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Mercedes SLS GT3
9/10

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Road Test

Mercedes-Benz SLS GT3 driven

Driven January 2013

Additional Info

Big, chunky and heroically front-engined, the AMG SLS shouldn't really work as a racing car. But since debuting in 2010, it's racked up 37 class victories in GT3, and despite its bewinged appearance, it's also earned a reputation for being user-friendly. Good news if you're planning a 24-hour assault on the 'Ring.

Today, though, we're at Ascari in southern Spain, where the rain is falling not just mainly on the plain but also all over this circuit's custom-made and notoriously tricky low- and high-speed corners. "The track has an amazing amount of grip, despite the conditions," says my instructor, Bernd Schneider, four-time DTM champion and, rumour has it, the most committed tin-top racer of all time. "I'm only a second or two slower than I would be on a full dry set-up." Thank you, Bernd.

Thanks to the FIA's ‘balance of performance' equivalency rules, the SLS GT3 runs 552bhp, slightly less than the road car. But at 1,350kg, it's also much lighter. And considerably trickier to get into. The seat is a huge, all-enveloping carbon item, but the instrument lay-out is easy to fathom, and overall it feels functional, purposeful and, yes, surprisingly comfortable once you're installed.

A firm prod of an unexpectedly small starter button wakes the beast. Even at idle, it makes the most magnificent noise, a martial beat overlaid with a flatulent Brian Blessed blare. Press the clutch, engage first with a hearty mechanical thump using the column-mounted paddle, and ease away on around 3,000rpm.

The SLS GT3 is overwhelmingly brilliant. I'm on wets, and will never go fast enough to generate useful heat in the rubber or steel brakes, and naturally I'm keen not to fall off as I follow my instructor, ex-F1 driver Karl Wendlinger, but, even so, the clarity of the car's responses floods your system like a naughty narcotic. There is grip to spare, even in these murky conditions, provided you are smooth and progressive, and it powers forward with thunderous determination.

Suddenly, the thought of monstering one round the Nordschleife in the middle of the night doesn't seem so scary. Then again, civilisations have risen and fallen in the gap between where I begin to brake and where I actually should be starting to brake. Having raced a bit, this confirms my theory the world's best drivers aren't necessarily measured by how fast they can go, it's how good they are at slowing down that counts.

Three laps later, it's all over. I feel bereft. The narcotic has me hooked, which is what always happens in a decent racing car. "You have the best job in the world," I say to Wendlinger. "It is possible, yes," he replies, with a hint of a smile.

Jason Barlow

The numbers

6203cc, V8, RWD, 552bhp, n/a lb ft, n/a mpg, n/a g/km CO2, 0-62 in n/a secs, n/a mph, 1350kg

The verdict

A big bear of a car, but SLS GT3 is surprisingly easy to wrestle with

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