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The SLS AMG Combines Power & Elegance

CERTAINLY ONE OF THE MORE MEMORABLE CARS in the middle of last century is the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Introduced in 1954, the 300 SL was an instant sensation with gull wing doors, unique styling with its rounded body, exhaust vents in the front fenders, and a powerful and sophisticated engine.

Borrowing from this history-yet with added modern refinements from Mercedes “hot rod” powerplant division, AMG-the M-B team has just introduced the SLS AMG. For this go-around, you might consider purchasing a racing suit and tightening the chin strap on your helmet: This is as much a racecar as it is a luxury automobile.

Due tribute is paid to the first SL firstly in aesthetics: similar body proportions, the Mercedes “star” featured prominently in the grill, rounded fenders all-around, vented front fenders and, of course, the gull wing doors. But the true excitement starts with the push of the engine start button. Under the hood lies a beast: a 6.3-liter V-8 that churns out a monstrous 571 horsepower. Once ignited, the powerplant gives out a thunderous roar before settling down to a purr.

Your first Formula One sensation will commence when you toggle the seven-speed (yes, seven!) double-clutch transmission that can be shifted faster than humanly possible with the now seemingly antiquated stick transmission. Simply tap the paddles on the back of the steering wheel up or down, and in an instant, the gear change occurs.

The dial-o-matic power and suspension control is another little bonus that begins with the “C” position (for “convenience;” the transmission shifts as it would in an automatic). Move to “S” (for “sport”) and the lower gears remain lower for longer, while the suspension tightens up your hold on the road. Switch to “S plus” on the dial and the up-shift is slower yet downshift faster. And for those who want to control all phases, set it on “M” (for manual) and use the paddles launch between gears (your selections are carefully noted in the dash pod).

MERCEDES-BENZ SLS AMG SPECS:

Engine: 6.3-liter, V-8, 571 horsepower
Acceleration: 0-60 in 3.8 seconds
Braking: Four-wheel disc brakes with 15.3-inch front rotors, and 14.1-inch rear rotors
Sound system: Harman Kardon system with six speakers with a CD player and an iPod/iPhone connection
Price: base is $183,000, as tested $189,875

No matter what the setting is on the dial, acceleration is thunderously fast at any speed. Zero to 60 is attained in a lightening 3.8 seconds. With 19-inch tires in front, 20-inch super-wide rear tires and an ultra-tight suspension, handling is unquestionably designed for the cornering. Suspension compliance is equally taut.

At speed, a rear wing rises from the trunk to keep the caboose planted (it’s hard not to think that without this, and the notion of the doors in raised position, this car might actually take flight). Simply push a button and the wings rise or fall at your discretion.

Although racecar performance is provided at all levels, luxurious interests have not been forgotten. Push the remote button and the gull wing door opens into a leather-lined cockpit. High-banked seats secure driver and passenger firmly in place. Numerous power buttons on the leather-lined seats allow for the most discerning gent or lady to achieve maximum comfort.

A navigation system (with spot-on Honolulu maps), a dual automatic climate system and stereo/CD combo are all present and accounted for. A large video screen provides all the data and information, and a view of what is behind the car when in reverse.

Although most people do not recall the SL 300, many recognize a stealthy, good-looking sports car when they see one. The new SLS certainly causes a stir when it is out and about. People may wave-they might have the opportunity to approach and comment-others you might find staring. But the beast that lurks under that beautiful veneer is roaring to launch you miles from their gawks.

Luxury Asides

The CadillaC of Coupes

Fans of the sharp Cadillac CTS sedan and wagon now can acquire the missing link in the triad: a coupe version. First shown years ago as a concept car, the collective cheer proved loud enough for the folks behind Cadillac to put pen to paper. A minor hiccup in the economy forced cash-challenged General Motors to put the project on hold – until now.

Fortunately, the coupe follows the popular concept car’s overall look: sharp lines dominate, from the roof right through to the fenders, all leading graciously to the classic, distinctive CTS grill.

To keep up with its German and Asia competitors in the sports coupe field, Cadillac is offering two powerplant choices – fast, or fierce. The base price V-6 (in the $40,000 price range) develops 304 horsepower and is tied to a six-speed stick or automatic. For $25,000 more, the 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 version offers a robust 556 horsepower, also with the choice of 6-speed manual or automatic. With the latter, a 0-60 time is just under four seconds. Clearly, it’s both a beauty and a beast.

Plug Me In

The waves of electric-powered cars will shortly be arriving on Hawai’i’s shores.

Leading the charge of pure electrics is the Nissan Leaf, a four-passenger coup with an approximate 100-mile range on each full charge. Pricing starts at $34,000.

Shortly thereafter comes the Chevrolet Volt, which features one major difference: a very small gas engine that recharges the depleted battery. Cost is $41,000.

In 2011, more pure electrics will reach our shores: Ford’s electric version of the Focus; Mitsubishi’s $25,000 four-door; and Mini’s two-door sedan that seats two.