Holden used be to pilloried during the 1980s for the seasonal predictability of its Commodore Vacationer specials. Well, turn your derision to Mercedes this time because that’s exactly what the SLR 722S is – a sticker special to help shift ’em.
The SLR was designed to sell 3500 in its life, but fewer than half that have been constructed. In fact, so disdainful were tech-savvy Japanese buyers about the SLR’s lumpy V8 and old-school five-speed auto that only 11 have been sold there.
So the S version is a last resort to shift what’s remaining.
Prod the throttle from its hot-rod idle and it snarls, but none of the animal character finds its way into the steering or the chassis feel. It remains stoically inanimate except for its demand for constant attention just off the straight-ahead with steering inputs being a cluster of tiny corrections, even when you’re just trying to stay in a straight line.
Even when you kick off from the carpark, you know you’re going to have to work. The diff chunks its way around tight corners so hard you worry about tyres even before you’ve blazed the boots into smoke. To make that happen, you push the throttle a little harder, only to find the supercharged V8 getting no smoother as the revs rise. Instead, it snarls its way up the rev range and burbles its way back down again.
In the wet, the size of the rear tyres’ contact patch means they will always find water somewhere. Then the ESP doesn’t react fast enough. But find the right piece of smooth road and the 722S is one of the world’s most brutal straight-line jets. The acceleration is simply ferocious. It’s loud and hard and it leaps into tomorrow like a rasping, angry, rumbling, maddening bullet.
But that’s not the whole story, because if you try the same thing with in-gear acceleration you’ll be incredibly disappointed and wondering what you spent the money on. Until it hits 2000rpm, the 722S has nothing. It’d get blown away by a diesel SUV (it actually did). There’s not a lot more until 3000rpm, when the world explodes into a blur, but it’s not good enough.
That pedal is a ticket to the world’s most expensive crash you’ll ever have as well. Go anywhere near the loud pedal coming out of a corner and you had better be close to finished with the steering or there’ll be trouble. It’s damn near frightening. The rear suspension is underdone and, somehow, manages to feel a lot lower-tech than it actually is. The lacklustre ESP means you’ll be relying on the slow steering and the digital brakes to pull things back. The floor-hinged brake pedal commands huge carbon-ceramic anchors, but there’s little modulation in them.
In the end, the 722S follows neatly down the SLR’s path and leaves you bewildered and intrigued, rather than impressed and awe-struck. How did this car, born of such lofty ideals, turn out like this?
The wonder isn’t that it missed its sales numbers, but that it got as close as half. Honestly, if it’s a big Benz roadster you want, buy an SL63 and, with the enormous difference in price, buy me something nice for saving you.