Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS Impresses at Streets of Willow

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT is a car born for tracks like the Streets of Willow.

Justin Kaehlerby Justin Kaehler

AMG’s story is an inspiring one. What started as two guys in a garage has become a world standard for power, exclusivity and class. Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, the AMG group sought to celebrate its success by giving a group of automotive journalists access to its entire lineup of cars at the world-famous Streets of Willow racetrack.

We were there to sample both the 2013 SLS AMG GT and the SLS AMG GT Roadster. We started with the drop-top variant Roadster.  Granted, it doesn’t have those iconic gull wing doors, but for this six-foot writer, clad in a bulky helmet, it was the easier SLS fit. This year sees the SLS AMG GT adopt a more sinister look, ditching the brightwork for darkened trim, a color shift to black for the mirrors and grille and matte black inlays in the wheels. Red brake calipers are now standard, as are 20 more ponies, bringing the car’s horsepower total to 583.

The SLS is a challenging car to drive on the street – its combination of too much power and too little weight over the rear wheels causes the back to step out a little too often for our liking, and at first I was intimidated to drive it on the track. One errant throttle input and I’d forever be known as “that guy” who balled up a rare, $200K car. But this is a car that was born to run at speed, and when freed from the constraints of city driving, the SLS becomes a truly beautiful machine.

Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS Impresses at Streets of Willow

Words can’t do justice to the deep, roaring baritone of the hand-assembled 6.2-liter V8. It’s an awe-inspiring sound, and when running at full tilt, I felt like I was wielding a weapon mightier than Mjolnir. It’s faster than the Nordic god’s weapon, too, able to run the car from a standstill to 60 in just 3.7-seconds.

That speed, surprisingly, doesn’t feel like a hammer to the back of the head. Power delivery is such that speed builds rapidly, yet gradually, allowing its occupant to focus on other things, like setting up for the corner ahead. The long wheelbase that makes the SLS feel stable at speed seems to shrink as the car is tossed into a corner. Steering feels direct and true, and thanks to the massive grip from the tires, the SLS does not deviate from its line.

At the suggestion of AMG, I left the car’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in Sport+ mode, and the car brilliantly shifted to the correct gear before I even had a chance to recognize that a gear change was needed. This programming even allows the car to jump down a couple of gears (from 6 to 4, for example), keeping the SLS in its powerband, and helping us keep the car at racetrack speeds.

Mercedes-Benz AMG SLS Impresses at Streets of Willow

Brakes, appropriately, are massive. 15.4-inch rotors with six-piston calipers are found up front; 14.2-inch discs with four-piston calipers are in the rear. These brakes, as you can guess, are phenomenal. As I grew more familiar with both the SLS and the track, I found myself braking much later and much harder as I sought to shave seconds from our lap times. Even with this repeated abuse, they reliably slowed the 3,500-pound car down while remaining fade-free and retaining their initial bite and feel.

I took a number of hot laps in both the Coupe and Roadster variants of the AMG SLS GT, and I found the Roadster to be our personal favorite. When driving at our limits, there is no perceptible different between the performance abilities of the two, and I prefer headroom and good sight lines to funky door shapes. I also have yet to hit my head on the door of the Roadster.

Words can’t begin to describe the joy felt while behind the wheel of the 2013 SLS AMG GT. Just as with love, it’s one of those things one needs to experience first-hand to really “get it.” As it stands, in our 10 years of sampling the latest and greatest new vehicles, the SLS AMG GT may very well be the greatest car I’ve had the pleasure of driving. I was ready to spend all day in the SLS, but AMG had another surprise waiting for me: a little coupe called the C63 Black Series.

Part II: Check out our thoughts on the C63 AMG Coupe Black Series here!