The new Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is an impressive testament to the competence and experience of Mercedes-Benz and our Formula 1 partner McLaren in the development and production of high-performance sports cars. The two-seater, with its striking swing-wing doors and styling elements borrowed from the Formula 1 Silver Arrows, builds on the legacy of the famous SLR race cars of the 1950s. Equipped with cutting-edge race car technology and ground-breaking new Mercedes developments, designed to ensure a high standard of safety and suitability for day-to-day use, the new SLR creates a distinctive image for itself as a 21st-century Gran Turismo - a thrilling synthesis of tradition and innovation.
The newly developed V8 supercharged engine delivers an output of 626 hp and accelerates the sports car from 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. The top speed is approximately 207 mph. The body of the new SLR, like those of the Mercedes-McLaren Formula 1 race cars, is made from carbon fibre composites - lightweight materials which demonstrate exemplary energy absorption, hence ensuring the highest standard of occupant protection. The SLR is the world’s first series-produced car to have a front crash structure manufactured entirely from carbon fibres. Adaptive airbags, newly developed kneebags and sidebags, belt tensioners, high-performance ceramic brake discs and an automatically adaptive airbrake in the boot lid round off the range of safety equipment on board the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, setting new standards in this vehicle class.
Technology way ahead of its time and an abundance of power - these were the hall-marks of the legendary SLR race cars in which Fangio, Moss, Kling and other Mercedes drivers achieved spectacular victories in all of the major road races in 1955. The new SLR demonstrates the same characteristics, its groundbreaking technical innovations distinguishing it as the Mercedes-Benz among high-performance sports cars.
Two Longitudinal Members made from Carbon Fibre Composite Absorb Energy in a Head-On Collision
The 21st-century Gran Turismo is made almost entirely from carbon fibre composite. This lightweight yet extremely rigid material originated in the aeronautical and space industries and has also proven its benefits in today’s Formula 1 race cars. The weight advantage of the high-tech material over steel is around 50 percent, and the carbon fibres, on impact, are characterised by four to five times higher energy absorption than steel or aluminium. Mercedes-Benz exploits these qualities by incorporating two 620-millimetre longitudinal members made from carbon fibre in the front structure of the new SLR. These absorb the entire energy of the crash in a defined head-on collision, leaving the passenger cell largely undamaged. It is also made entirely from carbon fibre composite and therefore offers a very safe survival zone in side-on or rear-end collisions too.
Mercedes-Benz has introduced new material technology to the manufacture of the brake discs too. They are made from fibre-reinforced ceramic and are characterised by high fade-resistance and a very long life. In collaboration with the electrohydraulic braking system, Sensotronic Brake Control (SMC™), they allow outstanding deceleration figures too, impressively underlining the motor racing heritage of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren.
626-hp V8 powerplant with Cutting-Edge Compressor Technology
In the interests of optimum dynamic handling and high stability on braking, the new Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren has a front mid-engined design. The high-performance V8 engine, mounted on a robust aluminium frame, is installed at a low level which allows a low centre of gravity for agile handling.
With its 5.5-litre displacement, the supercharged engine develops a peak output of 460 kW/626 hp and delivers its maximum torque of 575 lbs-ft from 3250 rpm - a figure which remains constant across a broad engine speed range of up to 5000 rpm. This means that the SLR 8-cylinder is among the most powerful engines currently available in a series-produced roadgoing sports car. This high-performance car takes just 3.8 seconds to sprint from 0 to 60, it passes the 124 mph mark after 10.6 seconds, and from a standing start it takes just 28.8 seconds to reach 186 mph. The top speed is 207 mph.
The 5-speed automatic transmission, fitted as standard, is also designed for high performance. It allows the driver to choose between three programs with different shift characteristics. When "Manual" is selected, the five gears can either be shifted using buttons on the steering wheel or using the selector lever’s Touchshift function. In this mode the driver can also select between three shift stages - "Sport", "SuperSport" and "Race" - significantly shortening the shift times still further for an even sportier drive.
