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SLS AMG a perfect example of what a super sportscar should be: fast and beautiful

A Sunday drive in Newport is always a pleasant experience. It is exponentially so when the drive comes courtesy of Mercedes in the 2011 SLS AMG, the high-performance sports coupe with the gullwing doors.

The invitation came because Mercedes was in town for yesterday's Newport Concours D’Elegance at Fort Adams. It’s a great show with some stunning samples from throughout automotive history (as well as a couple of motorcycles). It also had the new Audi A8 on display, which debuts later this year.

But I’m not here to write about Audis, motorcycles, or classic cars. I come to praise the SLS – a thrilling AMG-developed super sports car with aluminum body, a naturally aspirated, hand-built V8 engine with 563 horsepower, 479 lb-ft of torque, and the ability to stop grown men and women in their tracks.

The ride from 0-60 comes in 3.7 seconds, according to Mercedes, and I have no reason to doubt that claim. A few quick jaunts to 60 mph (not amidst the mansions) leaves one impressed by just how fast this coupe really is.

Yet, this is no temperamental sports car. Its immense power only introduces itself at the driver’s behest. Feather the accelerator and it’s as if you’re driving a luxury sedan – not a coupe that has a top speed of 197 mph (and even that’s limited, which means a computer-savvy owner could probably go a lot faster).

It handled itself well among mildly twisting roads. It would be fun to get some track time with this mighty beast to see what it is fully capable of.

What’s most impressive about the SLS is its refinement. Sure, it’s a mighty beast that delivers an exhilarating exhaust note and gobs of power from under its almost six-foot long hood, but it’s also a surprisingly comfortable car to drive. Admittedly, I only piloted the SLS for a scant hour or so, but my intuition tells me this is a car that could be driven for hours. Please don’t tell the Audi R8, but I may have a new automotive crush.

The SLS, which features a steel suspension, has a 6.3-liter front-mid engine with dry sump lubrication; seven-speed automatic transmission with a dual-clutch in a transaxle configuration; a sports chassis with aluminum double-wishbone suspension; and stands just 49.3 inches high. A 10-year old could look over its roof.

What’s most compelling about the SLS (and helps explain why I might favor it over the R8) is its interior space. Two adult American males who aren’t long distance runners can sit side-by-side without awkward elbow bumping that results in the passenger sitting with his hands primly in his lap. Mercedes achieves this feat by artfully carving out space from the doors.

It is an awkward car to enter and exit – but not because of the gullwing doors. It has more to do with the deep footwell. Fortunately no video cameras were around to record my ungainly egresses and ingresses. Closing the gullwing doors requires just a light grasp of the door handle. Once seated behind the tilt and telescopic steering wheel, the driver has lots of legroom.

After getting the hang of getting in the SLS, you’re going to want to drive it every day (even though its $183,000 price tag would make me want to park it behind protective cordons). This is a car that could be driven daily. It has good sightlines that make it driving friendly and there is no shortage of creature comforts, including features like heated seats, satellite radio, and a navigation system.

Not that fuel economy is going to be an issue, but the SLS AMG actually gets good numbers for a sports car. No official EPA numbers are posted yet, but Mercedes says the SLS gets a combined 18 mpg. Premium fuel is required.

Even super sports cars can be involved in collisions (but thankfully not during my time behind the wheel). The SLS safety equipment includes three-point seatbelts, seat-belt tensioners, belt force limiters, and up to eight airbags: adaptive front airbags, a kneebag each for the driver and front passenger, two sidebags integrated into the seats and two window airbags that trigger out of the door waistline.

As mentioned above, the SLS does carry a price tag of $183,000. Add a few extras, like an upgraded sound system and sportier brakes, and the price tag can hit $200,000. If that’s the kind of world you travel in (and barring a Power Ball win I never will), you’re going to thoroughly enjoy your SLS AMG. Plus, your other affluent friends will know you drive a winner because it was the 2010 Robb Report Car of the Year.

(Questions and comments about this review and other automotive concerns can be e-mailed to usedcars.guide@about.com. All queries are answered.)

VITAL STATISTICS

  • Wheelbase: 105.5 inches
  • Length: 182.6 inches
  • Width: 76.3 inches
  • Height: 49.3 inches
  • Curb weight: 3573 lbs.
  • Engine: 6.3-liter, naturally aspirated V8
  • Horsepower: 563 horsepower
  • Torque: 479 lb-ft of torque
  • EPA estimated mpg city/highway: Not Available
  • Base price: $183,000
  • As-tested price: $200,000 (approximate)
  • Also consider: Audi R8, Porsche 911 Turbo S, Corvette ZR1

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