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Doughnuts, drifting, and 130 mph in the Mercedes SLS AMG

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  August 16, 2010 01:36 PM

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As I walk the corner onto Stuart Street toward my car, a slim, young guy wearing tight pants and Ray Charles sunglasses waves me over with a gloved red hand. It's 10 o'clock at night, and I know exactly what he wants.

He's pointing wildly at my car, which happens to be the 2011 Mercedes SLS AMG parked in front of the W Boston hotel. Soon we're trading exclamations and expletives like Benz fanboys on an Internet forum.

We agree the Mercedes SLR, the discontinued 206-mph coupe made by McLaren, is hot in varying degrees. But there's no question that the gullwinged SLS, for more than half the price of the SLR, blows that car apart.

The SLS, in fact, is so popular that the entire production run (roughly 5,000 per year) is spoken for until 2012, the year the world is supposed to end. The SLS driver cited for driving 180 mph in Switzerland last week claimed his Gullwing's speedometer was broken. He faces a fine in excess of $1 million.

Come December 2011, I predict there will be too many speeding tickets, lame excuses, and burnt-out Lamborghinis for authorities to deal with. There will be a Gumball 3000 every week. Swiss police will have to install 250-mph speed cameras to deal with the influx of Bugatti Veyrons taking their final breath on Earth.

So instead of levying obscene infractions, we should be understanding of car knuckleheads like the Swedish SLS owner. They're just enjoying their supercars before the clock stops.

Indeed, it's hard not to be punished while in possession of a supercar like the SLS. Around the corner at Rumor, I had been booted from an Indy 500 "VIP" party after covering the event for Boston.com (the offense: taking photographs). Mario Andretti was there, surrounded by intoxicated Indy racers and young women instructed by the party's promoters to flirt with them.

I delete the club scenes, tuck my Nikon in the boat tail trunk, swing up the door, and fall into the carbon fiber bucket. Ray Charles cracks a big smile as the V-8 ricochets off the hotel. The after-party at Club AMG has begun.

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It continues the next day, when Globe videographer Mike Saunders and I head down to a deserted air force base in Weymouth. Thanks to the racing instructors at In Control, a driving school that uses the runway to teach emergency maneuvers, we've got a half-mile-long stretch and no speed limits. Which prompts me to switch off stability control, plant it, and slide the Benz's big nose all over the tarmac, sloshing my innards around like a playground carousel. When the smoke clears, I'm immediately handed a liability form.

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This behavior goes on for four more hours. Zero to 130 mph launches — some using the AMG "race start" function that keeps the needle at 3,000 rpm — make you appreciate lumbar support, just as 130-to-0 stops elicit thanks toward seatbelts. Our car doesn't have the optional carbon-ceramic brakes, but these monster rotors are primed to hurl your body through the chopped windshield.

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Go nuts during slaloms and hard U-turns and the SLS rewards you with stability. It feels relaxed, poised, and rather hard to drift due to its wide, staggered-size rubber and even weight distribution (the engine is behind the front axle). If you must have more sideways action, buy a 911 GT3 and lift off the gas mid-corner. Or smack a piƱata blindfolded after a few swigs of 151-proof Bacardi. In the end, all you've done is broken something and embarrassed yourself on YouTube. In the SLS, you advance to the next corner.

After cooling off (the transmission and engine oil had overheated in the 95-degree sun), I take my girlfriend out to Abe & Louie's, where the valet refuses to keep the SLS curbside. I ask why, and he says it's a 20-minute loading zone. We loop around to the Mandarin Oriental across the street, and when we're seated at Abe's I notice a Ferrari 360 in the loading zone for the next two hours. It's a good car to have out front — six years ago.

If Ray had been standing there, he'd have made the valet understand the difference.

Read the first part of our time with the SLS AMG here. All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff.

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This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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