Sadly, us South Africans can but dream of owning an awe-inspiring Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren. Due to its left-hand drive only construction, it simply can’t be imported even if there are, apparently, a number of well-heeled South Africans that would like to have one. What they can have, though, is this, the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG, which not nearly the same thing, but which does borrow a number of styling cues from the SLR, including its F1-inspired nose section. But can an SLK, which to some remains a ladies toy rather than a serious sportscar, really pull of the AMG treatment? After all, it never quite worked on the previous-generation SLK32 AMG…
Hardcore looks for Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMGThe current SLK is an attractive little hard-top roadster, but in base form it looks relatively harmless. This Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG, however, gets a far more aggressive front airdam, trademark quad AMG exhaust outlets and very striking 18-inch alloy wheels to set it apart from the rest. It draws lots of admiring glances, although it must be said this is at least partly due to the burble (or roar, at higher speeds) that emanates from those exhausts.
Inside, the AMG treatment is evident in the lovely nappa leather covering the seats, door panels and armrests, and a nice to hold small-diameter sports steering wheel, among a few other details. There is also a powerful Harmon Kardon audio system, as well as electrically adjustable seats that provide lots of lateral support during hard cornering.
Given the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG high price (it’s more expensive than a Boxster S), Mercedes could ill afford to put it on the market with a barren standard features list. It didn’t. Included in the deal are; satellite navigation, a Bluetooth phone, climate control, the innovative air-scarf neck-level heating system, auto lights/wipers, radio/CD, cruise control, keyless entry, Xenon lights and, of course, that electrically folding roof. The safety specification includes four airbags, massive ventilated and perforated discs all-round, and an ESP (stability control) system.
Roaring performanceA quick read of the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG specification sheet is all it takes to confirm that this is a seriously powerful little sportscar. Fitting the large 5,4-litre V8 into its engine bay must have been a feat of engineering in itself. It develops 265 kW and 510 Nm of torque, without the aid of turbo- or supercharging. As with all AMG engines, it is hand-built by a single technician, and they’re all proud enough of their work to place their signatures on them. The colossal power goes to the rear wheels via an AMG version of the 7G-tronic automatic transmission, renamed Speedshift. The name is very apt, seeing as the shifts are apparently 35% faster than with the normal transmission, and boy can you feel the difference. Using the shift buttons on the steering wheel you can rifle through the ratios at an immense pace, each shift followed by enough thrust to push your back firmly into those sporty seats. And best of all… in manual mode the transmission will not shift up. It will wait for your instruction. Lovely. As it should be.
The raw performance figures don’t quite tell the full story. The 0-100 km/h dash is done and dusted in just over five seconds, but it’s the accompanying drama that is most memorable. The engine sound is massively addictive – it goes like the clappers.
Suspension changesThankfully, AMG hasn’t just dropped a big engine into the chassis and made it look a bit more hardcore. They’ve spent a lot of time on making sure the chassis can handle the extra power. The basics are sound, of course, with the latest multi-link rear suspension giving the base SLKs decent grip and agility. The Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG gets a lot of AMG-specific parts, though, including the brakes, anti-roll bars and struts. Even the ESP system has been given an once-over by AMG’s software boffins.
Still, the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG is not exactly light (1 540 kg), and once senses that the weight distribution is not entirely ideal, because the SLK doesn’t feel all that keen to change direction (relatively to a Porsche or BMW, as examples). It will push its nose determinedly as the limit approaches. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. The ESP system has been tuned to intervene quite late, so it does allow for some slip to happen before it comes into play. Also, if you’re really aggressive on the throttle, you can get it to lay down some rubber. In the end, it just doesn’t have the natural responsiveness of a Boxster or M3, with the controls feeling more artificial.
Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG - VerdictThe Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG does a lot of things right. It looks like a mini SLR, sounds like one too, and can go like stink. The cabin is loaded with toys, and let’s not forget you’re essentially getting two cars for the price of one (a coupe and a cabriolet). But there are some flaws. It lacks the precision, responsiveness and ultimate agility that would see it regarded as being a true, fantastic sportscar. It’s a pity, because if you factor that failing into the high price, the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG doesn’t make all that much sense anymore given what else is available.
- Striking design
- More comfortable interior
- Roaring performance
- Standard specification
- Fast gearshifts in manual mode
- Some rattles
- Steering not as pure as Boxster’s
Engine: 5,4-litre, V8, petrol
Power: 265 kW @ 6 100 rpm
Torque: 510 Nm @ 4 000 rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Wheels: 18-inch alloy
Top speed: 250 km/h
0-100 km/h: 5,1 seconds
Fuel economy: 16,2 litres/100 km
- Porsche Boxster S Tiptronic: An almost impossible rival to beat. The Porsche is cheaper and although it doesn’t have the SLK’s power, it feels more agile and is more fun to drive. Plus, it is a Porsche...
- Audi TT 3,2 Roadster Quattro DSG: Almost R200 000 cheaper than the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG and significantly less powerful, but the Audi is a very appealing roadster. The styling’s as fresh as ever, the interior is superb and then there’s quattro all-wheel grip...
- Chrysler Crossfire SRT-6: A bit of an odd-ball rival but it nearly matches the SLK’s power and is almost R200 000 cheaper. Underneath its quirky skin is the previous-generation SLK, and unfortunately this shows on the road where the Crossfire is simply not dynamically competitive.