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Road Test: Brabus SLS AMG
Bring AMG and Mercedes-Benz together and you get the most powerful lineup of Mercedes cars ever produced. Then add a bit of flavor from a tuner near Bottrop, Germany, and you get even more performance, speed and challenging improvements to the looks of any type of sports car they get their hands on. Now take the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, a modern redesign of the classic 1955 300SL coupe, and there it is; the Brabus SLS AMG.
Brabus is Mercedes’ official tuner and has an extensive history of upgrading Mercedes-Benz sports cars, running the AMG badge. One of their latest project is the SLS AMG, available in two versions the SLS AMG with a subtle performance upgrade, discussed here, and the SLS AMG 700 Biturbo, fitted with an additional custom-developed twin-turbocharger fitted with air diverter valves producing up to 700hp and 850Nm of torque. What’s more, these turbochargers both rotate different ways; the left side turning left of the engine and the right side turning right.
With the biturbo package not yet available for drive tests, we were handed the keys to a Le Mans Red SLS AMG packed with every single option on the available list. Parked outside on the Brabus parking lot and awaiting our arrival, we reached for the left door handle situated low down, pulled it and let the door rise easily and lightly above our head. With the door open, we ducked under it and stepped into the sports car, ready for a drive in this bolder looking Gullwing re-birth.
The most memorable profile are those two doors arched up above the roofline and look spectacular. There’s only one issue: occupants need long arms to reach the distant handles at the bottom of each door to pull them closed. The only trick is to grab the door handle on the way in. Opening just needs a pull at the lever and a little push of your elbow. But why didn’t Brabus fit electric doors? Of course, that would have added weight in a place you don’t want it, high up in the roof, and more importantly in case of the car flips onto its roof in an accident pyrotechnics automatically explode the hinges so you can push the doors away. So fiddling around with these kind of life saving functions could lead into safety issues.
Press the starter button on the center console, and the familiar, AMG-designed 6.2 liter V8 awakens with a growl from the back. The stock engine is rated at 563 horsepower and 650 Newton meters. The power plant is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel. The transmission has four driving modes: “C” stands for controlled efficiency, in which the car sets off in second gear. “S” (sport) rips off shifts that are 20 percent faster, while “S+” (sport plus) is again 20 percent quicker. “M” (manual) is fully 50 percent faster than “C” . In addition, it features a race start function, which takes you from zero to 100km/h is done in 3.9 seconds up to a top speed of 317km/h.
Brabus upped the power of the naturally aspirated engine to 611hp and 850Nm, a similar torque figure as the biturbo kit. The performance kit comes with a lightweight Brabus titanium sport exhaust system with four slanted exhaust tips. The tips have a diameter of 84mm and the whole system weighs 12kgs or 40 percent less than the production exhaust. Within the 48hp power gain, the exhaust adds an extra ten horsepower to the engine’s output. It also features a pneumatically controlled bypass gate that is activated from the center console.
Immediately after leaving the parking space, the transmission setting is changed to either “S+” (sport plus) or “M” (manual) for full sportiveness. The engine grawls and a metallic rumble drums up and fills up the cabin as the revs rise. Once moving it’s no longer a pretty gullwing but a serious sports car with its carbon-fiber driveshaft, and lightweight all-aluminum chassis and body. In the first few meters to the photoshoot location, the sound track of the titanium exhaust surrounds us, but it sounds a bit quieter than normal. Is this all? The PR manager opens a small cubbyhole with three little Brabus buttons in the center console right next to the gear selector. One of them opens the bypass vales, turning up the volume, and accompanying the experience with loads of addictive back fire. Unfortunately, there is no “Always on” option.
The other buttons offer adjustments to the suspension. While the standard model’s suspension is non-adjustable, the special Brabus suspension settings offer the choice between a painstakingly harsh and firm damper setting or soft as butter. None of which is suitable for a daily driving petrol head without the love of pressing buttons. The sport setting lets you hug the road closer and feel every single bump or pothole in the road; an excellent setting for the track, but not something to use on a daily basis. The soft setting is excellent for cruising, more comfortable than standard, but in tight corners at higher speeds the SLS generates too much body roll. This dual characteristic of the Brabus suspension offers two completely different worlds, an immediate choice for some type of affluent clientele, but we true petrol heads would stick to the AMG Performance package. Additionally, owners can opt for a front lift system. It raises the front of the car by some 50mm at the push of the third button to safely navigate steep parking ramps or other obstacles.
With the new suspension setting in Sport mode you feel the beautifully balanced chassis and its 47:53, front:rear weight distribution. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is one of the best we have encountered, especially because the SLS AMG is a rather large and long vehicle. Sitting so close to the rear axle heightens the driver’s sense of riding on all that power. The real explosion happens when you press the pedal on open roads. The acceleration is effortless. In any of the seven gears, at any speed, you get bucket loads of oomph. This SLS AMG truly excels when it comes to performance, accompanied by an astonishing sound track at higher speeds.
At anything above 120km/h, the rear spoiler springs into action to maintain the front-to-rear balance; go below 80, and it recedes. To balance its high-speed capability, the SLS AMG comes with vented disc brakes that are grooved and perforated all around. It can be ordered with optional ceramic disc brakes, which are forty percent lighter than conventional brakes, further reducing unsprung weight and enhancing suspension and steering response.
The cabin is simple, uncluttered and classy. The seating position is quite low, but good. You look out over that long, bonnet, bordered by the high graceful wings. In front of the driver there are big twin instruments, four turbine-look dash air vents and numerous controls. The stock trim offers stitched leather, Alcantara and short-pile carpeting. Brabus offers a speedometer with 400km/h scale. An ergonomically shaped sport steering wheel is also part of the Brabus customization program as are stainless-steel scuff plates with illuminated Brabus logo and matte anodized pedals. Individual requests for the trim on the dashboard, center console, door panels or in the trunk can be catered for.
The exterior profile of the Brabus SLS is a combination of new body parts and set of massive wheels. The superb looking forged wheels are custom-developed for the SLS. You can opt for a staggered tire/wheel combination with diameters of 20 inches in front and 21 inches on the rear axle. One inch bigger on all figures than stock. The ultra-light Brabus Monoblock F Platinum Edition cross-spoke wheels are up to twelve percent lighter than the stock wheels and are mounted in size 9.5Jx20 in front and in size 11Jx21 on the rear axle. The wide high-performance tires in sizes 275/30 ZR 20 and 295/25 ZR 21 are supplied by Pirelli and Yokohama.
The unique carbon fiber body parts added to our test vehicle are part of the Widestar program and windtunnel tested. The kit includes add-on parts for the rear fenders and the rear fascia, a front spoiler for the production front fascia, air outlets for the front fenders, a rear spoiler and a rear diffuser. Two covers for the upper air dams of the bumper, new side skirts and side air outlets for the rear fascia complete the package. All parts are available with a matte or glossy clear-coated finish. Optionally these components can be painted in body or contrasting color.
So what is our final verdict? As a basis Mercedes-Benz somehow managed to cleverly rejuvenate its 300 SL for the 21st century and develop a sports car as desirable and fun as its rivals. Point scored by the Germans from Stuttgart. Brabus however, have created out of this a seriously impressive and fast sports car, a more angry looking head turning masterpiece with an astonishing sound track, an additional amount of oomph, any interior refinement you may request and a suspension setup we would most likely keep out of the equation. Our suggestion? Definitely makes it more unique and more special, but don’t choose it all.