Last year, when Mercedes asked us if we'd like to drive its SLS AMG GT Coupe supercar, we were down at the company's Brooklands Centre in Buckinghamshire before you could utter the letters AMG.
The SLS represents a bloodline for Mercedes, which stems back to the 300SL from the 1960s - a car that was dubbed the "gullwing" because of the way its doors worked.
Hinged longitudinally in the middle of the roof, instead of opening out conventionally from the side, they lift up from the sill. Arcing in one, upward vertical movement, when both doors are open, the car resembles a gull in flight when viewed from front or rear. And it really does fly thanks to that V8 engine.
The return of the Gullwing
When Mercedes announced that its new flagship SLS would come with the legendary gullwing door arrangement - something that the soft-top SLS convertible lacks - it made the prospect of the brand's new supercar all the more exciting. True automotive innovation is an occasional thing as legislation, mass production techniques, cost and the industry's aversion to risk tends to mean that cars evolve at a glacial pace. Revolutions? Forget about it.
That's perhaps why you often hear people muttering, "They all look the same these days". So any departure from the norm - even if it's just the way the doors open - is something to be celebrated. And aside from its doors, the SLS AMG proves to be one of the few cars on the road which you could never accuse of "looking the same" as everything else.
The GT spec model tested here comes in at a jaw-dropping £188,400 after a short shopping trip through the options list. We wouldn't have opted to render it in Magno Monza Grey paint - yes, we know, it's brown - for that money, but we can't complain too much. Everything else looks top: finished off with black wheels, this car looks suitably nuts. "OMG AMG" you might say.
Walk up to the car, tug the door handle that's just above the sill and that door opens outwards and upwards on its gas struts. It's enough to make anyone crow with delight. We would advise not taking your SLS to a tight multi-storey car park though - you might find yourself in a nightmare Mr Bean-like sketch, stuck inside the car.
Still, there are a lot worse places to be, because when the door lifts up out of the way, it reveals a rather special interior. Trimmed in a particularly fine brown and cream leather colour scheme, it works with the exterior paintwork exceptionally well. Magno Monza, we're learning to love.
Mind your head
Getting into the car is a slightly odd experience: for a car so big on the outside, the cabin feels surprisingly small and tight.
Your natural points of reference are confused from the seated position because there doesn't appear to be a door and part of the roof's not there either. But strap in, thumb the starter and listen to that rumbling great V8 crack into life while the door's still open and that huge price tag feels all the more worth it.
Being the engine freaks that we are, we started her up with the doors open. Problem: reach to shut those gullwings and it's then we realise that it isn't possible to reach the door handle with the seatbelt done up.
So it's a case of doing most of it again: unbuckle, crane up and out of the car, grab the handle and pull the doors shut. The reflex reaction is to duck - no bird puns, please - because as the door comes down, you think it's going to whack your head. It won't, of course, unless your name's Peter Crouch.
But with the door shut, the sense of being in a tight little sports car is turned up to 11. At just six feet tall you'll find your head is close to that door/roof. All of which is quite weird, because when you do finally flick that stubby gear lever back into drive and head out on the road, you're quickly aware that the SLS is quite a massive car.
Mind your pride
That long, long bonnet stretches out for what seems like an entire county in front of you. Meanwhile the width of the thing means it's sharp intakes of breaths all round if you meet another car on a country lane. God forbid you should ever have to try and put it through a London width restrictor. Our advice would be simple: don't.
Nope, it's better to stick to boulevards and highways, where you can bask in the specialness of the SLS experience and ultimately just let it make you - and other people - smile. Why? The soft, wubba-wubba-wubba throb coming from the engine, the hollering exhaust note each time you floor it, and the sense that even people who don't normally give two hoots about cars are open mouthed about what just passed them.
If you like attention, the SLS is for you. Especially if like us, when you do park up, the whole door arrangement messes with your senses so much that you end up practically falling out of the thing. People laughed. Not with us, but at us. Still, if you get to drive an SLS, you probably won't care.
Aside from the fuel consumption, its size, and the easy-to-make-yourself-look-foolish ingress and egress, what also struck us about the SLS is just how usable and easy it is to live with. It's still a Merc, after all. Anyone could drive it. The boot's a decent size, the 7-speed DCT auto gearbox is happy to shuffle the cogs for you if you don't want to use the paddles and while it'll do the fast fun thing happily, it feels more suited to a jaunt down to the South of France.
In fact, with the excellent COMAND-based satnav system to guide you on your way and avoid the traffic of the Autoroutes, the eleven speaker B&O BeoSound system thumping the tunes into the cabin, the decent sized boot and the uber-comfortable AMG Sports seats trimmed in their "designo exclusive" leather, the SLS GT Coupe seems tailor-made for a quick cruise down to Monaco. Never mind that it's got an AMG "Racetimer", has composite ceramic brake discs, is electronically limited to a 199mph top speed and costs as much as a house.
Just concentrate on not falling out of it when you pull up in Casino Square.