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Drive Life : August 27th 2010
1HERSA1 F012 12 Drive Life August 27, 2010 drive.com.au THE TEST TOBY HAGON THE COMPETITORS PORSCHE 911 TURBO Price $360,100* Engine 3.8-litre twin-turbo 6-cyl, 368kW/650Nm, 7-spd dual- clutch auto, AWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 12.4L/100km and 298g/km Safety 6 airbags, stability control Pros Awesome acceleration; incredible handling and stopping power; accurate steering; reasonable ride for a supercar. Cons Expensive options; cramped rear seats; minimal luggage space; not the most nimble 911. Our score JI LAMBORGHINI GALLARDO LP560-4 Price $475,000* Engine 5.2-litre V10, 412kW/ 540Nm, 6-spd manual or auto, AWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 13.7L/100km and 325g/km (man) Safety 4 airbags, stability control Pros Potent performance captured with all-wheel-drive traction; low-slung looks. Cons Cabin cramped for bigger people; Audi switchgear detracts from Italian flair. Our score I * Prices are recommended retail and exclude dealer and on-road costs. Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Price $464,000* Country of origin Germany Resale If the old one's anything to go by, owners could be sitting on a goldmine; good examples of the original Gullwing can sell for twice the price of the new one. Engine 6.2-litre V8 Power 420kW at 6800rpm Torque 650Nm at 4750rpm Consumption and CO2 emissions 13.3L/100km, 311g/km Transmission 7-speed twin-clutch auto Weight 1695kg 0-100km/h and top speed 3.8 seconds and 317km/h (claimed) Safety 8 airbags; stability control; reversing camera; unlatching door hinges for after a rollover. Pros Head-turning looks; distinctive lift-up doors; raucous V8 sound; balanced handling; surprisingly direct steering. Cons It attracts a lot of attention; headroom only just OK for taller adults; firm suspension is not adjustable; gearbox jerky at low speed. Our score I Wings of desire Mercedes-Benz enters the supercar fray with a modern version of its famous '50s 'Gullwing'. FERRARI 458 ITALIA Price $526,950* Engine 4.5-litre V8, 425kW/ 540Nm, 7-spd/dual clutch auto, RWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 13.7L/100km and 307g/km Safety 4 airbags, stability control Pros Gorgeous looks; laser- accurate steering; awesome high- revving V8; lightning-quick-shifting dual-clutch auto; it's a Ferrari. Cons Expensive, with ridiculously priced options; exhaust note from V8 a little subdued in lower revs. Our score Not yet rated Driving the new Mercedes- Benz SLS AMG is like being famous for a day. The sleek, almost squashed looking two-seater manages to turn more heads than a supermodel. Despite its official name, even those within Mercedes refer to it as the ''Gullwing'', in reference to the roof-hinged doors that open upwards rather than outwards. The original Gullwing arrived in the 1950s and has been dormant since, ensuring prices for the 300SL (its official name back then) can top $1 million. The all-new model, therefore, seems like something of a bargain with a price tag of half that. It's the latest newcomer to a burgeoning supercar segment trying to lure millionaires. WHAT DO YOU GET? With a price tag of $464,000 (plus on- road costs) there's no shortage of tempters, with dual-zone climate control airconditioning, heated seats, leather trim, carbon-fibre finishes inside (yes, it's the real deal), parking sensors front and rear, satellite navigation and a reversing camera. The 11-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system also includes iPod integration and a 6GB hard drive, although those that crave bass may be disappointed. On the safety front, there are eight airbags (including side curtain and knee airbags) and a stability control system, as well as door hinges with airbag-like explosives designed to unlatch in the event of a rollover so occupants can escape. There's also recognition that the Gullwing may be a second, third or fourth addition to the garage; a car cover and trickle battery charger help keep it ready for the next Sunday spin. Despite the generous spread, the Mercedes misses out on adjustable suspension, which some may expect in a car of this ilk. WHAT'S INSIDE? Getting inside is a large part of the theatre of the Gullwing, thanks to those doors. While they may look like they open wide, they're surprisingly compact in their operation, allowing you to park in tight garages or close to other vehicles