Bill Clinton famously said, "You can put wings on a pig, but you don't make it an eagle." But what the randy former US president forgot to mention was that if you put wings on a Benz, you end up with one of the most awesome supercars known to man -- the £160,000 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.
Ask the folks at AMG, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz specialising in high-performance cars, and they'll tell you the new SLS is designed to compete with thoroughbreds such as the Ferrari 458 Italia, Lamborghini Gallardo LP560, and Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Them's fightin' words, so it was with great pleasure -- and our customary sprinkling of cynicism -- that we scurried to the company's Brooklands test track to go hands-on and see for ourselves.
The first thing that struck us about SLS AMG was how utterly beautiful it was. It has a phallic front end with an almost maniacal expression plastered over its front grille, but unlike its rivals, it never makes the driver look like they're having a mid-life crisis, no matter their dress sense or level of baldness. It certainly made the majority of motoring journalists present at the Mercedes test track look trendy -- no mean feat.
That illusion shatters, however, when you open the gullwing doors. Not only will you look like you're hopping out of a car 300 times cooler than you are, you'll also look a total fool as you bang your head on the doors, which rest exactly at skull height.
Sat in the car, nursing our head bruises, we got the chance to play around with some of the SLS AMG's cabin tech which, on the whole, is pretty decent. It uses Mercedes-Benz's myCOMAND interface, as seen on the E-Class, and consists of a centrally mounted 8-inch display and an 11-way knob used to move an on-screen cursor.
The infotainment system has its priorities all backwards though. It supports playback of DVD movies, which is a nice, if slightly frivolous feature, but its sat-nav system doesn't support full eight-digit postcode entry.
Electronic geekery is all well and good, but where the SLS AMG truly excels is in its performance. It "only" uses an eight-cylinder engine, but it produces a whopping 572bhp -- 60bhp more than the V12 lump in the Aston Martin DBS. It's quicker than most Astons, too. AMG says it can complete the 0-60mph sprint in a mere 3.8 seconds and can romp all the way up to a limited 197mph, so it'll stick close to just about every supercar this side of a Bugatti Veyron.
We can't vouch for the car's top speed but after a few laps around the Mercedes-Benz World test track, we can confirm the car is brutally quick -- especially in a straight line. Nail it on the straight and it'll pin you to your seat while it ravages your ears with a truly sensational exhaust and engine note.
Sadly, the car's gear change is a slight disappointment. It uses an AMG Speedshift dual-clutch gearbox, which -- in theory -- offers a smoother, faster gearchange. Sadly, it feels slower and less responsive than we'd have liked.
Mercedes says it'll change gears in as little as 100ms, which sounds lightning quick, but it's an absolute age compared to the 60ms shift time in the 458 Italia. Even the single-clutch Ferrari 599 HGTE changes in 80ms, so Mercedes clearly has some work to do in this area.
Minor transmission gripe aside, the SLS AMG is a joy to drive. It clings on hard through the corners and even though we occasionally lost traction on the damp handling track, dealing with oversteer (where the car tries to chase its own tail through a corner) is a piece of cake.
We'll have a full review of the SLS AMG in a short while, but while you wait, we recommend you have a look through our photo gallery above for a closer look of the car in action.
The cockpit has an aviation theme. The dashboard is shaped like the wing of a WWII fighter plane, the air vents look like jet engines and the centre console looks like the operating console from a jet plane.
Here's a close-up of the centre console. That red button starts the car, while the lever in the centre selects forward, neutral or reverse gears. The circular knob closest to the camera lets you control the touchscreen display.