Aerodynamic Concept uses Expertise from the World of Formula 1
The body design of the Gran Turismo with the Mercedes star takes classical styling elements from the legendary SLR race cars of the 1950s and blends them masterfully with the sophisticated, avantgarde design language of both the latest Mercedes passenger car models and of the modern-day Silver Arrow race cars which took the McLaren Mercedes team to Formula 1 World Championship glory in 1998 and 1999. The design’s concept, in other words, thrillingly spans the divide between past and present, whilst at the same time showing the way forward for the sports car designs of tomorrow.
In order to meet the highest of standards in terms of handling at top speed, directional stability and the cooling air requirements necessary for high-performance cars of this kind, Mercedes-Benz worked with McLaren on developing this model’s superlative aerodynamics, ensuring exemplary roadholding plus the on-road safety standards typical of Mercedes. Following extensive wind-tunnel tests, the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren was given a virtually smooth underbody with a special six-channel diffusor under the rear. Both features are familiar design principles from Formula 1. They ensure that the airflow beneath the vehicle is virtually unimpeded and that negative lift, or downforce, is produced at higher speeds. The distinctive sidepipes on each side of the vehicle are also the result of this high-performance sports car’s aerodynamic underbody concept: a conventional exhaust gas system would have disrupted the smooth line of the underbody.
At the rear of the SLR an adaptive spoiler provides additional downforce. From a speed of 95 km/h, it automatically adopts a 10-degree position, increasing the contact pressure at the rear axle. The spoiler also doubles as an airbrake: when the driver brakes heavily, it rises to an angle of 65 degrees, not only ensuring increased aerodynamic drag but also shifting the aerodynamic centre further towards the rear. This lends the SLR excellent stability when braking from high speeds.
Functionality and Luxury Stylishly Combined
It is the very high levels of practicality and luxury that truly make the interior of the SLR stand out. Individually padded carbon-frame seats, a multifunction steering wheel with race-car-type buttons for manual gear selection, clearly arranged chronometer-style instruments and high-grade materials define the atmosphere inside the high-performance sports car.
Alongside carbon and aluminium, the Mercedes designers have used "Silver Arrow" leather, specially developed for the SLR, which is available in the distinctive red of the legendary 1950s SLR race car.
SLR -three letters that have a magical effect on car and motor racing enthusiasts. Letters that symbolize the epitome of automotive appeal and originally stood for "Sporty," "Light" and "Racing." This was the principle by which Mercedes-Benz designed the legendary 1955 racing sports cars in which drivers were able to win spectacular double or treble victories in the Mille Miglia, Targa Florio or Tourist Trophy. Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, Karl Kling, Graf Berghe von Trips, Hans Hermann, Desmond Titterington and John Cooper Fitch sat behind the wheel of the super-fast SLR and made this Silver Arrow the most successful racing car of the season.
As a masterpiece of power and elegance the new Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren now continues the legend of the SLR racing sports cars, once more awakening the passion for high-performance sports cars bearing the Mercedes star.
To do justice to the special status traditionally enjoyed by a car bearing the evocative model designation SLR, Mercedes -Benz and McLaren contributed some of their extensive technical motor racing expertise to the series development of the new high-performance sports car. Examples include the high-strength front-end structures of the SLR, which are derived from the monocoque designs used in Formula 1 racing cars - for the first time in a series production car these are entirely of carbon fibers.
This sophisticated safety technology is accompanied by a braking system designed for top-class performance, with brake discs of fiber-reinforced ceramics which have likewise proved their worth in motor sports with outstanding fade resistance and excellent deceleration values. In addition, the front-mid engine concept of the new SLR puts the engine and transmission near the center of the vehicle. In conjunction with a suspension configuration adopted from motor racing, it ensures perfect handling and delivers an incomparable driving experience. This is reinforced by the 460 kW/626 hp high-performance engine, which was developed by Mercedes-AMG. This equips the SLR with one of the most powerful engines to be found in a roadgoing, series-production sports car.
Motor racing is also the source of the downforce-based aerodynamic principle of the SLR, with a six-channel diffuser on the underbody and an automatically extending spoiler in the trunk lid which doubles as an airbrake.
