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2004 Mercedes SLR McLaren
By James Riswick

Click for detail photo. There are supercars in this world like the Lamborghini Murciťlago and Ferrari F430 that sit comfortably atop the automotive world. Then there are uber-fantastic supercars that hover slightly above on car Mt. Olympus like Zeus looking down upon mortal man.

These are cars so impressive, so expensive and so exclusive that even those who live in Malibu and Monte Carlo canít claim to have seen one. Presently in this realm resides the Porsche Carrera GT, the late Ferrari Enzo, maybe the Saleen S7 and the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Let us discuss the latter automotive deity, shall we?

This wild joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and McLaren Cars combines the heritage of the formerís classic 300 SLR and the latterís current Formula 1 technology. Although being decidedly Mercedes inside and out, the SLR is nonetheless constructed at McLarenís factory in Woking, England, that also put together the iconic $1 million McLaren F1. Considering you could buy two SLRs for that price and still have enough change for a well-equipped S550 shows that McLaren is apparently reaching out to the more cost-conscious buyer.

Powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 with a 7000-rpm redline, the SLR rips from 0 to 60 mph in a blink-or-youíll-miss-it 3.6 seconds. Thatís accomplished with 617 horsepower and 575 lb-ft of torque fed to the 19-inch rear wheels by a 5-speed automatic transmission with manual override. With so much power on board, the SLR could be an unruly beast, but Mercedes has equipped the SLR with an ESP system thatís impossible to deactivate and fairly unflappable when it comes to saving the driver from himself. And despite a front end longer than Lambeau Field, the SLR has a near-balanced weight distribution thanks to its relatively compact V8 being placed well back of the front axle.

Like all Mercedes, however, the SLR comes down on the cushier side of the handling and ride department. Thatís not to say itís an E-Class in uber-fantastic car clothing, itís just far more civilized and GT-like than its fellow 200+ mph deities. It still pulls a 0.97g on the skidpad, has direct steering and gargantuan power, but it also tries to balance the car with real-world drivability that a Porsche Carrera GT driver would laugh at.

What he also might laugh at is the SLRís styling. From three-quarter views, the SLRís exaggerated cab rearward proportions are impressive. From the side, though, it kinda looks like a Chiquita. Also, many of its once-unique design elements have been leant to the mere mortal SLK Ė specifically the very busy front end and somewhat plain rear Ė which dulls some of the SLRís exclusivity. The side quad mufflers are pretty neat, but the ginormously gaudy side gills above them belong on a whale shark, not on an elegant Mercedes-Benz. Throw in the turbine-fan 19-inch wheels and quasi-gullwing doors, and the SLR has more extravagant design elements than the Bilbao Guggenheim.

Thereís another blotch to the SLRís allure, and this one has nothing to do with the rather subjective topic of styling. Namely, the SLRís seemingly god-like power numbers have been toppedÖby other Mercedes-Benzes. The SL 65 AMG might have a few less horses than the SLR at ďonlyĒ 604, but with its twin-turbo 6.0-liter V12 the roadster makes a spleen-splattering 738 lb-ft of torque. If Mercedes-Benz could find rear tires with enough grip to put that adequately to the pavement (it hasnít yet), the SL 65 would surely be faster to 60 mph than the 3.8 wheel-spinning seconds Car and Driver managed. Meanwhile, the less powerful SL 600 with 493 horses and an SLR-besting 590 lb-ft actually tied its biggest brotherís time.

Sure thereís the SLRís exclusivity and the undeniable advantage to its handling abilities, but it must be asked whether this Mercedes car god is worth the $269,000 premium over the SL 65 AMG. That question can quickly be answered: absolutely. Regardless of styling nit picks or on-paper power stats, the SLR will always be a member of the uber-fantastic supercar elite. If youíre wealthy enough to buy one of these bad boys, that godly feeling is within reach.

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Pictures of the Mercedes SLR McLaren
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Posted March 15, 2006
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