2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black, punching back: Motoramic Drives

Alex Lloyd

Some cars, like the Shelby Mustang GT500, remind me of Mike Tyson; they aren’t the most agile, but if they land their famed hook, you’re out for the count. Others, like the McLaren MP4-12C, are light, precise and nimble, like Floyd Mayweather. Then you have those that lie in the middle; they pack the punch of a heavyweight, but maintain speed and agility like a welterweight. Which is to say the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series fights like Muhammad Ali.

When you see a Mercedes with the AMG logo on the back, you know speed and aggression are of utmost importance. But when you see the words AMG Black Series, those characteristics are taken to the extreme. Like a hand-forged Samurai sword, the Black Series is designed to be sharp, precise, uncompromising and, above all, deadly. It’s the ultimate in AMG performance, taking racecar engineering onto the road.

The SLS is Mercedes’ flagship supercar; it’s brutally fast and sounds like Daboll’s foghorn. Something, however, has never quite gelled, as even the SLS AMG GT feels somewhat lethargic on-track. When AMG applied its Black Series magic to the Mercedes C63 AMG, it turned a wonderful car into a blazing, raucous animal. It’s brilliant, which means for the SLS Black Series, expectations are high.

On paper, things aren’t too dissimilar. The 6.3-liter V8 engine has been uprated to produce 622 hp (a 39-hp jump over the GT) but the 468 lb. ft of torque shows a loss of 11. Zero to 60 mph is a tenth faster than the GT at 3.5 seconds, but top speed is 1 mph less at 196.

All that, however, is somewhat irrelevant. It’s not like the SLS AMG GT needs more power, after all. What it does need is more refinement, making the following enhancements far more relevant.

Redline on the motor has been raised from 7,200 to 8,000 rpm, and gearing for the seven-speed dual clutch transmission has been shortened to optimize on-track performance, as well as being lowered 0.4 inches to improve the center of gravity. Carbon-fiber exterior mirrors, engine cover, drive shaft, and torque tube, as well as a lithium-ion battery and titanium sport exhaust shed 154 lbs., making the total curb weight 3,417 lbs.

A new electronically controlled rear-axle differential replaces the mechanical variant, allowing a variable locking effect under acceleration and deceleration, and the two-mode adaptive performance suspension has a tauter setup. Track width is increased by 0.8/0.9 inches front/rear, and lightweight wheels save weight while adding rigidity. Those wheels are fitted with larger Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, as well as slotting around oversized two-piece carbon-ceramic brakes.

Taking cues from the SLS AMG GT3 racecar, the SLS Black is the most aggressive looking of the production SLS variants. It boasts flared fenders, tinted headlamps with black surrounds, and optimized front, rear and side skirts, as well as rear diffuser. An enlarged air intake improves cooling as well as increasing downforce, while selecting the aerodynamic package adds an adjustable carbon-fiber rear wing and carbon-fiber flicks on the skirts, again, drastically improving downforce.

The interior is not bare, as one might imagine, but is exquisitely detailed and aggressive. Carbon-fiber mixes with Alcantara to create a setting worthy of the estimated $250,000 price tag, and it even comes with a multimedia system (which track hounds can delete to save an additional 13 lbs. of weight).

The driving position is perfect and outward vision is surprisingly adequate. The tight sports seats provide excellent support and headroom is plenty when wearing a helmet. The whole car feels as expensive as a Mercedes should; in no way do you feel short-changed.

Taking to the track, any complaints that the SLS AMG GT is lethargic are immediately squashed. This is a thoroughbred racecar, a precision instrument carving the twisty course meticulously. The platform feels stable and planted, like an F-16 fighter-jet evading missile lock. The steering is responsive and receptive to subtle movements – although a little more weight would be preferable. The brakes stop as if in a head-on collision with a bulldozer, and gear changes are lightning fast and smooth.

Longer bends provide a hint of understeer, but a slight dab on the brake sets the front, rotating the rear to allow for increased throttle application. At high speed, the car is brilliantly balanced, evoking confidence to push further into the depths of possibility. This is in part due to the driver sitting over the rear axle, making you feel more in-tune with the car’s movements. While certainly agile, it’s not as light and precise as a McLaren, but perhaps that makes it more flavorful.

If I have any complaint, it would be traction out of the tighter bends. If you are not smooth and sensitive with the throttle, the rear snaps costing precious tenths of a second. Despite this, the car never feels uncontrollable or vicious. The power is seamless and aggressive throughout the range, and its booming V-8 bellows in a gloriously hostile manner.

Following legendary German racer, Bernd Schneider, we embarked on a short run maximizing every ounce of the car’s performance. Being a former racecar driver, I know what I like from a track car. The SLS AMG Black Series ticked every box, and Bernd and I had an epic battle of tire-smoke, drifting, and triple-digit speeds.

I expected this crazy, gullwinged brute to feel more like Mike Tyson: hugely powerful, slightly sluggish, but with a thump large enough to induce earthquakes. It didn’t. Instead, it floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.

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