Exciting lines and sophisticated appointments
The exciting design of this high-performance sports car was inspired by the SLR racing sports cars of the 1950s and the current Formula 1 Silver Arrows. The long hood, the taut midsection, the passenger compartment that is well positioned toward the back, the short rear and the gull-wing doors translate the fascination of high speed driving into a visual experience. The designers have turned the interior of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren into a combination of purist sports-car expression and exceptional luxury. Carefully selected materials such as carbon, aluminum and leather of the highest quality and exclusivity specially chosen for the SLR accentuate the interior of this Gran Turismo and underline its special status.
In addition the new SLR features numerous other technical highlights which ensure the highest level of comfort and safety - from the innovative kneebag and powerful bi-xenon headlamps to a sophisticated sound system and a dynamic navigation system.
A choice of 13 exclusive paint colours is available, for example. These hues can either display the rich tone of the monochrome “Pure” paint or the deep, textured effect of the “Crystal” paints. Special metal particles in these water-soluble, environmentally friendly metallic paints produce a surface structure with a particularly intense effect characterised by captivating depth and fascinating brilliance. Because the proportion of metal varies from colour to colour, the characteristic carbon-fibre structure of the body surface can be visible depending on the vehicle colour - especially at high temperatures or high humidity. This attractive effect is inherent in the technology and concept.
Ten-spoke or turbine look
The standard equipment for the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren includes attractive 18-inch light-alloy wheels with ten spokes. The wheels are fitted with different size tyres at the front and rear. Large 19-inch wheels with an asymmetrical turbine look that strongly emphasises the dynamic character of the Gran Turismo are available as optional equipment. With these wheels, the easily visible brake callipers can be painted either red or gold as a further optional extra, for a striking focal point.
A stylish combination of practicality and luxury
The interior of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is a unique combination of exquisite luxury and pure sports car surroundings that creates an incomparable, captivating atmosphere. Aluminium and carbon stand for practicality and in the vehicle’s two-colour interior concept, they form a stimulating contrast with the high-quality leather upholstery in semi-aniline, rich Alcantara and fine pearl velour.
As an alternative to the standard equipment package, Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren customers can opt for the untreated, Silver Arrow leather exclusively developed for the SLR, with its unique quality and availability in a wide range of colours. In addition to having a fascinating structure, this untreated leather is inviting to touch, remarkably soft and breathable, and resistant to slipping. It lends the interior the sensual, tactile quality and fragrance of the finest leather, ensuring a very special ambience. A total of 15 leather colours are available. All together, this means customers can choose from a wide range of possible combinations of paints and colours.
The exquisite equipment, which combines the highest levels of practicality and luxury, harmonises beautifully with the modern sports car technology of the Mercedes -Benz SLR McLaren. In the interest of achieving superlative handling dynamics and high braking stability, the high-performance vehicle was conceived as a front-mid-engined sports car. The powerful V8 engine mounted on a sturdy aluminium frame is set low to provide a low centre of gravity and enhance the agility of the car.
Developed by Mercedes-AMG, the car’s supercharged V8 engine generates 460 kW/626 hp from 5.5 litres of displacement and powers the sports car from zero to 60 mphh in 3.8 seconds. The maximum speed is 334 km/h. A water-type charge-air cooling system, dry-sump lubrication and four metal catalytic converters are also among the highlight features of this powerful engine.
Like the Formula 1 racing car produced by McLaren-Mercedes, the new SLR also has a body made of lightweight carbon-fibre materials (CRP) with an outstanding degree of energy absorption, thus providing maximum safety to the driver and passenger. The SLR is the world’s first series-production car with a front crash structure that consists entirely of carbon fibre. The ESP® Electronic Stability Program, adaptive airbags, newly developed knee and head/thorax airbags, seat belt tensioners, high-performance ceramic brake discs and an automatically activated airbrake on the boot lid round off the safety equipment of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, which sets new standards in this class.
Test Drives impressions
The purpose of the vehicle is to put Formula One technology in an accessible, comfortable vehicle. The SLR McLaren is part race car, part typical Mercedes model. Forbes.com recently traveled to Le Castellet in the south of France to test-drive the car at a promotional event. For driving impressions and more information on the vehicle, please see the slide show that follows.
