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2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

On Mercedes' wings of desire Add to ...

Are you looking for a car you could drive non-stop, averaging say 160 km/h, from Toronto to Montreal and back - while avoiding Highway 401's four lanes for the secondary roads that pass through towns and villages so you could take in the sights, albeit briefly, along the way.

Well, you need search no further than your nearest Mercedes-Benz showroom, where you'll find the 2011 SLS AMG, a car that could definitely get the job done.

After all, one of its spiritual predecessors, the 300SLR, managed to accomplish something much like that in the 1955 Mille Miglia open road race in Italy, covering 1,600 km at an average of 157 km/h with Stirling Moss behind its wheel.

Okay, Moss's 300SLR was a roadster and a thinly disguised Formula One car that owed little other than its distinctive body shape to the 300SL Gullwing road cars the SLS really pays homage to. But it was certainly part of the family born of the 300SL Le Mans and La Carrera Panamericana-winning 300SL racing coupes of 1952 (which introduced the gullwing-door design) and the production coupes and roadsters that followed, even if by marketing department proxy.

And all played their part in creating the legend that inspired Mercedes-Benz and its high-performance arm Mercedes-AMG to attempt to recapture in the SLS the spirit of those heroic (for those who raced them) and glamorous (for those who could afford them) sporting automobiles.

Does that Toronto/Montreal/Toronto run sound improbable? Nah, it would be a snap on closed roads. With 556 hp versus the 1955 racer's 310 hp, a top speed of 317 km/h versus 290 km, immensely more powerful brakes, likely twice the amount of rubber in contact with the road and one of Moss's spiritual successors at the wheel, the SLS could easily manage the feat. But unlike bearded Brit auto journo Dennis Jenkinson who partnered Moss, I don't think I'd volunteer to occupy the co-driver's seat.

Three days of managing to avoid losing my licence in one of these $198,000 super coupes on the road and later driving one on an improvised airport runway track is about all the SLS excitement I'm up for. It's a more than somewhat overwhelming automobile.

Its dry-sump, 6.2-litre V-8 (563 hp/479 lb-ft) and seven-speed double-clutch paddle-shifted gearbox are set amazingly low and far back in its all-aluminum structure, and all wrapped up in bodywork that, while obviously modern, readily evokes the mid-'50s original's look of not-so-subtly contained potency.

Then there are those gullwing doors. Click the fob and a small door handle slides out of the lower panel that you use to lift the door. Watch your head as you step over the wide sill and slip into the muscularly bolstered driver's seat. If you don't have arms like an orangutan, you'll have to hike your backside off the seat to reach up to grab the door to close it.

Now you're ensconced in a cockpit trimmed and equipped in Mercedes-style - elegant but purposeful - luxury, with a flat-bottomed thick-rimmed racing style wheel, a speedometer calibrated to 360 km/h and a tach redlined on the upside of 7,000 rpm in front of you. And, about this time, you're thinking "let the games begin."

When they do, it's with a far-from-theoretical big bang that will literally create a whole new driving universe for most who experience it.

Its electronically controlled "Race Start" is a mind-blower. Twiddle a couple of things to pre-set the system, and with your left foot on the brake, push the throttle pedal to the firewall and keep it there - the revs rise to 3,000 rpm - then lift your foot off the brake and hang on. Simply massive accelerative forces punch you back into the seat, and each automatic shift delivers another Mike Tyson-like body blow. Zero to 100 km/h takes just 3.8 seconds.

And, as for every action there has to be an equal and opposite reaction, when you stand on the huge disc brakes the level of retardation - and the heat generated - must match that of re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

Hyperbole? Okay, but the forces we're talking about here, including 1.38 G of cornering grip, truly reach well beyond the outer limits of most drivers' - who likely start to feel uncomfortable at 0.38 G in a corner - experience.

If you're looking for something to alleviate your longing for the ultimate ride, the SLS AMG will do the trick.

2011 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG

Type: Sports coupe

Base price: $198,000; as tested, $207,700

Engine: 6.2-litre, DOHC, V-8

Horsepower/torque: 563 hp/479 lb-ft.

Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.6 city/10.3 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Aston-Martin DB9 Coupe, Audi R8 V10 5.2L, Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari California, Lamborghini Gallardo Coupe, Porsche 911 Turbo/GT

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