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Friday, November 7, 2008

SL65 Black Series First Drive- A Titan among Titans

Presenting a few figures to unclog your arteries: 661 horsepower, 738 pound-feet of torque, a $300,000 price tag, claimed 0 to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds, a top speed electronically limited to . . . 200 mph. Ahhh. You may now skip tonight's dose of Lipitor.

The new top model in the AMG lineup, the twin-turbocharged, V-12 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series will slip into American traffic this January as inconspicuously as a librarian redecorating her desk with a chain saw. From the front or back, the Black Series resembles a mad, robotic bulldog, its leviathan fender flares stretching overall width to nearly six and a half feet. Every body panel except the rear fenders and the doors is made of lightweight carbon fiber -- including the new fixed roof, which hides an integrated roll bar. The rear apron incorporates an underbody diffuser for improved downforce; also assisting is a rear wing that automatically rises above 75 mph.

AMG employs 60 engine-builders, 40 of whom are trained to produce V-12s. Each SL65 Black Series powerplant is assembled by one of those men from start to finish, a process that takes about seven hours (including testing). Compared with the "normal" SL65, the Black Series gets redesigned, better-breathing turbos; a modified intake tract; and a reengineered exhaust with reduced backpressure. The resulting 6.0-liter monster produces so much torque, AMG uses an electronic limiter to keep the madness in check. Without it, the blown V-12 would produce more like 885 pound-feet. Incredibly, despite the power boost, the Black Series delivers five percent better fuel efficiency than the standard SL65.

The superb Mercedes seven-speed automatic simply can't handle even the "limited" 738 pound-feet, so the Black Series gets the stouter five-speed auto with paddle shifters. The transmission offers four program modes, including two full-manual programs (M2 shifting 20 percent quicker than M1). Like an expert driver, the automatic also performs double-clutch downshifts, helping to prevent sudden load changes that could diminish stability when entering fast corners or driving on slick surfaces.

An all-new coil-over suspension lies under the carbon-fiber extravaganza. Wheels are 19-inch light alloys up front and 20-inchers in the rear, with high-performance Dunlop Sport Maxx GT rubber all around. Each corner wears a vented, perforated disc brake, with six-piston calipers forward and 4-piston to the rear. Stability modes include ESP On, ESP Sport, and, if you're feeling a flash of insanity, ESP Off.

European buyers get full carbon-fiber door trim, but air bag requirements in the U.S. mean we have to settle for sumptuous leather. The sport seats offer a deep embrace, and the flat-bottom steering wheel stays out of the way of your legs while looking racy. The standard navigation system is simply lousy. Driving through San Francisco, I often had to guess when "she" wanted me to turn. Her vocabulary is more limited than a kindergartner's, too.

Not that you'll care. Step on the throttle, and your own vocabulary will momentarily lapse into mere grunts and screams. So much torque floods the 325/30R20 rear Dunlops, the Black Series nearly stands on end. You'd never move an inch forward without traction control.

Running high-speed laps around Laguna Seca, I left the stability system in ESP Sport, which allowed the tail to wag just a little and kept the revs from bogging down, as happens with full ESP on. This is an explosive automobile, not a finesse machine. Lots of handling grip, with surprisingly little understeer, but it's no match for the nimbler, V-8 SL63 AMG.

The power is fantastic, real head-banging stuff. Imagine the egos you could crush on the autobahn with this two-seat sledgehammer. The five-speed auto proved a little clunky at times, though. Hit the rev limiter, and before you can upshift the transmission pauses. The engine almost seems to reboot. Rather than simply bouncing back to life as revs drop, it stops, takes a breath, then reawakens as you get your upshift. I'm talking blink-of-an-eye timing here, but on a racetrack even mere ticks are confounding. And, obviously, you can avoid the whole issue by simply staying clear of the redline.

The brakes are sensational, stopping hard and never fading. Body motions are well-controlled, but the Black Series feels more at home on the track than on the road. It rides hard, too hard if you're cruising over anything but billiard-table blacktop. Of course, the suspension has a lot of mass to keep in control: Even though all that carbon fiber drops the weight by 210 pounds over a standard SL65, the Black Series still tops 4100 pounds.

Will anyone who can afford the SL65 Black Series care? Not likely. This is a statement car, an "I've-got-more-power-than-you" megabruiser that simply screams, "just try me." It wears its speed on its carbon-fiber sleeve, daring other sports cars to trespass, gloating over mortal automobiles in the valet lane, elevating its driver to the status of Hercules. Anyone still in its vicinity need only hear the estimated base price -- roughly $300,000 -- before fleeing in terror from the overwhelming audacity of this monumental machine.

Just 350 persons worldwide will be able to purchase an SL65 AMG Black Series. Half of the cars are coming to the U.S. And, yes, much of the limited production is already sold.

Stay tuned to this channel: Coming soon, full road-test numbers. You may even feel the ground rumble.

2010 Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series
Base price$300,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door coupe
Engines 6.0L/661-hp/738-lb-ft twin-turbo SOHC 36-valve V-12
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 4100 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 100.8 in
Length x width x height 180.7 x 77.2 x 51.6 in
0-60 mph 3.6 sec (mfr)
EPA city/hwy 12/19 mpg (MT est)
CO2 emissions 1.35 lb/mile
On sale January 2009