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Behind the Wheel – Mercedes SLS AMG

We take the Mercedes SLS AMG for a drive, IN CANNES.

Mercedes SLS AMG

Beautiful women flaunting their wares for all the world to see is a standard, expected sight at the Cannes Film Festival. But, at this year’s edition along the French Riviera, it was a very special German lady that turned the most heads.

 

She wore red and lingered outside the luxurious Carlton Cannes Intercontinental, looking absolutely comfortable staring out at the water from one of the world’s most exclusive hotels. Her admirers stopped along La Croisette and took her picture. Families posed with her. Men dreamed of taking her home. But that privilege would cost you just a notch south of $200,000, fully equipped.

 

The 2011 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG called the Carlton home during the Cannes Film Festival, sitting on display by day under the bright Mediterranean sun, and by night under movie lights and flash bulbs. With her signature gull wing doors opened wide, she quite literally had drivers parking illegally along the busy Cannes main drag and rushing across dangerous traffic for an up close peek.

 

Mercedes SLS AMG

I was staying at the Carlton while I covered the festival and enjoyed drinking in the SLS AMG from every available angle. Just next to the registration desk, in the bustling hotel lobby, representatives from Mercedes Benz set-up a reception area to welcome the film festival’s mega-players to a test drive of the local SLS AMG fleet. The Carlton is the perfect spot to catch the eye of entertainment industry elite and the idle rich – prime candidates to buy Mercedes Benz’s latest gull wing beauties.

 

I am not a Hollywood player, but I am a car lover and an auto writer. And that alone was reason enough for me to want to get behind the wheel of SLS AMG and take the same test drive advertised at the Carlton. I encountered initial resistance as there were rumors that the cars were booked – or being held back from press at the festival. Fortunately, there is a secondary fleet for rent in the area. It took some machinations and scheming, but I got my test run.

 

In short, the car is a consummate work of art. It’s fair to say that driving an AMC Pacer would seem more pleasant when tooling around the sun-drenched streets of Cannes, but there’s a magic about the SLS AMG’s mix of speed and aerodynamics blended with elite safety features and confident handling. It’s the rarest of European beasts – a super car that’s easy to drive.

 

Obviously, the SLS AMG’s flashiest features are those gull wing doors. But, its most essential and impressive element is its 6.3 liter, V8, 571 horsepower engine. AMG splits the different in the front vs. mid-engine super car debate (Porsche wasn’t invited…) by positioning the power plant in front-mid position to maximize balance and front-end weight for optimum handling. As soon as  you have the machine above 30 MPH, you can sense the extremely low center of gravity feeding grip to the hardened aluminum, double wishbone sports suspension.

 

To promote the exclusivity of every AMG build, one mechanic works exclusively on one engine at a time. When that artisan is done, he or she computer signs the engine block.

 

As I emerged out of crowded Cannes and its backside to belly button French traffic, I was able to open up the throttle along the freeway to Nice. No, I could not responsibility test the SLS AMG’s published 0-60 time of 3.7 seconds or its electronically limited top speed of 198 mph. Still, the acceleration is so primal and immediate, yet so smooth, that it feels like it could come out of a car several hundreds of thousands of dollars more expensive.

Mercedes SLS AMG

A note to the wise: The SLS AMG can matriculate with either its seven speed sequential automatic transmission or via the racing style, steering column mounted paddles. FOr the uninitiated and those without significant time driving highly tuned engines with those paddles, stick to the automatic. For a car as powerful as the SLS AMG, the first damage a novice driver will suffer upon it is downshifting too rapidly with the paddles. A car putting out 650 Nm of torque shouldn’t slap down from fifth to second, as a car with a manual transmission might. Even the elite Mercedes Benz gear box can shred.

 

My ride in the gorgeous starlet was all too short, and it’s not superlative to describe exiting the driver’s seat as “tearing myself away.” As the fickle beauty left me behind for a suitor with deeper pockets, I realized the greatest tragedy of all. While I got a sample, I will never own this beautiful, perfectly built car.

 

But, even in Cannes, it’s better to have loved and lost…