- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2004

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Mercedes-Benz has teamed up with McLaren, its Formula 1 racing partner, in developing a revolutionary and highly sophisticated super sports GT coupe that showcases state-of-the-art technology and an unparalleled high performance.

It is the marriage of racing performance with gracefully sculpted, free-flowing forms and style.

The SLR McLaren beautifully links the past with the future — it is truly the “Silver Arrow” of the 21st century.

The monocoque body is constructed from a carbon-fiber composite, yielding exceptional strength and rigidity with the ability to absorb more than four times the crash energy as conventional aluminum or steel structures.

Power is derived from a low, front midmounted supercharged AMG V-8 engine positioned behind the front wheels, for a lower center of gravity.

The hand-built engine, featuring two spark plugs and three valves for each cylinder, along with a five-bearing crankshaft, dry sump lubrication and two intercoolers, delivers 617 horsepower and 575 foot-pounds of torque, propelling the car from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3.8 seconds, with a top speed capability in excess of 207 mph. Each engine is signed by the engineer who single-handedly assembled it.

The exhaust, with four metal catalysts, exits from a pair of 21/2-inch stainless-steel pipes on each side of the vehicle, just below the rakish, straked gill treatment exhibited in the front quarter aft of the front wheel. This ensures that the state-of-the-art engine already complies with the stringent European Union emissions standards that become effective for 2005.

Fuel is drawn from dual, low-mounted, interconnected tanks placed on each side of the rear suspension components, with twin high-pressure fuel pumps — one runs continuously, while the second kicks in only as required, based on engine speed and load.

The powerful V-8 mates to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with TouchShift and AMG SpeedShift with Comfort, Sport and Manual programs that include Sport, SuperSport and Race modes. Gear changes made be made fully automatically, via the shift lever, or by toggling wheel-mounted switches — the right button shifts up, while the left unit activates downshifts.

Bringing the SLR McLaren to a halt is no less impressive, thanks to oversized ceramic disc brakes and a unique air brake in the form of an adaptive rear spoiler mounted in the trunk lid.

The wing pops up at a 65-degree angle when braking at speeds over 59 mph, increasing drag and creating greater down force. U.S. models will ride on “staggered” 19-inch turbine-style-spoke alloy wheels shod with high-performance ZR-rated tires. Eighteen-inch wheels will be available as a no-cost/no-credit option in a five or 10-spoke alloy design. A tire-pressure monitoring system is standard with sensors built into each tire valve.

The SLR McLaren is both sleek and sexy, starting up front with a pointed F1-style nose, complete with a recessed tristar emblem and a twin-fin functional front spoiler. Strakes are integrated into the grille, fascia, hood, rear-view mirrors and gilled side sections. The sculpted hood center panel is flanked by gracefully curved fenders with angular planes coming off the wheelwell leading edge, complemented by a similar rocker execution.

From the rear, the SLR McLaren sports a wide stance with a short trunk section, flanked by wraparound taillamps featuring 51 circular dot LEDs on each side, housed in a horizontally arched, dual-fin affair. Cockpit entry is achieved through gullwing doors with an avant-garde look that swing forward and up, pivoting from the front roof post or “A” pillar, rather than directly from the roof as with the gullwings of the 1950s. The doors open at a 107-degree angle for convenient ingress and egress.

The interior for two is a cozy but functional pod accented by aluminum, leather and carbon-fiber elements. The twin bucket seats consist of a carbon-fiber shell with bolstering, pads and cushion contours, which is custom fitted to the buyer. Once the conventional Mercedes smart key is inserted into the ignition, the engine fires by depressing a start button hidden beneath a flip-forward flap atop the gear-shift lever.

The exhaust note evokes a smile, especially when equipped with the sport exhaust option. It’s sweet enough that the specially tuned Bose sound system is likely to get minimal play.

Pricing has yet to be officially set for the U.S. market, but is anticipated to be in the neighborhood of $400,000 when the car arrives on our shores next spring.

In other markets, the limited-production, left-hand-drive-only super GT coupes will be priced at 375,000 Euros.

About 3,700 SLR McLarens will be produced over a seven-year period — just more than 500 annually for worldwide distribution.

The car comes with a complete inventory of standard equipment and safety features — at the projected price, who needs optional costs?

The SLR McLaren is a high-performance supercar that combines the best elements of a Gran Turismo and a race car.

It is a car for those passionate about the automobile on an ultimate performance level.

Acceleration is blistering, while the car remains flat and stable, even under extreme conditions. The ride quality is very firm with an outstanding positively on-center feel through the steering.

Braking takes some getting used to, especially when trying to modulate at lower speeds. The ceramic/carbon fiber brakes often emit a somewhat annoying, high-pitched screeching.

Direct rear visibility is limited by the high rear deck, and nonexistent when braking at higher speeds when the spoiler is activated.

The car remained stable and flat in extreme situations and the stock street-tread tires stuck remarkably well, never losing their grip.

Only tires and stock brake pads (racing versions are available) were sacrificed in this exercise, which employed the same vehicles over several weeks of severe track use — no mechanical difficulties were experienced.

In conclusion, the McLaren is an incredible driving machine with above-average creature comforts and visual appeal.

The waiting period for acquisition is likely to be extensive, despite the required $50,000 downpayment when ordering. Now, where did I put my checkbook?

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