2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: First Drive

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It's more than a half-century of progress by any measure: Ferrari's in its seventh decade, and the Corvette's well into its sixth. The Italian carmaker's uncorked a California vintage to celebrate, while Chevy's cheering its very survival with the most powerful 'Vette ever.

It's only right in this retro-tinged year--everyone's fondly recalling the good old days, even if they were as recent as September of 2008--that Mercedes-Benz is ready to ride the nostalgic wave with a new gullwing coupe, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG.

The successor to the legendary Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing from the 1950s, and a de facto replacement for the SLR, the SLS opened its north-south doors for the first time in production form today. MotorAuthority joined up with Mercedes-Benz in Monterey and Laguna Seca for the worldwide press launch crack at the revived gullwing, which has sprung from concept to reality in three years.

Though it follows on the cooled heels of the SLR, the new SLS AMG has been designed from scratch, says AMG chief Volker Mornhinweg, and it's not based on any other Mercedes-Benz vehicles. It's the first car developed by the in-house tuners from Affalterbach, and while Mercedes builds the new two-seat coupe in a mainstream Benz factory in Sindelfingen, the heart of the SLS--the powertrain--still is assembed in Affalterbach, each drivetrain shepherded by a single assembler, from start to finish. 

That AMG tradition is just the newest touchstone tapped by the engineers in charge of the SLS. Philosophically it remains true to the original in a few definitive ways: it's still rear-wheel drive, it's still built on an aluminum chassis, and then, of course, there are the doors, its calling card. In almost all other ways, it's been transmogrified into a $200,000 supercar with few concessions to anything but power and traction.

It's a bridge between the starter-exotic ranks of the Corvette ZR1 and Viper, and thin-air lust objects like the insanely capable Porsche 911 Turbo. Or, to stuntware like the expensive, non-brand-correlative Lexus LFA. And, of course, it's the new gullwing--even the non-car-people guests at the Ritz-Carlton recognized it so.

But is it a piece of Mercedes history up to the epic moment of the original 300 SL? After a day of motoring around the Monterey Peninsula, one thing is clear.

The new gullwing has far more to it than wings.

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