When your everyday car is a Rolls Royce Phantom and your back garden stretches over thousands of hectares, a drive between your properties in something completely different has its own sort of appeal. Dr Sin Chai, a Scottish-based entrepreneur, makes a tour of some of the most spectacular scenery in the Scottish Highlands in the Mercedes- Benz SLS AMG Roadster
A good friend and I try to do this at least twice a year: a road trip somewhere interesting in a ‘nice’ car. We both own a few of these, but this year we were presented with an interesting option: a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster, the most expensive model in their portfolio and a rival for some supercars we are rather familiar with.
The next question was, where to go. We have done most wine producing regions, and then one day it hit us: the obvious answer had been there all the time. Scotland has some of the best driving roads in the world, and it’s also where I happen to live and where my company happens to have a few hotels.
The car was delivered to The Atholl, our latest hotel and Edinburgh’s most exclusive, at 9:00 am on a weekday morning. The first thing I noticed was that it was holding up the morning human traffic on the pavement very seriously. Foot traffic in Edinburgh has been considerably disrupted by the tram works, and pavements have been diverted and traffic rechanneled. People (mostly men) were slowing down and taking a second look. Whilst leaning on the car, I made the most of it; nonchalant, sunglasses on, trying to look ordinary.
It felt rather well-placed to The Atholl: a car you could arrive in, park, and then stroll into your private whisky-tasting room (we have whiskies that nobody else does) or sample some first growths and cheese from your in-room cabinet while soaking in a hot tub on your terrace.
The SLS is powered by a 6.3 litre engine handbuilt by AMG. Most cars of this caliber give out a growl whenever the accelerator pedal is touched. The SLS noise was much more civilized, a controlled purr, indicating there is plenty of reserve. It was a different pitch, more like a jet engine, and again it was turning heads as soon as we started burbling down the streets. My friend drove first, and on the open road he put it to the test. In short bursts the acceleration was phenomenal. As soon as his foot was off the pedal, the car abruptly decelerated, obviously gearing down, ready for the next surge. The driver was completely in control, and so I felt safe as the passenger. Is this what Formula 1 driving is like? Will have to ask Jenson or Lewis.
I am a more sedate driver than my friend, but I felt it was my duty to do the needful, since I was going to have to write about it. At slow speeds (70mph, legal) it felt comfortable, just like a luxury marque. It really came into its own when cornering at high speed. Twisty Scottish mountain roads are very testing, and Scottish winters are not kind to tarmac: cracked surfaces remain so all summer. Even on what the government euphemistically calls “uneven surface” (read potholes), the SLS was stable, and did not bounce around. And it shot out of corners like a rocket.
We made it, hair tousled by the wind, to Alladale, our other new hotel. Alladale Wilderness Lodge is a 23,000 acre estate in the remotest part of Scotland, the Northwest Highlands of Sutherland. Up here, you are more likely to bump into a European bison, moose, Scottish wildcat or a wild boar than a supercar, or indeed any car. Our Land Rover Defenders are rather more suited to the terrain there, but the SLS was happy ambling up the single-track lanes on the approach.
I was sad to let go of the car after two days of bliss. The very competent top opening mechanism (with the top open, at speeds over 50mph, rain is deflected by the very clever design and you don’t get wet!), the little warning flashes in the wing mirrors whenever a car (or a Highland cow!) sneaks up in the blind spots, all these made the SLS special. The superb handling one just took for granted.
Dr Sin Chai is chairman of ICMI and is not a racing driver; icmi.co.u