New Cars+New Gear+New Technology
Flirting With The Dark Side In The Most Powerful Mercedes Yet
* Deep within Daimler-Benz's monolithic enterprise resides an enclave for the Black arts. Conducting their secretive activities as the innocuously named AMG Performance Studio, these masters of arcane technologies are not content to perform such commonplace conjurations as turning lead into gold. Theirs is a greater magic, transforming already marvelous alloys of applied science into machines of extraordinary attributes--as I discovered once again in a day behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG Black Series.

The third in a hopefully unending series of Black Series specials, the SL65 Black is so far the most exciting, as well as the most terrifying. A cool head and prudent right foot are needed to keep the twin-turbo V12's 661 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque (electronically limited!) from overwhelming the traction aids, good as they are, which strain to retain a modicum of civilized behavior in a car that can roar from zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and gets sideways even more quickly.

My drive from San Francisco to Laguna Seca began innocently enough, as U.S. roads are not built to accommodate the car's 198-mph top end, and my bank account is not built to accommodate several days' stay in the county jail. But once I began lapping Laguna's iconic road circuit, my velocity became limited not by fear of the law but concern for my ass.

You see, I'm not good enough for the Black, at least on the track. Driving on the street requires the self control of a monk. At full throttle it can make babies cry, grown men weep with envy, and little boys trail along after it like the Pied Piper's rats. And it attracts the law too. Be very careful, or you're going to be arrested on suspicion of something they'll figure out sooner or later.

Transforming the 601-hp SL65 AMG into the track-worthy Black required the wave of a huge financial wand (one reason each of the 175 examples coming to America will start around $300,000), but there's no magic wand big enough to grant me the nads necessary to approach the huge Dunlop tires' limits.

To help protect the unskilled driver and society at large, the Black retains all SL65 safety systems and, thus, much of its weight. So directing more than 4,000 pounds through the track's tight corners made my eyes water with concentration, and made me fully appreciate the special tweaks refined in the Performance Studio's labs and machine shops that turned a luxury car into a scary-fast bellowing beast.

Except for the redesigned twin turbochargers, not much was required to achieve the additional 58 hp, as the hand-built 6.0-liter's innards are plenty stout already. The turbos are newly configured with a spiral cross section that's 12 percent larger, which, together with optimized wastegate ducts, enable higher flow rates and increased power across the rev band. Cooling of the intake charge and engine has been improved by 30 percent more-efficient twin intercoolers, a repositioned radiator, high-performance aspirator, and large vents in the hood. A modified intake air duct and new mufflers deliver a distinctive and wondrous acoustic harmony combining turbo whistle and exhaust boom.

By Greg N. Brown
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