Six laps of a racetrack in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series will have most drivers wondering if there is some black magic involved in getting this long, wide sports car to be so ridiculously fast through corners.
More than that, after previous stints in a C63 AMG Black Series and regular SLS AMG, both also at Phillip Island raceway in southern Victoria, more wonderment comes in how this $639,000 flagship Mercedes-Benz can feel so different to its siblings.
The regular SLS ‘gullwing’ – referencing those top-hinged doors that open like a seagull’s wing – has a nose with its own postcode and a heavy 6.2-litre V8 engine under its bonnet. The driver basically sits on the rear axle, where all the power goes. What you have with the regular SLS is a car that is blunt to initially turn in, which requires its driver to watch the seconds tick by waiting for the front end to grip before applying throttle. Then, when the throttle is pressed, even slightly, the rear end kicks out as though the car has clicked its fingers and opened a trap door. It is all very thrilling, but isn’t for those with heart-rate monitors, nor people who enjoy stories with happy endings.
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series is ostensibly the same car, yet it is completely different. Just 10 examples are coming to Australia, eight of which had been sold at the time of writing. The Black costs a seemingly staggering $170,000 more than that regular SLS, but after a half-dozen laps at Phillip Island it’s easy to see where the money has been spent.
It has been loaded with expensive, lightweight carbonfibre, which saves 13kg on the ‘torque tube’ alone. Another 13kg is saved with the titanium sports exhaust, a fuller 16kg dropped thanks to fancy ceramic brakes, and 15kg shaved with the fixed bucket racing seats. A lithium-ion battery contributes another 8kg to the total 70kg weight loss compared with the regular SLS AMG, the Black Series tipping the scales at 1625kg.
At the same time it now produces 44kW more power from a tweaked version of that 6.2-litre V8, though torque is reduced by 15Nm. The engine now revs to 8000rpm, and the gearbox gets faster shift times and has been physically lowered by 10mm to improve the centre of gravity. The width between the front wheels increases by 20mm, the distance between the rear wheels up 24mm, designed to improve agility. An electronic differential lock has been added to the rear axle to improve traction and composure.
The SLS AMG Black Series is a prime example of focused, nuanced improvements creating a drastically different beast.
With the international launch occurring only a week before our drive on Australian soil, a single left-hand-drive SLS AMG Black Series was flown in for our track test. The cabin is lathered in leather, carbonfibre and Alcantara – a properly special place to be for that very special price.
The SLS AMG Black Series reaches 100km/h in 3.6 seconds. More telling is its speed through the bends. Equipped with 10mm-wider front, 30mm-wider rear Michelin Pilot Cup2 Sport tyres, the Black permits staggering mid-corner speed.
Into the tricky double-apex second corner at Phillip Island – the same one where the regular SLS wanted to swap ends – the SLS AMG Black Series just kept begging for a higher corner entry speed. The steering is telepathic in its turn in, with devastingly fast response just off the centre position matched by a front end that grips and a rear end that allows power-down easy and early.
Between corners the SLS AMG Black Series gathers such pace that determining a braking point becomes blurred. Indeed it piles on so much speed through the sweeping turn four that the tight hairpin turn five initially proves hairy. But the SLS AMG Black Series just digs in and does. It feels incredibly tight on this track.
Only once on that tight, slow corner-exit does the Black smear black tyre marks on the tarmac thanks to a deliberately early application of throttle. In tight corners, the sharp initial steering response gives way to a slightly vague feel when winding on lock – possibly the only dynamic blip found on the six laps.
In the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission’s most aggressive ‘Sport Plus’ setting, it delivers near perfectly timed downshifts under brakes and holds gears appropriately between corners.
There are cool-to-touch magnesium paddle shifters behind the Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel, but they’re ultimately not necessary. The transmission is now fast enough and clever enough to leave the driver focused completely on getting other inputs closer to correct.
No overstatement required – the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series is one of the fastest track cars around, and is said to be up there with V8 supercar lap times around a circuit.
It’s difficult to define a verdict with only six laps of raceway.
More time is needed, particularly on the road, to see if the firmer suspension works in regular driving or is too bone-rattling, which would limit the Black Series to an expensive track day monster.