without having to only half open your door; you need less than 40 centimetres from the side of the car to another object. However, you do find yourself ducking like you've just stepped out of a helicopter, and I'm betting most owners will forget the door is above them at least once. Headroom is only just OK for six- foot-plussers, although leaning into the centre of the car is a no-no thanks to the roof that dips in the centre. The cabin (and the entire car) is surprisingly wide, which improves the feeling of spaciousness, although the driver's exterior mirror sits quite high, blocking vision through some right-hand intersections. The cabin is also short, meaning full leg stretches can be difficult. The boot isn't set for full-sized suitcases but will swallow overnight bags or carefully packed golf clubs. Just be sure not to leave chocolate in the boot because heat from the rear- mounted (transaxle) gearbox can warm things up. UNDER THE BONNET Talking about what's under the bonnet is highly appropriate in the Gullwing, given it makes up almost half the car's length. The hefty 6.2-litre V8 sits surprisingly far back in the engine bay, enough to make it a front-mid-engine vehicle. Peak power is a prodigious 420kW, ensuring the supercar looks are matched by supercar performance. Acceleration to 100km/h is a claimed 3.8 seconds. And if the Gullwing's looks or explosive acceleration don't turn heads, then its exhaust certainly will. The massive rear vents (they're false outlets fed by traditional circular exhaust pipes) burble and grumble at idle, rising to a violent roar as revs rise. Blip the throttle and it will even rumble and spit, before crackling as you lift off the accelerator. The aural intensity is almost as pronounced as the head-turning visuals. The seven-speed automatic transmission is a twin-clutch set-up that allows super-fast changes. There are four main drive modes -- comfort, sport, sport plus and manual -- although none irons out the jerkiness from a standstill that's not uncommon for this modern breed of transmission. Once on the move it's more convincing, with the change in exhaust note the best indicator to the slick gear change. There's also a glorious (automatic) blip on the downshift, especially when braking hard (the brakes are superb). But the sport plus setting isn't as aggressive as some others, meaning owners wanting full control may have to rely on the paddleshift levers. ON THE ROAD Spending a few days in the Gullwing gives you an inkling of how Hollywood celebrities could be treated by the paparazzi. I lost count of how many camera phones snapped, while few fellow motorists could resist a passing glance. That's good or bad, depending on whether you like attention. But you can forget about slinking into the traffic in the Gullwing. Then again, it's not the sort of car you're likely to trundle around town in. The Gullwing is more about enjoying the drive rather than reaching the destination. Sharp steering has the nose accurately pointing towards corners with surprising agility for a large machine; the steering is also well weighted. The width of the car (it's wider than various luxury limousines and a Commodore, while only 4cm narrower than a LandCruiser) means you need to be careful around tight corners so as not to clip a gutter. Massive wheels and tyres (20 inches in diameter at the rear and 19 up front) deliver superb cornering grip, meaning the Gullwing lives up to the expectations created by its low- slung looks. Firm suspension can jar into bumps, less so at speed, although the ride still tends towards bumpy, which is in many ways within the character of the car. VERDICT One of the most impressive things is how Mercedes-Benz has managed to find a unique home for the Gullwing in a crowded world of expensive sports cars. It's not the focused race- track bruiser that is a Lamborghini, nor the svelte Italian heart-throb that is a Ferrari. And it doesn't tread on the toes of the uncannily easy-to-live- with 911 Turbo. That differentiation combined with a head-turning presence that Barack Obama would struggle to match will be enough to make it a success; already more than 60 owners are queuing for a set of keys. Add a brutal V8 and genuine ability and what the Gullwing loses in the value stakes it makes up for with driving panache and styling individuality. A lineage that began more than half a century ago doesn't hurt, either.
August 20th 2010
September 3rd 2010