There have been four Black Series models since the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG Black Series introduced itself to European audiences in 2006. Following that, the Black Series club has hosted appearances by the 2008 CLK63 AMG Black Series, the 2009 SL65 AMG Black Series and last year's 2013 C63 AMG Black Series. The sixth member of the group is one we would have thought already was a Black Series car in its standard guise. Right out of the box, the SLS AMG is loud, frenetic, cozy, boisterous and frightfully easy to oversteer. How much more Black did it need to get?
Quite a bit so, apparently. The SLS AMG Black Series has lost weight, gained power and been refitted with upgrades and aero bits from front to rear. If you liked the way it looked before, you'll probably be an even bigger fan of this one. If you thought it looked ungainly, well, this one should stay even further away from pageants. Regardless of where you come down this is the best SLS AMG variant we've driven.
"Extreme performance for the road" and "race driver for the street" were the mottoes that guided development of the SLS AMG Black Series, but that could reasonably be said of every model that has worn the Black Series badge. No other model, however, had a dedicated race variant from which to draw inspiration, whereas this one does: the SLS AMG GT3 race car. Last year, the checkered-flag-only version continued to put the bite behind its ridiculously basso bark with 43 victories and nine titles in global competition, including both driver and team titles in the FIA GT3 and FIA GT1 World Championships.
The tech transfer went, in large part, in the other direction – from the road car to the race car.
Ola Källenius, Chairman of Mercedes-AMG, said of the road car, "The new SLS AMG Black Series is a perfect study in the one-hundred-percent transfer of technology and engineering from motorsport to road. We have drawn inspiration from the worldwide success of the SLS AMG GT3 customer sport racing car on both a conceptual and a technological level."
The problem is that, at the drive event we were invited to attend at the Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France, Tobias Moers, Head of Total Vehicle Development at AMG, admits that the tech transfer went, in large part, in the other direction – from the road car to the race car. That is to say, the car you could buy on dealer floors was already engineered to such a high degree that, once you parked it on the paddock straight, you were already halfway there. It's similar to the Audi R8 Grand-Am, in which the production engine has just three changes made to itand the race car is more than half made of up production car bits, the body panels being much of the difference. The SLS AMG GT3 got its carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) torque tube from the road car, and when we asked about getting rid of the HVAC system in the Black Series, Moers told us, "The GT3 car has air conditioning."
"We wanted it to be among the best performing cars at the Hockenheimring."
When asked what the objective was, Moers said, "We wanted it to be among the best performing cars at the Hockenheimring," which is ostensibly to German car buffs what the Nürburgring has become to us. In the 'short' configuration as used by German magazineSport Auto, Moers said they wanted to take 2.5 seconds off the lap time of the SLS AMG GT at the track. The Black Series did Hockenheim in 1:08, and if these lap times can be trusted, that would put it somewhere between the road-legal Radical SR3 SL and Chevrolet Corvette Z06 with the Z07 Package in the 1:08 bracket, joining other speedy coupes like the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Lamborghini Aventador LP700-4 and McLaren MP4-12C. Oh, and yes, it does the circuit at least 2.5-seconds quicker than the SLS AMG GT.
An enlarged heart is where the upgrades begin, the 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 getting a higher redline in the Black Series than in the GT – 8,000 rpm versus 7,200 rpm – and 39 more horsepower for a total of 622 hp at 7,400 rpm. Torque drops a touch, from 479 pound-feet in the GT to 468 lb-ft at 5,500 rpm in the Black Series. To keep her steady in front, AMG installed a gas-filled strut between the engine and the body, and another gas-filled strut stabilizes the transmission.
Since everyone knows a bionic heart needs bionic parts to really show off, the limbs and sinews also come in for nth-degree engineering. A CFRP torque tube runs from the engine to the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, that gearbox under the orders of rewritten software to perform even quicker shifts and rev-match on downshifts. It has been placed almost half an inch lower to drop the center of gravity, the low CoG aided as well by items like the CFRP hood and CFRP rear bulkhead panel.
154 pounds of track-day bloat have been removed from the Black Series compared to the GT.
The coilover suspension gets new wishbone mounts and knuckles, revised camber settings and bushings and increased spring rates. It hangs out further as well, the track stretched in the front by 0.8 inches, out back by 0.9 inches. The Adaptive Performance suspension's two damping settings for Sport and Sport+ are suited to different terrain: the former for country roads and undulating tracks with altitude variations like The 'Ring where you need a little more body roll and compliance, and the latter for flatter tracks like Paul Ricard.
One hundred and fifty four pounds of track-day bloat have been removed from the Black Series compared to the GT, the titanium exhaust accounting for almost 29 of it. The CFRP torque tube drops almost another 30 pounds, the two-piece high performance brake system omits another 35.3, the ten-spoke forged wheels – 19 inches in front, 20 inches in back wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber – shave 8.8 pounds of unsprung mass. A lithium-ion battery replaces the conventional unit, and it sheds nearly 18 pounds by comparison. It could have been made even lighter, but AMG wanted it to be robust enough for year-round use; it doesn't need to be removed in the winter.