The SLR McLaren, which arrived in May 2004, is selling "extremely well," according to Klaus Nesser, chief executive of Mercedes’ Maybach and SLR divisions. Mercedes only publishes SLR sales at the end of the year; in 2004, it sold 45 SLRs in the U.S., the car’s biggest market. In comparison, Porsche sold 207 models of its $440,000 Carrera GT supercar, the SLR’s main competitor, in the first seven months of 2005. However, Mercedes was ramping up the SLR’s volume in 2004, and Nesser said he expects the car will soon catch up with the Porsche.
In the meantime, the SLR offers a staggering driving experience. Almost no other cars can touch either its sticker price or its performance chops, which come from such extravagant features as a supercharged, 617-hp V-8 engine, which-as you might imagine-is a blast to control. But we won’t spoil the fun just yet.
Rocketing away from a stop, the SLR’s acceleration is severely limited by grip. The AMG-built supercharged twin-intercooled 5.4-liter V-8 (now said to be producing about 600 horsepower and just under 600 lb-ft of torque) overwhelms the specifically designed Michelin rubber. While the engine shares its displacement, architecture, and location of manufacture with other AMG products, we’re assured the overachieving V-8 is SLR-specific and takes almost twice the time (about five hours) to build as any other AMG production-car motor. Thanks to the car’s low 5.1:1 power-to-weight ratio and slippery shape, a mid-11-second quarter-mile time is an easy estimate to make.
A very notable aspect of the SLR’s design: its platform, outer shell and flat underbody tray are constructed of nearly 100-percent carbon fiber, so "bending" the vehicle really isn’t an option. The Mercedes folks showed us some post-crash test carbon-fiber cones that mount just aft of the SLR’s front bumper (also made of carbon fiber) and ahead of its aluminum engine cradle. Upon examining said cones, we saw that this ultralightweight, ultrastrong material tends to crumble and shred during severe impacts, but it doesn’t bend. Regardless of terminology, we weren’t interested in testing out the SLR’s high-tech crash protection system, though we were assured by company representatives that the car provides a level of passive safety (airbags, cabin integrity, energy absorption, etc.) equal to or greater than that of an S-Class. Not a surprising result when you consider that, while carbon fiber is 30-percent lighter than aluminum, it offers four to five times as much energy absorption capability as steel or aluminum during a collision.
Much of the SLR’s design philosophy, including those carbon-fiber impact-absorbing cones, comes courtesy of McLaren Cars, Ltd., a specialty car builder out of Woking, England. McLaren is better known for producing Mercedes-Benz’s F1 race cars than ultraexotic street cars (though it did produce the extremely limited BMW -powered McLaren F1 back in the mid-1990s, a vehicle many still consider the ultimate street car). Because Mercedes has contracted McLaren to build the SLR, and because the company was after world-class performance, the heavy use of carbon-fiber materials, along with ceramic brake components and active aerodynamics, seems appropriate. Certainly, with the SLR capable of 200-plus mph, it’s nice to know that the movable rear spoiler can rotate up to a 65-degree angle to work as an airbrake when jumping on those ceramic binders. This same spoiler tilts 10 to 30 degrees at 60 mph and above to aid high-speed stability.
According to Mercedes-Benz, carbon fiber offers the strength of steel or aluminum, but is generally 50 per cent lighter. The SLR features a carbon fiber monocoque or, as Mercedes puts it, "passenger cell." Since carbon fiber has very good energy absorption, the vehicle structure is highly crash-proof. The engine is mounted to the front of the main body structure using huge aluminum castings bolted to the carbon fiber "firewall" area.
Ahead of the engine are a pair of conical carbon fiber elements combined with the structure to absorb a frontal collision and provide maximum passenger protection. According to Mercedes-Benz, the SLR is the worlds first series-production car to have a front crash structure manufactured entirely from carbon fiber. Right now, its very expensive indeed to build a carbon fiber car body, but implications for future passenger vehicles made from this material are clear to see. Incidentally, even the seat shells on this car are fabricated from carbon fiber and these have adaptable bolsters for people of differing girth.
