Wednesday, 19 January 2011

David Gandy drives: Mercedes SLS

When he's not walking for Dolce&Gabbana or posing for internationally renowned photographers with scantily clad supermodels draped over him, Britain's top male model David Gandy is a committed petrolhead. This is Gandy's first car column for, in which the former employee of Auto Express drives the "stunningly good-looking" Mercedes SLS...

The model
One of the most beautiful cars of all time is the 1955 Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. Claimed to be the first-ever "supercar", it was frankly the most technical and brutishly fast road car of its time. Mercedes has now recreated it for the modern day. Not that it's called "300SL", not that it's called "Gullwing", not that Mercedes even claims to have designed or engineered it... The SLS, as it's known, is the first-ever standalone product of AMG, Mercedes' tuning/sports division.

The looks
Where the SLS is clearly a recreation of the 300SLSm is in its appearance: it is a stunningly good-looking machine. The ridiculously long bonnet, the huge Mercedes logo incorporated into the front grille, the side air vents, even the almost hyena-sloped rear: they all emulate the original. Then there's the gullwing doors. Yes, they make you look an absolute prat trying to get in and out of the car and really they don't even need to be like this (the original couldn't have conventional doors due to the design of its racing spaceframe construction. Racing rules at the time indicated that doors "should open", they just didn't say how and the gullwing doors were Mercedes' solution). But let's be honest: to me, the doors are the selling point of the car. Without these it couldn't be called the "modern-day Gullwing" or link back to the heritage and character of the original, it would just be another cheaper, better-looking Mercedes McLaren SLR. And the less said about that car, the better.

The drive
The straight-line speed of this car is brutal - easily as fast as anything else on the road today. However, if any of you have played Gran Turismo on the PlayStation, you'll know that you get to a point where you've upped the power of your favourite car so much and put as much downforce as you can over the rear, but the car still oversteers. So you take the slow-in-slow-out approach to the bends, gun it down the straights and overtake everything in the race approach. Well, this is like the driving experience of the SLS. However, it's not just the driving experience that makes this a car for the PlayStation generation, it's also the amount of electronic gadgetry - the cleverest part being how you can adjust the dampers, gearbox, ESP, traction and suspension and totally change the dynamics of the car to suit your driving prowess or the environment, ie town or track. Part of me thinks that if I drive a sports car, it should be set up for the fastest, best handling available. On the other hand, most of us are not Jenson Button and a car cannot satisfy all of the drivers all of the time, and thus the adjustable dynamics make perfect sense. Back to the car, the twitchy rear end can certainly be scary. Braking heavily into a turn, it easily breaks traction: not for the faint-hearted, and no way would it see where a Ferrari 458 or even a Lotus Evora went through a set of corners. However, it's hugely controllable and with a pointy front end, amazingly direct steering and efficient brakes, it really is an exciting and grin-making drive.

You need to know
I initially thought the SLS was front-engined, rear-wheel drive, but actually it's a mid-engined car as the engine is between the axles - and for those who don't know, mid-engined cars are known to be predominately the best-handling. The SLS AMG is also very, very expensive: it starts at £158,000 but ticking a few option boxes you will soon find yourself in £180,000 territory. That's too much money considering that if you pull up next to a £14,000 Mercedes A-Class at the lights, you will both have the same badge and key ring. I just don't think Mercedes can compete in this supercar category with names such as Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren. You could own a Porsche, Aston Martin or Jaguar for as much as £75,000 less. If money is no object however, an original, classic 300SL Roadster or Gullwing Coupe can be had for upwards of £280,000 and with either of these you will, in my opinion, be the envy of almost everybody.

6.3-litre V8, 550bhp

0-62 in 3.8secs; top speed 195mph



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