Every automaker needs a halo car – a vehicle that embodies the best aspects of the brand. It’s usually fast, often rare, and it’s almost always very pricey. And while the car may not necessarily make a profit, it draws plebes like you and I into showrooms where salespeople can try and convince drooling gawkers to buy something less exciting, simply because it shares a few minor parts with your dream car. (“Actually, the Malibu uses the exact same lug nuts as the ZR1 Corvette!”)
At first glance, it might seem like Mercedes-Benz already has more halo models than a Macy’s in Heaven. Between the super-luxurious Maybach, the Batmobile-like SLR, the teeth-rattlingly-powerful SL65 AMG Black Series and a veritable army of V-12 and AMG V-8 powered sedans, coupes and roadsters, why would they need another mouth-watering ride to suck in passers-by?
But read between the lines, and the need for a true halo car becomes clear. The Maybach models are sold under another brand name designed to distance themselves from “commonplace” Mercedeses. The SL65 Black Series, in spite of its hypertuned engine and Kirstie Alley-worthy crash diet, still looks more or less like a pimped-out everyday SL550 – and you can’t go two blocks in Beverly Hills without seeing one of those. And while the SLR’s McLaren-Mercedes parentage and Gotham City looks made it seem like a promising halo car, it never really caught on; its half-million-dollar price tag didn’t seem worth it, considering a Porsche 911 Turbo could blow it away for one-quarter the price. Besides, the SLR’s production run ends this year.
So what’s a luxury automaker to do? Correct the problems of the last halo car and try again. Hence, the SLS. Successor to the SLR in both position and alphabetical order, the SLS will supposedly be faster, cheaper and easier to love than its predecessor. Instead of aiming for the miniscule hypercar market the SLR was designed for, the SLS will battle against the cream of the crop in the roughly $200,000 range. Expect to see it facing off against everything from the Nissan GT-R to the Porsche 911 GT3 to the Ferrari F430 in both magazine comparisons and bonus-toting executives’ minds.
For the money, the SLS should pack a punch. Power will come from a version of AMG’s 6.2 liter V8 making 563 horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque, running though a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. However, should you want something a little more eco-friendly, Mercedes will be unveiling a 526 horsepower all-wheel-drive electric version…but not until 2015.
To stand out from the pack, the SLS will come with gullwing doors that rise upwards on roof-mounted hinges, just like Mercedes’s 300SL sports car from half a century ago. (Noob alert: be sure not to confuse gullwing doors with scissor, or “Lamborghini,” doors, which also open vertically but have hinges near the base of the windshield. Also note the difference between gullwings and butterfly doors, which open both upwards and outwards in a hybrid movement between scissor doors and conventional doors. Clear?)
Of course, the gullwing doors won’t be available on the convertible version which will follow the coupe into production, but as everyone knows, sometimes you have to forsake a little class if you want to go topless in public.
While Mercedes hasn’t yet pulled the wraps off the car’s styling, they have seen fit to tease us with plenty of pix (and even some video) of the disguised SLS kicking ass and taking names all around the world – including a video of the car lapping the famed Nurburgring racetrack. Plus, one lucky bastard journalist from Edmunds was allowed to take a lap or two around a German proving ground, which you can read about here.
The car is reportedly scheduled to be unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, with vehicles rolling off the production line and into the driveways of the rich and awesome next year. Should you be one of those with the means and desire to snatch up an SLS, we’d suggest beelining for your Mercedes-Benz dealer as soon as you get. Thanks to some sneaky soul, a copy of the dealer’s ordering guide has appeared on the web, giving you a chance to see just what sort of money you might need to throw down. (Ceramic brakes run $12,000, while a 1000-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo goes for $6,400.)
All told, expect to pay somewhere in the range of $175-185,000 for starters; add on a few fun options, like the sound system and special leather seats, and you could easily see the bill hit $200,000. Not too bad, for the world’s greatest Mercedes.