The early SLS AMG always felt like a work in progress and did not light my fire. However, I was sure that the ingredients were all there, and that AMG’s first super sports car would eventually come good.
‘Eventually’ turned out to be late 2013 when I was introduced to the SLS AMG Black Series at Paul Ricard Circuit. By the time I had completed less than half a lap I knew that the SLS was finally cooking with gas, and the Black Series flew straight into my Top Ten “Best Supercars” list.
Its greater engine power notwithstanding, the Black Series’ ability to really engage the driver is rooted in its chassis, which takes the front-mid-engine, rear transaxle layout of the SLS to its logical conclusion, realising its full potential.
If the plain vanilla SLS is dynamite, the Black Series is a suitcase nuke. This is definitely not one of those dubious marketing exercises with a few bits of carbon-fibre and 20hp extra, where you struggle to feel the difference.
Those differences are as clear as night and day, and the extra cash over the plain vanilla SLS gets you 60 more horses and 70 less kilos. Think 630hp at 7,400rpm and 634 Nm of torque at 5,500rpm blasting 1,550kg of alloy, carbon-fibre and steel to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds, and on to 315km/h.
The compression ratio is unchanged, but cylinder combustion pressures are higher for greater efficiency and output. This comes about through a combination of shorter intake runners, high-lift camshafts, modified valve gear, titanium exhaust, and a remapped ECU that allows the big V8 motor to rev harder and higher to 8,000rpm.
While the reciprocating parts are busy turning air and petrol into speed, the higher pitched tone of the titanium exhaust delivers crisper fundamentals to a baritone singing voice that stretches even further up the scale than before.
The SLS Black Series possesses a NASCAR grade rolling thunder soundtrack that shakes the very earth from the moment you press the Start button. And when you finally turn it off after a hard blast, the sudden silence is just as shattering.
The weight loss programme for this aluminium space-framed and bodied car embraces a lot of carbon-fibre. This is used structurally for parts like the rear bulkhead, and strategically for the underbody diagonal braces, torque tube, the bonnet, and the lightweight race seats in the cabin.
The carbon-fibre torque tube saves 13.3kg, and is 50-percent lighter than the normal aluminium equivalent. The 13kg titanium exhaust, made by Boysen, is also half the weight of its stainless steel counterpart, and even the lithium ion battery offers a near 50-percent weight saving.
The big ceramic brakes that give the Black Series its strong and tireless retardation also offer a big unsprung weight saving, while the lightweight race style bucket seats are also worth a few kilos. All this combines to make a night and day difference to the way the car accelerates, turns and stops. This is an SLS with the dial turned up to 11.
Out on track, first impressions were of a car with noticeably better throttle response and thrust through the gears. I started off in Sport+ mode but soon reverted to manual shifting, which I personally prefer.
The brilliance of the chassis tuning shines through very clearly. The uprated springs and dampers keep the car flat through the bends, and the active damping system that AMG rolled out at the time of the SLS Roadster’s debut means a less punishing ride on public roads.
The small torsional dampers AMG has installed to limit movement of the motor in front and the gearbox at the rear under lateral loadings, help to keep the car nicely trimmed from turn in to the exit of a bend. All this works very well with the Cup tyres to eke out higher mechanical grip and lateral acceleration than the standard or GT spec SLS models.
Another trick to help the Black Series turn in and tackle bends better than its siblings is the zero to 60-percent locking limited slip differential that AMG has developed in-house.
As the suspension set-up is track biased and tuned to work with Cup tyres, you have to treat the Black Series like a racecar. If you brake in a straight line before turning in you will encounter some understeer. To get everything to gel properly you need to be aggressive but smooth, trail braking into the bends, and rolling progressively onto the throttle. Then the front grips keenly with the nicely damped rear axle following in unison.
At least that is how it initially appears. In actual fact, it is the stability of the rear axle that sets the stage for the chassis, and you have to realise this and then alter the front-end behaviour in the way described above. Because the Black Series is like a racecar in this respect, you have to think like a race driver to get the best from it.
On public roads, the differences perceived both through the steering and the seat of your pants are palpable. The front end is pointier, the car turning in with greater incisiveness but not to the point where it feels darty or over-sensitive.
Meanwhile the back end follows the nose into a bend in perfect synch, showing nimbleness with no sense of nervousness. It is a double act that delivers elation and confidence to the keen driver.
On public roads, the story is a different one. The standard SLS is a low and wide car with limited visibility, and the Black Series is even wider. The ride is definitely on the firm side, albeit far from as punishing as say a Porsche 996 GT3 RS.
Even more so that with stock SLS, the Black Series is always on, its sharp race-bred chassis constantly interacting with the surface of the tarmac, and its big naturally-aspirated V8 always bubbling away just in front of you like a volcano on the point of erupting. You will never fall asleep at the wheel of this machine!