Who would have thought so many variants could spin off from the SLS AMG? Just three years down the line from its launch, the SLS family now has five models to choose from.
If the new Black Series is the Evil Twin, then the Electric Drive is its green conscience. The first and fastest all-electric supercar will go into production in May, hitting European showrooms in July but with a whopping 416,000-euro (about $540,000) price tag.
Until you acquaint yourself with the terminology of electric cars, the specification can be baffling - battery content of 60kwh and a maximum charging load of 600kw sounds like the specification of your local power station rather than transportation.
Do the math, however, and you discover this battery capacity equates to the equivalent of 730hp and 738 lb-ft to all four wheels. Thus, despite its hefty 4850 lb curb weight, the Electric Drive launches to 60mph in 3.9sec, just 0.2sec behind the 563bhp gasoline-powered Mercedes-Benz SLS.
It's not all blood and guts, though. In Comfort mode, the Electric Drive is restricted to a mere 590hp for city driving, which limits the top speed to 125mph. However, it extends the range to about 155 miles and is said to be good for most daily driving.
Of course, we spent much of our time in Sport mode, which selects a different map for the electric steering to sharpen the helm, while torque vectoring is used to sharpen throttle response and agility. Whether braking or accelerating, each electric motor on the individual wheels can alter the car's handling responses and cornering attitude.
Sport Plus produces the biggest changes to the car. In fact, it's a paradigm shift, as both the character and performance are altered to such an extent that you're essentially driving a different car. The steering response, handling balance and thrust moves significantly above Sport mode and will change your perception of electric cars forever.
Imagine leaving four black lines on dry tarmac, and power sliding through tight bends in an electric car. It's hard to fathom. And yet the eeriest experience was exiting a bend with countersteer dialed-in but without the brutal roar of the V8. Instead, the overwhelming sound filtering through the cabin was of the tortured rubber protesting at the slip angles.
Torque and traction define the SLS Electric Drive experience, while its electronics and 4WD mean its equally at home on the racetrack as any other AMG product.
If new-tech doesn't push your buttons, how about the SLS AMG Black Series? In both looks and intent, it falls between the basic SLS and the GT3 racecar that's been claiming victories in the FIA GT championship.
If the regular SLS is dynamite, this Black Series is a suitcase nuke. And it isn't one of those dubious marketing exercises with a few pieces of carbon fiber and shiny wheels. In fact, it has 622hp at 7400rpm and 468 lb-ft at 5500rpm. That's an extra 60hp, and with 154 lb less weight it will blast to 62mph in 3.6sec and on to 196mph.
Where the Electric Drive goes about its business in virtual silence, the Black Series shakes the earth it stands on from the instant you press the Start button. It has noticeably better throttle response and thrust through the gears than the SLS AMG and requires a slightly different approach on the track.
Its set-up is tuned to work with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, so you need to treat it like a racecar. This means you have to be aggressive but smooth, trail-braking into the bends, and rolling progressively onto the throttle. Then the front grips nicely, with the well-damped rear axle following in perfect union.
A duel betwwen the Electric Drive and Black Series was unintended, and born from the innocent idea of using the Electric Drive as a camera car to shoot the Black Series for a few fast laps. Yet what transpired was a huge surprise: As I had the Black Series on the limit of adhesion exiting a bend, I found the 'camera car' simply driving away with its superior torque and traction, without a hint of drama.
At the end of the day, the Electric Drive was truly impressive, but rather too Xbox 360. It impresses rather than engages, and appeals to the head rather than the heart.
The SLS Black Series is the polar opposite. Seldom do I punch the air after getting out of a car, but it's the best drivers' car AMG has ever made, and is a drive of heroic proportions.
2014 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series
Layout front-engine, RWD
Engine 6208cc V8 24v DOHC variable valve timing
Transmission seven-speed AMG Speedshift DCT dual-clutch
Brakes 15.8" ceramic rotors, six-piston calipers f, 14.2", four-piston r
Suspension double wishbone, adjustable coilovers f & r
Wheels & Tires 19x10" f, 19x12" r wheels, 275/35 ZR19 f, 325/30 ZR20 r Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires
Exterior active rear spoiler
Power 622hp at 7400rpm
Torque 468 lb-ft at 5500rpm
Top Speed 196mph
Weight 3417 lb