2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: First Drive Page 4

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2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

2010 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG: you versus your stuff

The SLS AMG is 183 inches long and sports a wheelbase of 105.5 inches. More tellingly, it's 76.3 inches wide, but only 49.3 inches high. Most of the wheelbase is taken up by the front-midship placement of the engine, leaving scant space for two passengers, who will use most of the 39.1 inches of headroom even if they're not six-footers.

When it's all open--hood, trunk and gullwing doors--it's a centerpiece. From there, the SLS' tricky geometry requires practice before getting in and finding a spot that's comfortable. Pop open the gullwing with the handles--they're down near the sills--and clamber in, being careful not to clank your head against the lower door panel.

Once you're in, deal with the amount of headroom you have to work with. Some cranium space has been scooped out of the gullwing's top, but it's hemmed in by a flat, wide center structural member so the tall driver's right brain and the tall passenger's left brain will call a timeout. It's pretty confining inside, not only from that center plate but from the four-inch-deep windshield frame and the vertical wall behind the seats, in front of the transaxle. Then you dismount and--crack!--your head hits the door panel anyway. I counted four times during the day. It's something to get used to, for sure. For jollies, you can open the gullwings under about 30 mph and find out how golf-cart drivers feel. That beeping lets you know the car doesn't really want you to do that, sir, please.

When you've clambered in, you'll find out soon that there's not much room inside the SLS, in most any dimension. The seats are marvelously upholstered, but they take up much of the room left for people and things. Finding the right balance of seating position and rake isn't set-and-forget, it's strategy. The steering wheel telescopes, so you can reach a workable driving position, but it's in the tight, horizontally oriented cockpit where the SLS feels most like the Viper.

Leave the extras at home, too. A light, undamped glovebox hides some space, and the twin console bins are shallow, ready only for a cell phone and some other road detritus. A netted pouch hangs between the seats, and that's about it. The huge shelf behind seats isn't usable for cargo, unless you're willing to let go of any rear view. In the trunk you'll find 6.2 cubic feet of space to fill. Golf clubs? A couple of soft-sided bags? Make your choices well, since there's no other stowage available.

As mentioned above, there's also plenty of noise. Music to most of us, it could get annoying to casual users. There are very few moments of true peace in the SLS, though wind noise doesn't enter the equation. Fit and finish are nicely done: there are familiar parts around, like the twin stalks for cruise control and turn signal/wiper functions that you'll mix up once or twice before you get the hang. There's also a good balance of real aluminum trim on the console and the painted plastic on the dash, and some high-quality switchgear to twiddle at stoplights.

Standard features includes the COMAND system, leather trim, an electronic parking brake, headlamp assist, keyless ignition, PARKTRONIC, rain sensors, heated seats, AMG floor mats, cruise control, sports pedals and THERMOTRONIC. Optional goodies include a six-disc DVD charger, a Bang & Olufsen sound system, alarm, and several AMG paint schemes include the special Alubeam Silver. AMG is also offering several performance modifications including a carbon-fiber hood, side mirrors and trim; stiffer suspension settings; forged 10-spoke wheels; sports bucket seats and a performance steering wheel finished in leather and Alcantara.

Safety gear includes six airbags, stability and traction control. The stability system has three modes: full, Sport with some wheelspin, and "off," which experts can turn off at their own risk.

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