SLR power comes from an AMG developed supercharged 5.5-litre V-8 developing an awesome 626-horsepower and mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission with semi-manual mode using steering wheel buttons. It uses dry sump lubrication and despite its raw power, it meets new European emission rules which come into place for 2005. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph is given as 3.7-seconds and the top speed is 208 mph. Even on South Africas excellent backroads, we were able to top 160 mph before the rippled surface induced a mild feeling of instability. Theres no doubt that wed have been well over 185 mph on a smoother Autobahn with no traffic around. Mid-range torque is astonishing and the car takes off with neck-snapping response.
The power comes on in waves and there seems to be no stopping the beast - until you resort to the huge Brembo brakes with ceramic (carbon composite) discs. Incidentally, theres an air brake that pops out of the rear deck under hard braking - it was fun to see it slide into place when you jammed the anchors on with a bit of verve. It really seems to help the normal brakes when you want to scrub off speed quickly. Vintage car buffs will remember that many of the SLRs of the fifties used a big air brake at the rear of the car to provide a bit of help for the huge drum brakes used back then. Interestingly, this wing doubles as a spoiler too, adding downforce at speeds over 60 mph. The new SLR also boasts side exit exhaust pipes - two on each side - just like the classic models.
But, the SLR doesn’t offer a true manual transmission like a Porsche or Lamborghini, and the level of wind and road noise within the cabin, even at moderate speeds, won’t threaten the serenity of Ferrari ’s Maranello and Aston Martin’s Vanquish. What this means to prospective buyers is that you can now have yet another flavor of exotic transportation. Easier to live with than a pure super sports car, more capable than a grand tourer and endowed with a more advanced design and construction than either. With a 0-to-60-mph time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 207 mph (both figures come via Mercedes-Benz), the SLR can certainly run with the world’s most capable vehicles.
If you’re wondering how many people are looking for such a car, Mercedes told there’s already a two- to three-year wait for SLRs (depending on what country the customer is in). A total of 3,500 SLRs will be produced for worldwide consumption - the company says it will produce 500 a year for the next seven years. All of them will feature left-hand drive, regardless of final destination point around the globe, and in the first two years they will only come in silver or black. In later years the color palette will expand, but Mercedes says there is no plan to produce a convertible version, due primarily to the associated compromise in structural integrity.
Mercedes SLR McLaren vs. Ford GT
Both Mercedes-Benz and Ford offer top-level sports cars that cater to the affections of upscale buyers who desires the pinnacle of performance.
The two brands don’t compete directly at too many levels. Both Ford and Mercedes-Benz offer top-level sporting cars, each staking a serious claim to the affections of upscale buyers who want the very pinnacle of performance.
The Ford GT is a purpose-built, ground-up, share-nothing-but-the-badge modern execution of the GT40 race cars of the sixties. The look is more than just beautiful, or merely reminiscent; the scary aerodynamics of the early race cars have been tamed to produce stabilizing downforce at both front and rear in the production car.
The all-aluminum understructure is stunningly stiff and lissomely light, and clad in unstressed aluminum body panels. Ford hasn’t released official weight figures, but the GT is expected to place only about a 3,400 lb. burden on the earth’s crust.
Situated race-car-like behind the cabin and ultra-low thanks to its racing-derived dry-sump lubrication system, the engine drives the rear wheels through a British-built Ricardo six-speed manual transmission. Brakes are cross-drilled and ventilated four-piston calipers by Brembo of Italy. ABS is one of the few electronic chassis aids.
The Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren also hearkens back to a decades-old race car. The SLR utilizes a race-bred carbon fiber structure, to which are bolted an aluminum tubular sub-frame for rear suspension and differential, and an intricate cast aluminum front structure to support the front suspension, engine and transmission.
Borrowing a phrase from Mazda’s RX-8 and Nissan’s 350Z, Mercedes calls the SLR’s configuration "front mid-engine." The engine is located well behind the front axle centerline, with about half of it disappearing from view beneath the front firewall. Oh well, you won’t likely be changing your own spark plugs on a car like this anyway.
"The car was carefully researched, and prospective customers said they wanted a considerable degree of ’Mercedes-ness’ in the car, which connotes their corporate brand values of comfort, safety and reliability."