The final tally is a curb weight of 3,417 pounds. If you're keeping track, that's a couple hundred pounds more than the 2014 Porsche GT3.
The top speed of the Black Series is one mile per hour less than the GT at 196 mph.
There are no such weight-weenie subtleties on the outside, the SLS AMG Black Series announcing its road-legal race car intentions with a shoebox full of aero bits. Black Series tells like the black surrounds on the rear lights are lost among the fender flares, air intakes and extractors, carbon fiber lips and skirting, a wide rear diffuser and – should one opt for the AMG Aerodynamics Package – a carbon fiber wing with a Gurney flap. It will get you 60 kilograms of downforce at 200 kilometers per hour, and is why the top speed of the Black Series is one mile per hour less than the GT at 196 mph.
DTM legend Bernd Schneider led the way for lead-follows around Paul Ricard, and it was evident as soon as the hot laps began that he wasn't being paid to take it easy. The first version of the SLS AMG didn't hesitate to punish sloppiness or a lack of focus through a corner, throwing its back way out any time it was thoughtlessly provoked. That was brought under control a couple of years later when the suspension settings were revised for more compliance in the less rowdy settings, but it was still ready to do the pendulum without much need for coaxing.
Two surprises are the thinness of the flat-bottomed steering wheel and the lightness of the steering.
The track setup on this day had Turn One as a 90-degree right-hander, another 90-degree right just 50 yards further that was a little more open, then a short straight to build up just enough speed that you'd have to hit the brakes hard for a 90-degree left-hander that went immediately into a 90-degree right and an increasing-radius left that led to a long straight, after which the rest of the track opened up into single- and double-apex high-speed sweepers left and right until the final tight right took you back onto the main straight. That first sequence would have been at least four invitations to mess up the entire lap, and perhaps even your day and one of the press cars, in the original SLS AMG. On top of that, when we took the roadgoing SLS AMG out on the Autobahn just a few months ago, we found it to be a little nervous once deep into triple digits.
Both of those behaviors have been quelled in the SLS AMG Black Series. Strap into the non-adjustable carbon fiber buckets in the Black Series – we won't get those in the US, we'll get the traditional seats – and pull out onto the track, and the first two surprises are the thinness of the Alcantara-shod, flat-bottomed steering wheel and the lightness of the steering. For all its lightness, though, it is precise. We wouldn't complain about having to make more effort, but we've no complaints about what you can do with it.
Torch the throttle down the main straight and the speed comes on quickly, the roar from the titanium exhaust doing so even more quickly. Fitted with new center and rear mufflers, this thing shouts inside and outside such that the engine note alone can practically tell you all you need to know about what you're doing and how you're doing it.
There might have been a speed at which we felt, "Hey, this might be enough," we just never got there.
When we began braking to set up for the first turns, see-sawed the wheel left and right a few times and made it onto the back straight, our initial question was why everything went so well. There was a three-part answer: the suspension tuning with greater rigidity in front for better turn-in and mid-corner stability, the additional CFRP stiffening throughout the chassis, and the electronically locking rear differential that replaces the mechanical item. That electronic LSD, introduced to the Mercedes-Benz lineup on this car, does the equivalent of ordering the back of the car "Behave!" Instead of the feeling we usually get in an SLS AMG, which is "This thing can get out of hand at any moment," we felt, "This will get out of hand if I get out of hand." We didn't turn ESP completely off, the stability program tune in S+ offering plenty of rear-wheel slidey action and four-wheel drift through the sweepers to match our abilities.
Getting well above 100 miles per hour on the front and back straights, at no time did we experience the nervousness encountered in the standard road car. In fact, we wished the straights were longer. There might have been a speed at which we felt, "Hey, this might be enough," we just never got there.
Production will be very limited and there are only a handful of options.
While we were told that the S+ setting is for flat tracks like Paul Ricard, "flat" is a relative term – the Black Series in S+ is stiff enough to register the variations even in Paul Ricard's surface. So although certain unruly former aspects of the SLS road car have been quelled in the Black Series, we're happy they haven't been completely tamed – the constant feedback in the ride never lets you forget you're driving seriously tuned track-day hardware, but the knowledge stays front-of-mind for the right reasons. You can focus on mastering the beast instead of counting how many times the beast seemed intent on throwing you off.
The SLS AMG Black Series goes on sale on our shores this summer. Production will be very limited and there are only a handful of options like the color, whether to delete the COMAND infotainment system (and save 13 pounds) or include the 1,000-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system, and how many carbon fiber bits you'd like to stick on the outside.
There are easier street-legal race cars to drive, but there can be too much of a smooth thing, too – there's a reason that rodeo riders saddle up to conquer broncos and bulls, not cows. The SLS AMG Black Series hits a good balance; neither surgical nor monstrous, it's involving. Learn to ride it hard, you'll find it rewarding, too