“Ergonomically, the car is fantastic,” says the lanky six-footer. “I found it comfortable once I got everything set. I could see it being a squeeze for anybody who's a little bit taller. But I could have driven it on a road trip for a couple of hours; the seats are quite good.”
Menacing looks, trick gullwing doors (complete with exploding bolts to facilitate extraction should the car somehow end up upside down) and butter-smooth shifting aside, for most buyers this car is really about the engine. The 6.2-liter AMG V8 – each one hand-assembled by a single technician – boasts 563hp at 6800rpm; peak torque of 479lb-ft comes at 4750rpm. That will propel the car from 0 to 60mph in 3.7sec.
That's quick. But it's the acceleration beyond that that really put a smile on Hildebrand's face.
“My favorite thing is the emotion that it draws out of you from 50 to 100. It pulls so hard and the gears are just so right on the money. I feel like anything could have pulled up next to me and I would have put it to shame. That feeling of inspired confidence, not just from a stoplight, is hard to find, even in cars that are just as fast. They don't give you that same feeling,” he says.
The guttural V8 – and Mercedes-AMG lets this engine's voice be heard – is indeed a great selling point. But Hildebrand was no less impressed by the car's abilities as he carved some of the canyon roads around Los Angeles.
“I was massively impressed, not only with the feel but for the true balance the car had. Everything worked so well together. It's got massive brakes, so I never got any brake fade and they were quite strong. More than anything, the entire balance of the car and the feedback you got through the wheel were quite good. Along with the well-matched gearbox, it was a really fun car to drive, really easy to drive fast. It surprised me a little bit what it was capable of doing.”
With the cockpit set far back, the engine behind the front axle and the rear-mounted transaxle, the car is very balanced, with a slight 47-53 rear bias – unusual for a car with the engine ahead of the driver. The dry-sump oiling for the engine helps sink it down and give the car a low center of gravity. The result is very flat cornering and a feeling, says Hildebrand, of being “just stuck.”
“It lost grip in a very sort of gradual way and gave you a lot of warning when it was going to happen,” he says.
So, the SLS AMG's tech prevents the driver from exceeding its capabilities. For skilled professionals such as Hildebrand, that's disconcerting. For the majority of the population, it's reassuring.
“For spirited driving, it's very easy and more than fast enough for what you could possibly do with it on the street,” he says. “For the true enthusiast, someone who is looking to drive a car aggressively and get something in return, it's probably not the choice I would make. But on the flipside, I can't say I've driven a performance car of this caliber that I would rather take on a road trip to Vegas.”
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the February 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.