2013 SLS AMG Electric Drive: Ahead of its Time

2013 SLS AMG Electric Drive: Ahead of its Time

A couple days ago marked 10 years since the Nurburgring Lap time of the SLS AMG Electric Drive (7:56.234), an all-electric variant of the Mercedes SLS AMG. Today, electric supercars seem to be released on a daily basis by some new obscure brand, but back in 2013 things were very very different. The world of automobiles was still embracing big naturally aspirated engines, and the mass switch to forced induction among the German brands was only just beginning. EVs were more distant on the horizon, but that didn’t seem to be the focus of most mainstream manufacturers at the time. The C63, M3, and RS5 all had brutish V8s with little regard for efficiency. At the higher end of the food chain of these autobahn missiles was the SLS AMG. A timeless exterior with gullwing doors and a long hood, paired with an atmospheric 6.2L V8 and a DCT transaxle, the SLS made for a compelling alternative to the likes of the Audi R8, Ferrari 458, and perhaps a 911 Turbo. 

It could be considered sacrilege then, to tear out that beautiful, dramatic powertrain, in favor of some silent kitchen appliance… Right?

SLS Electric Drive engine bay


Well, kind of.

The Electric Drive is equipped with four electric motors, one for each wheel, providing a total power output of 740 horsepower (552 kilowatts) and an astounding 1,000 Newton-meters (738 pound-feet) of torque. This power enables the car to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph (0 to 100 km/h) in just 3.9 seconds, with a limited top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h). In the words of Jeremy Clarkson, the SLS Electric Drive is “the world’s first electric supercar.” This is the only AWD SLS, but it's also the heaviest, and not by a small margin. At around a whopping ~ 4,600lbs, the Electric Drive is nearly 1,000lbs more than the “standard” SLS Gullwing…

SLS Electric drive gauge

Believe it or not, the SLS Electric Drive isn’t actually the first electric SLS. That would be the Concept SLS E-Cell, which the Electric Drive is heavily based on. The E-Cell had a more bespoke interior with a larger screen, a more heavily revised front end, including unique headlights. However, the E-Cell produced a measly 526 horsepower and 624 pound-feet of torque. The Electric Drive would laugh at those numbers. 

SLS E-Cell:

SLS E cell
SLS E cell interior

To accommodate the electric drivetrain, the SLS AMG Electric Drive underwent some modifications compared to its gasoline-powered counterpart. The central tunnel of the car would usually contain a torque tube with a carbon fiber driveshaft in the combustion SLS, but here it houses the high-voltage battery, which has a capacity of 60 kilowatt-hours. The battery is composed of lithium-ion cells and provides a driving range of approximately 155 miles (250 kilometers) under normal driving conditions. For the standard of 2013, these were truly impressive figures.

SLS diagram
SLS Electric Drive diagram

The Electric Drive also features a regenerative braking system (combined with traditional AMG Carbon Ceramics), which helps to recharge the battery during deceleration and braking, thus increasing overall efficiency. A technology we have only seen become more mainstream in the Mercedes lineup more recently with the EQ models.

SLS Electric Drive front wheel

Something else I find interesting that not many people seem to talk about, is how the Electric Drive has pushrod suspension up front which none of the other SLS models have. It also had electro-hydraulic power steering, as opposed to conventional assisted hydraulic power steering. The normal SLS steering is very precise with fantastic feedback, I’ve always wondered how the electric assist steering in the Electric Drive felt, as early systems have been known to feel rather numb in comparison. 

SLS Electric Drive interior

So with all these fancy new features such as AWD, a massive boost in both horsepower and torque, and almost no power loss, is the SLS Electric Drive any better of a car?

Before we get into that, let’s compare all SLS variant Nurburgring lap times, as that was the motivation for this post in the first place.

SLS AMG Black Series: 7:25.67

SLS AMG GT: ~7:30.00

SLS AMG: ~7:40.00

SLS AMG Electric Drive: 7:56.23

(Exact times for the SLS and SLS GT were never officially published but those approximate times were releases by AMG)

SLS Electric Drive on track

Despite being the most powerful SLS, the Electric Drive gets absolutely walked by its ICE counterparts around the ‘ring. Even the “base” SLS with its less refined suspension and ~560 horsepower has a massive lead over its electrified sibling. For track usage, the Electric Drive is objectively the worst among the bunch. In a straight line, however, it demolishes even the Black Series, although that’s not very surprising considering the instant torque and lack of gears. Watch the two drag race here in this Top Gear clip. I highly recommend watching the entire Top Gear segment if you haven’t already. 

In my very biased opinion, two massive factors make the SLS AMG an outstanding car, and even a modern classic. One of those factors is the beautiful design inspired by the 300SL Gullwing, with its iconic long hood, imposing front grille, and overall approach to graceful body lines and curves. The second factor is the dry-sump handcrafted 6.2L M159 V8, mounted behind the front axle for optimal weight distribution. I think many would agree that this powertrain represents one of AMG’s best eras, and perhaps the last hurrah before global emissions regulations came to truly crash the party. One could even argue that the entire SLS was designed around this powerplant. 

SLS AMG GT engine bay

Looking then at the Electric Drive, which obviously lacks this crucial component, stands no chance. With that being said, before the Rimac, Tesla Plaid, or Porsche Taycan, the SLS Electric-Drive showed the world that performance EVs were nothing to scoff at, and certainly seemed like the way of the future.

SLS Electric Drive charging

While many people believed the SLS Electric Drive was merely a concept, Mercedes actually did offer it for sale, but not in the US. The MSRP was around a whopping $450,000 USD. Keep in mind that the SLS Black Series had also just come out, and its MSRP was $275,000. (I cry when I look at Black Series prices now). As you can imagine, the Electric Drive barely sold any units, and according to RM Sotheby’s, only 9 SLS Electric Drives were ever made. While AMG planned on selling around 100 of them, the combination of the price tag and the Black Series alternative did not do any favors for the Electric Drive. MB and AMG wanted to show the world the potential of an EV supercar, and the SLS Electric Drive certainly did a good job displaying that, despite that it seems to live in the shadows of its combustion powered cousins. In 2021 1 of the 9 Electric Drives (the one pictured on the cover of this post) was listed for sale through RM Sotheby's for a casual $1.27 million. 


The disappointing part of all this has nothing to do with the SLS Electric Drive itself, but where Mercedes is today. If Mercedes and AMG were able to achieve that level of performance 10 years ago in an SLS chassis that was never originally intended to be used as an EV… Then why haven’t they been able to make ANYTHING better? There are AMG variants of the new EQS and EQE, and while they do make decent power and torque, that is pretty much all they have to offer alongside the AMG badge. In a performance context, they flounder when compared to the competition. The AMG “63 E Performance” models have been received poorly globally between unrefined software calibration and excessive weight. The future of AMG is not looking good at the moment, especially with these strange attempts at electrification. Perhaps these performance hybrids are an unnecessary step toward EVs. An all electric ground-up AMG supercar will be interesting to see, especially considering just how good they were able to get the SLS Electric Drive to be. 

Anyways, that was my look back at the SLS Electric Drive, hope you found it interesting. Leave a comment below on your opinions of the SLS Electric Drive, or AMG’s current situation! 


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