It's rare that I get handed the keys to a $200,000 supercar, let alone one with gull-wing doors. So when a 2012 LeMans Red Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG arrived on a Wednesday afternoon, I knew I had to make the most of it.
Whereas most cars stay with our fleet for a few weeks, this is a special car, and it was going back the following Friday. That gave me about 48 hours of possible driving time in it. Here's how I spent those 48 hours. All photos were shot with my iPhone since the tight schedule and poor weather didn't allow for a photo shoot. But you can check out a gallery of the 2011 here.
3:15 p.m. The SLS arrives. It's parked across the street from Cars.com HQ. I'm in a meeting at the time word is delivered.
The clock slowly ticks to 4 p.m., and the meeting ends. I dash to my desk, unplug my laptop from its multiple cables, shove it in my bag and head to the garage. There it is, parked by itself, not well, but I guess no one will scratch it.
I get in gingerly over the huge carbon fiber-wrapped footwell and head out to the gate.
The gate won't open. It seems someone doesn't want this car to leave.
In reality, the parking pass in the car just isn't working, so I buzz the attendant via the ticket machine for daily users. This isn't easy with a gullwing car. But I manage. Luckily, no one else is around to witness this faux pas.
It's around 4:15, and I'm heading to the highway. I figure traffic will be lighter since I'm leaving an hour earlier. Nope. Gridlock for the next 15 miles. The SLS AMG is getting a few looks, but I'm stewing. At least the automatic transmission saves me some left leg agony. This is when I discover how uncomfortable the seats are.
4:55 p.m. I turn off the main depressing highway and onto a friendlier artery that gets me home. A long, sweeping toll exchange is wide open for me to punch the red beauty. It carves the road like butter -- as expected -- and rumbles to a stop at the tollbooth.
It's a tricky toll, one where you have to get out from the gate and merge left as other cars are coming through an open tolling lane trying to merge right to an exit. This is when I realize how bad the blind spots in the SLS AMG are. Luckily, once I determine I have enough room, I'm safely in the left lane in a blink.
5:25 p.m. I'm rolling down my street through piles of raked leaves. I can't count how many dads, mid-rake, look up as the SLS rumbles by.
5:30 p.m. The SLS is parked in back by the garage. I know, I should have taken it out for some night driving, but I'm just too exhausted. My neighbor did come over to inspect the car, though, and basically drool on it with me.
8:30 a.m. I was planning on running some errands in the SLS and take humorous photos in front of the local bakery, Starbucks and my dry cleaners. But the rain just depressed me, and I left the car sitting out back while I worked.
10:15 a.m. I leave for my test drive in the rain, heading to some of the only twisty roads in the area. I drive past Northwestern University, where students heading sleepily to class perk up as the bright red car cuts through town.
From there, I head to the tight corners of Sheridan Road, known in these parts for a picturesque and winding stretch of pavement. Unfortunately, the aggressive summer tires just can't provide enough grip to offer an exhilarating run. The tires come loose briefly even at relatively low speeds. I continue to play it safe; it is a $200,000 car after all.
11 a.m. From Sheridan, I head toward the highway to go to work. The Edens Expressway has been recently paved, so it's one of the smoothest roads in the entire area, and everything is much drier.
I get to push the engine a bit as patches of clear road open frequently. It seems I've become one with the SLS' right pedal as the exhaust erupts in glorious response to my foot pressing down. The 10 miles or so of this moderate traffic plus smooth road is the best and closest I could get to high-speed testing of this gorgeous car.
11:15 a.m. Driving joy, meet the junction to the Kennedy Expressway. Fifty-five minutes of gridlock to go the next nine miles. Brutal. This is where other drivers look at me with a mix of envy and "sucker!" Might as well be in a Corolla at this pace, right? I'd almost prefer it, as the two hours of seat time are beginning to wear on my back. Even with two lumbar adjustments, the SLS driver's seat isn't overly comfortable.
12:20 p.m. I pull into the parking garage next to Cars.com HQ and find the only open area off to a corner devoid of cars but home to a few folks taking a smoke break. They don't seem to take much notice of the SLS at first until I open the gullwing door to get out. I get one "Awesome car." And one "Are you married?"
1-3 p.m. I'm in meetings. They're all important meetings. But I'm just thinking about the poor SLS sitting alone in the garage, undriven. At least it's still raining.
4-6:30 p.m. I'm attending TedxMidwest to listen to amazing speakers like Allison Levine and Jerry Mitchell and not thinking about the SLS going unused. I did ponder that the later commute time home would mean less possibility of gridlock.
7 p.m. Still raining. Gridlock persists.
8 p.m. I arrive home and park. Maybe the weather will be better tomorrow.
7-9 a.m. I'm working at home, where we're shooting a video on child-safety seats later in the morning. I had scheduled said video shoot long before the SLS loan came through; I'm not into self-torture.
9:30 a.m.-noon We shoot a well-informed video about child-safety seats rather efficiently, and I don't think I was visibly twitching as the sun beat down on me on a crisp, clear fall day perfect for driving with the SLS mere feet away.
12:15 p.m. I've appropriately shooed the multimedia team away from my home, and I'm pulling the SLS out of my driveway. It's scheduled for a pickup in the "early afternoon" so I can't go far.
12:30 p.m. I'm exploring some of the curviest roads I can find in a 10-mile radius of my house. This is a terrific use of the navigation system in the SLS. See curvy road on screen, adjust course, enjoy.
Even on some rougher paved roads, the SLS is remarkably well-situated. Compared with the Nissan GT-R's brutish suspension, the SLS is downright peaceful over bumps. And while the SLS isn't hyperspeed fast like the GT-R, it is still a rush to open the throttle on a tree-lined road with no traffic.
And that was probably the best part of driving the SLS. It is a refined sports car, but it sounds like a bad-to-the-bone muscle car with a glorious exhaust note and roaring engine.
I take one more curvy road and immediately notice a black and white silhouette up ahead. Braking in the SLS is terrific.
2:15 p.m. I hit the gas station to top off the SLS for the fleet. I start pumping the 93 octane and notice that during my short loan, the SLS returned 12.6 mpg. That's not bad considering the two types of driving it went through were gridlock traffic and me trying to conduct a symphony of exhaust notes everywhere else.
2:30 p.m. The SLS is again parked in the driveway. I take a bevy of photos with my phone and then head inside to check email and other work necessities that don't involve driving a nearly $200,000 red sports car.
2:59 p.m. There's a knock on the door. They're here to reclaim the car. It will be detailed and then sent back East. What it will be used for is unknown. It may never be driven by another journalist.
3:05 p.m. And like that, it was gone.