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Mercedes SLR McLaren MSO Edition

For full disclosure, I have to point out from the off that I haven’t had the pleasure of driving the standard SLR. What I can tell you, though, is how the McLaren Edition stands up as a supercar in its own right. And the good news is, it’s everything its looks would have you believe.

With the night terrors of the M3 at rush hour just a distant memory, I’m able the following morning to find some reasonably dry tarmac to give the McLaren Edition its head. But not before I’ve nosed it out of town. Here, having adjusted to its sheer size, it’s actually a pretty docile thing to smooch around in. The auto box means there’s no heavy clutch to deal with, and the steering’s light and easy. It’s not perfect, mind; the ride, while lacking the crashiness I’m told was a factor in the original, is still rather firm, which can grow wearing after a while. And the brakes are a struggle to get used to; the pedal is incredibly stiff, which makes moving it incrementally a real test of leg control.

But once the road opens, these quibbles are forgotten. I find a straight bit of tarmac long enough to hoof the throttle, and do it. Right the way down to the kickdown switch. The box obliges, dropping down two cogs, and that exhaust barks into life. No, actually, ‘barks’ is the wrong word. This isn’t so much noise as air being punched violently into your eardrums. Fitted with this exhaust, the SLR doesn’t grumble or howl so much as it thuds; insistently, repeatedly and relentlessly, punching you in the gut and in the head simultaneously with each walloping stroke of the engine. And with full-bore acceleration, the endless bass note is overlaid with a shrill scream; the supercharger wailing torturously as it pours air into the cylinders. These are not the musical notes of a Ferrari or a Lamborghini; this is the guttural, bludgeoning soundtrack that only an AMG Merc can make, except here it’s turned up to 12.

Arrive at a corner, and things only get better. Well, for the most part. Haul on the fantastically strong carbon ceramic brakes – that pedal stiffness suddenly isn’t an issue when all you want to do is stop as hard as you can – and the SLR draws up short in an astonishing distance. But that gearbox is a fly in the ointment, lacking the crispness and precision you’d desire, even in the harshest manual mode. With a bit of familiarity it’s possible to work with it, pulling the paddle earlier in order to time the actual shift correctly, but it isn’t ideal.

Published: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

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