We just recently watched a’s latest Carwow video BMW M3 Competition tackling an old Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series and made me think about rival BMW brands and the cars of them that I love. As a BMW fan, it can be easy to cheer on brands like Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi and Tesla but, as a car enthusiast, we should cheer on any beautiful and interesting car. So it raised the question for me, what is my favorite car from a rival BMW brand?
I’ll start by telling you mine, which may be obvious from the beginning of this article: Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. I have to admit I’ve never driven the Black Series variant (sadly) but drove the standard SLS AMG several years ago on the track and the experience I had is still one of my all time favorite driving experiences.
The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is an interesting car. It was the first car developed entirely by AMG from scratch, just like the next one BMW XM for Division M, and it’s still one of my favorite car models. The incredibly long hood, a sitting position practically on the rear axle and the squat roofline make it incredibly different but also classic. To eliminate any thoughts that my lizard brain is easily drawn to its flashy gull-wing doors, I actually prefer the convertible version – and its regular doors – a lot more.
But it’s not the design that makes the SLS AMG one of my favorite cars of all time: it’s the driving. Driving the SLS AMG will remind any car enthusiast why he loves to drive cars. It is not the fastest car, nor is it the most dynamic, but everything is pure theater and drama. It’s the kind of machine that is addictive and demands to be driven more and more, harder and harder.
The reasons for this are twofold: its engine and its handling. Powering the SLS AMG is a 6.2 liter naturally aspirated V8 engine which is still my all time favorite engine (I’ve never driven a McLaren F1 but I guess it would be the only engine that could make me change my mind). For starters, it makes the most incredible noise I’ve ever heard from a road car (at least in person). I still remember Motor Trend’s description of its noise over a decade ago, “The SLS actually sounds like a flaming nitromethane-powered chainsaw cutting a solid rocket.” Never has a description of the exhaust been so accurate. At full chat, I have yet to hear better noise.
It’s more than just noise, though. The hand-built 6.2-liter AMG V8 has a combination of razor-sharp throttle response and low-end torque that simply cannot be found in modern cars. With the modern turbocharger, you get tons of reduced torque, but even the best of modern turbo engines lack the kind of immediacy with which the old AMG V8 delivers power. It is so satisfying to use.
However, the SLS AMG isn’t just a muscle car; a nice body with a great engine but no maneuverability; it’s actually a great sports car. While not as ultra-precise as the Ferrari 458 or 911 GT3 of the time, the SLS AMG is still more of a precision instrument than you can imagine. Its steering is tight and precise, its chassis is balanced and its body stays nice and flat in the corners. And while it likes to oversteer when asked, it’s a lot less snappy than you might think. When it first debuted, visions of Jeremy Clarkson slipping one into a cloud of tire smoke led people to believe the SLS AMG was a shocking car psychopath, but it’s not. It’s neat and balanced, but will also pull controllable dinghies on command.
When you combine its rock-star looks with its utterly sensational engine, killer engine / exhaust soundtrack and fun-to-drive handling, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is one of the most beautiful cars of this century. As much as I love the BMW brand, deep down I am a true car enthusiast and can appreciate any great car, no matter which brand it comes from. The SLS AMG comes from BMW’s biggest rival, but it’s one of my absolute favorite cars of all time.