MERCEDES SLS AMG ELECTRIC DRIVE: DRIVEN
Chris goes sideways in an SLS - business as usual? Not when it's an electric one
But the limitations of the Tesla were the limitations of the car on which it was based, the Lotus Elise.
The SLS Electric Drive will go into production in May and the first customers will take delivery in July. The car has a claimed 740hp, 737lb ft of torque and a top speed limited to 155mph.
Same but (very) different
This is not an electric car like the others I've come across. The bodywork looks to be stock SLS but the carbon backbone chassis underneath houses twelve battery modules with 72 cells. And this is where we call need to start using a new vocabulary - that of the fast electric car. It has an energy content of 60 kilowatt hours and can withstand an electric load of 600 kilowatts. To my petrol-addled ears this description makes it sound like an especially potent pair of loudspeakers, but attention is regained once again by the claim of 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds.
Mercedes claims the car will manage 175 miles on a full charge if driven carefully and that 125 miles could be expected if you use some more of that torque. Computer simulations show that the car would run two full laps of the Nordschleife flat-out, but not complete a third. The target lap time is under eight minutes - which is punchy give the car weighs 2,200kg. The batteries alone weigh 548kg.
This is of course a rolling showcase for future technologies as much as a sports car to stand comparison against fossil powered equivalents. It is the very cutting-edge of battery, motor and torque-vectoring technology and yet in terms of kerbweight, range and cost (nearly £400K) it remains uncompetitive with its immediate rivals in the sector.
Comfort gives way to Sport mode, which gives a tighter chassis response through the torque vectoring system and sharper steering The headlines are all about the SLS's electric powertrain, but the chassis systems are just as impressive and certainly more pertinent to the way cars will be engineered in the near future.
Because each wheel has its own motor and gearbox the car can accurately control individual wheel speed in any situation, and this means the chassis team can programme all manner of chassis behaviour, feel and character into the car. So whereas a conventional sports car chassis offers different levels of electronic intervention and perhaps damper stiffness, the SLS feels profoundly different in Comfort than it does in Sport Plus. The steering, power delivery and grip front-to-rear seem to belong to two completely different cars.
Sport Plus is the mode you really want. Full power, full torque, 155mph and slip angles: this car will paint black lines in the dry. It hides its mass very well because the centre of gravity is low and in the centre of the car. The standard SLS Michelins tend to let go at the front first, but the torque-vectoring gamely tries to keep everything neutral - the only problem being that your inputs to trim the car's line sometimes conflict with the computer's. But you quickly learn to adapt to what it wants and doesn't want. And then it dawns on you that you're driving an electric car very, very fast. The carbon ceramic discs that felt supreme in the 1,650kg standard car are at their absolute limit in this one.
No V8? No problem
Switch the traction control off and it's a monster. I mainly drove it in the wet and you could pull monstrous slides - a completely surreal experience with zero engine noise. Straightening the car back into line after the slide was challenging because the computer wants to get involved, but again you learn to adapt.
As for battery life - well, we hooned about using all the performance for an hour and consumed around 65 per cent of the charge. I didn't expect it to last that long. Based on that the 125-claimed range in normal driving seems perfectly achievable, driven slowly that rises to around 175 miles.
I still can't believe that Mercedes AMG has delivered on the promise with this car. It will go into production in May and will cost around £400K. That is crazy money for most of us, but it previews what will be possible very soon. It is the fastest electric car ever made and it happens to offer all the comfort, practicality and style of an SLS. It's unlike anything I've driven before and it left me grinning like a child. Electric cars shouldn't do that.
MERCEDES SLS AMG ELECTRIC DRIVE
Engine: 4x electric motors, 72-cell lithium-ion 60kwh battery
Transmission: One per axle
Power (hp): 740 (combined)
Torque (lb ft): 649 (combined)
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: c. 2,200kg
Range: c. 155miles
Price: c. £400K