Mercedes-Benz McLaren SLR 722 Edition (2006): first official pictures

Published: 31 August 2006

What! A 722bhp SLR - are they mad?

You've got the wrong end of the stick. The Mercedes SLR McLaren 722 is named after the Mercedes 300 SLR that British racing legend Stirling Moss and his co-driver Dennis Jenkinson drove to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia race from Brescia to Rome and back. The number actually refers to the time - 07:22am - that they started the gruelling 1000-mile race, and they completed it at a record-breaking average speed of 100mph.

So what's it all about?

Well, it's basically an excuse to put the SLR on a bit of a diet and send it down to the gym. Limited to a production run of only 150, the 722 is aimed at well-healed SLR fans wanting something with a bit more bite. The gull-winged coupe has been developed over the last 12 months to deliver a more aggressive, track-biased driving experience and has been given a power boost, tweaked suspension and sharper steering, all complemented by a muscular makeover.

More power? How much more do you need?

Reprogramming its electronic black box means the 722's mighty 5.5-litre supercharged hand-built V8 engine now develops 650bhp at 6500rpm and 605lb ft at 4000rpm (up 24bhp and 30lb ft) for a 3.6 second sprint to 60mph and a 209mph top speed. The transmission and gearing remains unchanged. It also gets a new carbonfibre front air splitter and rear air diffuser to suck it to the road and a revised airbrake for more assistance when throwing out the anchor. In total, over 300 components have been enhanced or replaced, resulting in a 44kg drop in weight to a still porky 1940kg.

Still, with all that power…

To be honest, the original SLR's biggest problem wasn't its lack of grunt, but rather its lack of finesse. It was startling quick but when pushed hard felt inert and leaden, lacking the feedback and tactility a 200mph supercar should possess by the bucketload. So Mercedes McLaren engineers have spent months pushing it around the Nürburgring, firming up the suspension to further rein in roll, pitch and dive, tweaking the front kinematics to boost turn-in bite and fitting bigger 390mm ventilated carbon ceramic brake discs and a revised aerodynamic package that increases downforce without creating drag. We'll drive it before the end of the year and let you know if it all works.

It still looks a bit brash.

True, but the 722 makeover has imbued the SLR with a dash of menace and intent. Fiddling with the suspension means the ride height has dropped by 10mm and the wheels are an inch bigger - 19inches black multispoke jobs. In the cabin, the lucky 722 driver will be surrounded by red-stitched black Alcantara and leather, unique red-faced dials and a plaque on the centre console emblazoned with the 722 logo. But he will pay for the privilege - when it goes on sale this month, the 722 will cost around £270,000. Big performance, big money.

So the cynic in me is thinking this is a marketing ploy to boost flagging sales.

Quite possibly, but Mercedes claims the 722 was instigated by members of the SLR Club after a run through Italy on the Mille Miglia route. And with two SLRs rolling off the Woking production line a day and around 1500 finding homes over the last two-and-a-half years, the SLR is hardly a sales flop. According to SLR bossman Klaus Nesser, there still huge demand for an SLR convertible. 'I'm not ruling it out - it would create some serious problems with the roof mechanism, but I'm not saying no,' says Nesser. Expect an SLR ragtop in the not too distant future, then.

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars