Remember when we talked about spending a day on the famous Paul Ricard Circuit with a 740 horsepower, $600,000 Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive? Well this is the complete story of taking the Fastest EV in the world on a ex-Formula One track…
The feeling is surreal. Does not compute. Syntax error.
I’m already feeling a bit unhinged from storming through the Paul Ricard Circuit outside of St. Tropez, France, and the sheer exhilaration of being in one of the world’s most beautiful resort towns. And that heady cocktail is only spiked by cross-Atlantic jetlag. But it is all exacerbated by what I’m currently experiencing: navigating a Mercedes Benz supercar bristling with a ludicrous 738 lb-ft of torque through a variety of slaloms and hairpins, hitting triple digits in the straights and just being a general menace on the track… while in absolute silence.
Well, not absolute silence — there is the sound of rubber alternately sticking and slipping on asphalt, the pinging of shredded tire bits bouncing off the underside of the car, and the distant whir of an electric motor. But nary the slightest growl of petroleum combustion can be heard. This causes a marked cognitive dissonance — one of mechanical brute force divorced from any auditory hint of where that power is coming from — that is uncanny.
Frankly, the whole experience is uncanny. The sheer exuberance of attacking a world class racetrack with a 740-horsepower supercar is an experience unto itself, one that lies somewhere between acquiring carnal knowledge of the girl you were obsessed with in high school and being a fighter pilot in a Jerry Bruckheimer film. But this is totally different.
Why? Because this is no garden variety 700-hp supercar. This is Mercedes Benz’s SLS AMG Electric Drive – the most powerful electric vehicle on Earth. And with a pricetag of $570,000, it’s also quite easily the most expensive. And there is a reason for that extravagance: because Benz has engineered the most technologically advanced battery system and electric powertrain a production car has ever seen, one developed in tandem with AMG’s Formula One team, where they’ve mastered the KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) technology for slakers like Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher.
The way the Electric Drive works is Mercedes has taken its flagship vehicle — the gorgeous, gullwinged SLS AMG — and gutted its 6.2 L petroleum engine, transmission and aspects of its suspension. In its place they’ve substituted four electric motors, one dedicated to each wheel, placed centrally in the car (the motors are not placed directly on the wheel like on some EVs, reducing unsprung weight). Powering the engines is a liquid-cooled 60-kWh battery made up of 12 modules, each with 72 lithium-ion cells. That’s a whopping total of 864 cells — compare that to a Nissan Leaf’s 192 cells. This power density is unparalleled in the EV world, the 600 kW supplying the SLS AMG Electric Drive a rocket surge from standstill to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds. As impressive as that burst is, its top speed of 155 mph may be even more so for an EV. Still, if driven sanely Mercedes promise a 120-mile range with the Electric Drive, fully rechargeable in only 3 hours with the 22 kW onboard charger (or about 20 hours with a traditional outlet).
But enough nerd talk, let’s get down to brass tacks: how the hell does it drive? Opened up on the Paul Ricard Circuit, it drives like a Six Flags rollercoaster. On mute.
More of the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive test drive after the Jump…
“The AMG Torque Vectoring will have its ass swinging out like Kim Kardashian at an NBA All Star weekend…”
Like the regular SLS, the Electric Drive can be modulated between three settings: Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus. But unlike the regular SLS, since the ED has a motor for each wheel it’s true All Wheel Drive, allowing for a spectacular modulation of its torque vectoring. This means that each wheel can be given independent amount of power, or conversely be braked independently. So while cornering the front inside wheel can be slowed, while the rear outside wheel is spiked with power, swinging it through the turns. The combination results in unbelievable cornering ability — in Sport Plus, in fact, the AMG Torque Vectoring is so eager to swing out the ED’s tail it’s as if the car was programmed to oversteer, its ass swinging out flamboyantly like a vodka and valium-fueled Kardashian at the NBA All Star weekend.
Just how its absence of sound lends the car a supernatural quality, so does its unique powertrain. Throw in the artificial ESound — a synthesized tone invented by AMG that increases volume with speed — and you have a serious Phantom Menace pod race on your hands. For the record most journalists hated the ESound and found it to be gimmicky, but I thoroughly enjoyed how it added a sort of sinister Blade Runner edge to the gallivanting. An otherworldly soundtrack to an unearthly experience — one you can deactivate with the touch of a button.
“Our goal was to create the most exciting, most powerful, most electrifying electric sports car ever,” President of AMG Ola Kaellanius said to me proudly. Had he achieved his goal, I asked? “100%. It’s the dream of every chassis engineer come true, this all-wheel-drive electric super sports car. When you drive it through a corner — each wheel going at its own speed — it almost feels like its on rails. It’s very dynamic.”
“Driving a combustion car & an EV is an entirely different emotional experience…”
Only a half hour earlier I was in the brand new, similarly potent SLS AMG Black Edition — Mercedes Benz most powerful petroleum vehicle. Inspired by the GT3 racecar, the Black actually registers smaller performance numbers (622 hp and 468 lb·ft of torque) than the ED, but is an entirely different beast from the ground up — from cylinder head to exhaust tip. Different not just in powertrain, but seemingly in cellular structure. It is an entirely different animal, even though — garish metallic blue paintjob aside — you’d be hard-pressed to discern it from the ED if you squinted.
Not to say that the Black edition is better — although it is — but that driving a combustion car and an electric car is an entirely different emotional experience; the body vibrates at a different frequency. Perhaps it’s as simple as the sound: AMG has long been famed with its ability to summon a dragonslaying exhaust note from its virtuosically tuned engines, and maybe that dimension is missed more than expected.
Which boils the discussion down to the bare essence of the ED’s real world allure. You probably wouldn’t buy the Electric Drive if it were the only supercar you could afford. No matter how good its handling, and how euphoric its instant torque to the wheels, there’s still something missing in an EV when it comes to pure bone and muscle performance. Sure all the stats are there, but something just doesn’t feel totally complete. Syntax error. Maybe it’s the lack of heart titillating combustion; maybe it’s the lack of shifting. But something nonetheless lacks. Does not compute. Still, the SLS AMG Electric Drive is an amazing piece of machinery, one that offers a thrill unlike any other vehicle you can buy. Would it be my first supercar, or my only supercar? Not likely. But if you’re the type of person whose accountant has a budget under your expense file for Bugatti or Ferrari, then this one is a no brainer. For those with the means, even its $570,000 pricetag will not discourage them from owning a piece of automotive — and technological — history.
This story was originally published in AskMen.