The cream of German insanity, pitched agains each other. Which will triumph – the scalpel-sharp Porsche 911 GT3, or the steroid-riven Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series?[Not a valid template]
As you might imagine, the arrival into the office of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series and the new Porsche 911 GT3 generated quite a bit of excitement. Especially among the luminaries that head up the company. Which is how it came to pass that we’re on our way for an epic day of driving with these two behemoths of sports car design, and I’m in our long-term Volkswagen Passat. Humph.
I’m assured that my time will come, and I’ll hold Phil McGovern and Bassam Kronfli to those words. Because these are proper poster cars, the kind of vehicles you wouldn’t put money against becoming bona fide classics.
In the red corner, we have the SLS Black – the final, ultra-honed incarnation of the short-lived but greatly acclaimed SLS. Inspired by the extremely-successful SLS GT3 race car, the Black Series revamps the already capable gullwinged supercar, dishing out a slathering of carbonfibre bodywork, a sizable rear wing and even more power – up to 622bhp from the standard car’s 563. Because clearly, it needed to be faster, right?
In the blue corner, the new 991 variant of the 911 GT3 – the sportiest, most driver-focused of all 911s. Until the GT3 RS comes along, at least. This car has been very graciously loaned to us by an owner – not even Porsche Middle East has a GT3 press car for us to play with yet, and we’re told this is the first one in the country. It has just 400km on the clock. Under the bonnet is a 3.8-litre flat six with 469bhp. That might seem tame compared to the big Merc, but it’s still a pretty sizable chunk of power, and besides, the Porsche is some 100kg lighter than its German rival. Power isn’t everything with the GT3 – it’s designed to be more of a scalpel than a sledgehammer, a precision instrument that doesn’t rely on brute power to provide the best driver experience. After all, it’s not even the most powerful 911 in the range. Does this mean the SLS will be unwieldy in comparison? Today, we aim to find out.
So, here I sit, in our leather and Alcantara-clad Volkswagen, watching Phil and Bassam get to know this cheeky pair as we head out of Dubai in search of worthy roads. As they rocket off into the distance, I get a chance to reflect on the on-road appeal. After all, you’d want people to know what you’re packing if you were to buy one of these, right? The Porsche, so far, is a bit disappointing to look at. At first glance, it could be any other 911 with a wing on the back. Personally, I wish it was a bit more shouty, but I’m well aware that others like the more sleeper look.
The SLS on the other hand is far from subtle. The standard SLS isn’t exactly a wallflower, but the Black Series amps everything up to 11. Even with relatively tame white paint (I was hoping for the bright yellow that’s also available), it’s still a monstrously aggressive look, like the SLS took steroids before topping off its new physique with a dirty great carbon spoiler. I’m not sure I’d want to negotiate everyday life in it, with eyes on me everywhere I go, but I love it nonetheless.
It’s not until we’re well out of the city, and both Phil and Bassam have scared themselves by hitting the gas right next to a hidden police car, that I get a go. I start with the SLS, lofting open the big gullwing doors and collapsing over the carbon sill into the very low bucket seat. The interior is little changed from the standard SLS – it’s compact and well-appointed, highlighted by the aluminium crossed vents and the rhomboid gear lever. So far, so standard, at least when it comes to wing-door Mercedes supercars. I gaze at the shapely GT3 ahead, which seems a fair distance away at the end of the Merc’s long, long bonnet.
A push of the SLS’ start button shows that all is not normal as I thought it was. The big V8 under the long, long bonnet starts with a gravelly shout, and settles to a burbling idle. Squeezing out of the fuel station forecourt, it feels large and unwieldy, and I’m craning my neck to make sure I don’t hit a kerb. But then I’m on the freeway, and I put my foot down. 622bhp erupts with a cataclysmic bellow, and my neck muscles involuntarily pull my face into stupid grimace. Bloody hell. The noise is classic AMG, but cranked up several notches. AMG claims this thing is directly inspired by the SLS GT3 race car, and the sound track reflects it. Phil later describes it as thunderous, which is an understatement. 100kph arrives in 3.6 seconds, and if I kept going I’d hit 315kph. Wowsers.
So far, the Black Series feels like a muscle car. A really, really fast muscle car. And that’s pretty awesome. But is this it? Is it just a one trick pony?
We head out on the fast road to Fujairah, once a crazy law-free thrash to the coast but now policed by speed cameras, which means the antics are kept to a relative minimum. Phil knows this country, and he’s looking for a stretch of exciting but quiet road where we can explore and shoot pics. Halfway to the Indian Ocean, we find it, branching off the main highway and carving its way through the mountains, rising and falling through valleys and small villages. Playtime.
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