This is the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series, the fifth Black Series since the SLK55 AMG kicked things off in 2006, and closest in spirit to the SL65 Black Series of 2008. At around £230k, it's a solid £60k clear of the regular SLS on which it's based and only a little cheaper than the Ferrari F12. We've come to Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France to drive it.
What's the tech spec of the Mercedes SLS AMG Black Series?
Like the SLS it's based on, the Black Series slots a naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 as far back in the nose as possible for a front/mid-mounted location. Power feeds to a seven-speed dual-clutch transaxle and onto the rear wheels. But the Black Series ups the ante with a 70kg weight saving (1550kg), coupled with an increase of power from 563bhp to 622bhp, but a slight decrease in torque from 470lb ft to 468lb ft. That gearbox is also installed 10mm lower to improve the centre of gravity, plus there's a shorter final-drive ratio and electronic control for the mechanical locking differential. Elsewhere there are standard carbon ceramic brakes, upgraded suspension and a titanium exhaust, which alone sheds 13kg from the kerbweight.
Looks mean to me…
Certainly does, and the standard SLS is hardly a shrinking violet. AMG says the design has been inspired by the SLS GT3 race car, with wider flared arches (+13mm front, + 26mm rear), darkened headlamps, and black surrounds for the rear lights. There's also a new front bumper with carbon splitter, plus a new diffuser, sideskirts with carbon inserts and fake air inlets ahead of the rear wheels.
What's the SLS Black like to drive?
Well, I can't tell you what it's like on the road, but it is a lot of fun on the track and certainly a big step over the standard SLS coupe, which never did feel particularly at home on a circuit – that car's more GT-like focus caused it to unravel when pushed hard, with understeer all too easy to provoke and frustratingly low levels of traction.
The SLS Black is far more satisfying. The nose darts eagerly left and right, super-alert to your steering inputs, just like it does in the standard car, but you can lean on the front end with far more conviction when you get to the corners, placing it far more accurately with the light, accurate and quick – if not particularly tactile – steering. This, however, will be thanks in no small part to the sticky Pilot Sport 2 Michelins – 19-inches at the front, 20s at the back..
Get on the throttle early and you'll also find much more traction than you will in the standard car, the Black Series feeling benign as you tweak it into the smallest of slides to help kill any hints of understeer without risk of it all ending up in a tyre bonfire as the standard car would – you have to actively punt this car into a slide, because it's natural inclination is to straighten itself out and fire you off down the next straight. So you sit there, right on the edge of adhesion, those tyres, the very precise throttle response and the trick electric diff giving you a feeling of total control over what happens next and how much attitude you dial in.
Anything else to report?
The standard carbon ceramic brakes are excellent, with good feel, big stopping power and an easy-to-modulate pedal – the latter not always being the case with ceramic stoppers. And, yes, there's still some body roll, but it's much, much better contained than the standard car.
I spent much of my time either switching between third and fourth gear with the dual-clutch gearbox in Manual mode, or using the super-quick Sport+ setting, which is brilliant at second-guessing your next move, but if anything can be a little too over-enthusiastic to keep you in a manic, lower gear. The changes still don't come as rapid-fire quick as a Ferrari's, but I didn't find it a frustration
How about that V8?
It's a peach, no doubt the ultimate evolution of this incredible 6.2-litre naturally aspirated engine. It revs and revs, sounds like thunder played through a Marshall stack and has that beautifully accurate throttle response that we know and love from atmospheric engines. No, it doesn't have the ferocity of the Ferrari F12's V12 – the two are pretty similar on price, remember – but it's still mighty quick.
Anything you don't like?
Front/mid-mounted or not, the engine is still in the nose of this car and understeer is something – no matter how much improved it is over the standard SLS – that you do have to manage. At first it's not so much of an issue, but as the tyres heat up and then drop out of their performance window, the nose of the car starts to push more and more to the point that it limits you through faster corners. A Lexus LFA feels less nose-heavy and a half-the-price 911 GT3 RS is still a far more incisive-feeling device.
The SLS Black Series is a great car, with gains all round versus the standard car and – as far as we can tell after driving it on an entirely smooth racetrack – no drawbacks. We love the engine, the handling and the downright outrageousness of the design. Mercedes will no doubt sell the entire limited run to diehard AMG fans, but it does sit in a slightly awkward space: oriented more towards customers wanting a trackday special, it fulfills that role less well than the cheaper 911 GT3 RS, and yet sits perilously close to the more rounded Ferrari F12 in terms of price. But that doesn't mean that the SLS Black Series isn't a very satisfying car indeed.