To be brutally honest, I had no intention of liking the SLK55. Sure the standard versions of the car are ok… if you’re a girl, but this is a pricey piece of machinery and goodness knows most folks can’t tell the difference between a $45,000 Hello Kitty-cute convertible and this over $65,000 AMG version. At least Mercedes has beefed up the look of the car over the years since the second-generation model first debuted back in 2004.
|1. The SLK55 is powered by a 5.5-liter V8 with 355-hp and 376 ft-lbs of torque, enabling a 0-60 mph time of 4.9 seconds.
2. Fuel economy is rated at 14/22 mpg (city/hwy)
3. A $7,020 AMG Performance Package includes carbon ceramic brakes, special five-spoke 18-inch wheels, a three-spoke steering wheel, carbon fiber interior trim and a top speed of 174 mph.
4. Pricing starts at $66,650.
Picking up the car, my mind swirled with hypothetical insecurities while my body opened the door and rested itself on the red and black leather seats. Turning over the engine a whoosh of V8-power cleared out the stagnant air in both the exhaust pipes and my mind.
As I lowered the retractable hard top and pulled out of the Mercedes-Benz parking lot, I made the short trip to the highway. And once I was all straightened out on the on-ramp I applied a little extra pressure to the throttle as the remainder of my preconceived SLK notions left my head and were blown clean away by the same gusts of wind passing through my hair.
THE SOUND AND THE ACCELERATION
The catalyst that acted upon my emotions and swayed me towards liking the SLK was undoubtedly the hand-built 5.5-liter V8 engine from AMG. With 355-hp and an even more impressive 376 ft-lbs of torque this V8 is enthralling to push… and to listen to. The exhaust note is typical Mercedes, with a choppy growl where the notes seem to melt together as you accelerate. It’s the sort of unique tune that Beethoven and Tim Allen can both appreciate.
The acceleration to 60 mph comes in just 4.9 seconds, with a quarter mile time of around 12.8 sec.
And yet as fun as all the power is, one of the great joys of the SLK55 is watching the reactions on people’s faces when the sleek and sexy roadster leaves a stop light with a heavy does of throttle and some serious growl. It’s a real hoot watching guys in muscle cars looking around to see where the V8 rumble is coming from.
Now, if you’re not pointed straight ahead, you’re also likely to hear a good deal of complaining coming from the pieces of rubber out back. While the traction control works quite well to keep the power restrained in a straight line, the 245 wide tires in the rear make sliding around corners a cinch. I was truly surprised to discover how small the tires were; it’s just that you’d expect 265s or something on such a high-powered AMG model.
On the flip side, however, it’s important to remember that the SLK isn’t a big and unruly beast but actually a small sports car. All the creature comforts make it feel like a large and luxurious grand tourer – one that just happens to be surprisingly agile.
Not everything about the driving experience is perfect, however. Over the course of several days I never really managed to find a seating position that I felt comfortable with. When I straightened out the back of the seat to a proper position, I found that I had to adjust the tilt of the wheel all the way to the top, however, even at the highest setting it still blocked my view of the gauges. The only way to solve this dilemma was to recline the seat back, which I wasn’t prepared to do, so I just suffered with guessing at my speed.
My other real complaint is the 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission. It’s best left in automatic “Sport” mode as the manual shifts are quite slow when going up gears. The “Sport” mode is also helpful because it fights to stay in the lowest gear, so you always have maximum power when you get back on the throttle.
THE WHOLE PACKAGE
A powerful engine is not necessarily going to hold its influential grasp on my mind forever and so my gushing praise for the SLK is really as a result of the whole package. The AMG aero kit, while inconspicuously reserved, absolutely transforms the looks of the car. And the wheels are quite spectacular themselves.
Inside those big 18-inchers are some serious brakes, with six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers than clamp down hard when needed. Mercedes does offer an optional composite braking system, but it’s really not necessary. Those who really must have it will pay $7,020, which also includes an upgraded sport suspension, special split-spoke 5-spoke AMG wheels (as shown), a three-spoke steering wheel, carbon fiber interior trim and a top speed limiter that’s raised to 174 mph.
As a sporty-meets-luxurious car, it’s no surprise that the interior follows this theme as well. As for the audio system, it’s good, but those who really like their tunes should pay the extra $800 for the 11-speaker Harmon Kardon unit. Other optional upgrades include Navigation ($2,850), bi-xenon lighting ($1,050), illuminated door sills ($750) dual-zone automatic climate control ($750) and Mercedes’ patented AIRSCARF ($520) that blows warm air around the neck of the driver and passenger.
While cruising down the highway late at night with my wife in the passenger seat I immediately became overwhelmed by the sensation the SLK gave me – a sort of cathartic epiphany if you will. With the headlights cutting through the darkness and the pointed SLK nose ripping a path down the highway – with more than a little help from the AMG V8 – I experienced what Mercedes-Benz (AMG in particular) is really selling: a feeling… this feeling.
Behind the wheel it’s as though you are having fun and relaxing at the same time. A feeling that you have no worries, that you, whoever you are, are a member of a prestigious and exclusive club. Which, if you just bought a Benz, you are.
It may only be the “lowly” SLK, but from the vantage point of the driver’s seat, surrounded by red and black leather and a big fat three-pointed start on the steering wheel, this car feels as much of a Benz as any of the highbrow S-Classes.
And as for those insecurities of whether passers by will know if you’re piloting the AMG real-deal or some striped-down and slow imitation, don’t worry, they’ll be able to see it on our face – or at least they’ll hear it when you put your foot down.
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