man who greeted me asked how it was. I kept smiling and repeating superlatives and he just nodded and said "I know". Now that I've recovered enough of my faculties to use my words again, I'd say that the SLS combines the performance of a super car, the feel good factor of a classic muscle car, and the beauty and comfort of a great GT car. I'm thinking quite seriously about selling my apartment and moving into one soon.
Starting up the SLS Gullwing