Two to Go and Go and Go
Mercedes Benz new SLK 55 AMG
by Jim Muise
Texas Driver Magazine @American Driver 2007
There are few two seat convertibles that look good with the top up and down. Usually they look fantastic with the roof firmly stowed away but when it is up it looks like a cross between an army surplus Quonset hut and a beach cabana. Mercedes little SLK has never had that problem with its amazingly smart “Clam Shell” roof.
The thought and engineering that goes into something that seems so simple, a fully retractable hard top, is quite stunning and the ballet of servo-electric motors and hinges is impressive to watch and use. The top is only one part of the new SLK that is impressive many of the other things include a nearly perfect weight distribution, a silky smooth AMG 5.43 liter V8 fantastic suspension, those over the top AMG brakes and a seven speed semi auto transmission.
Yes you did read that right. A-seven-speed. I will let that one sink in for a second or two and come back to it.
Starting outside the SLK apes the look of MB’s over the top Supercar the McLaren Mercedes SLR. As a matter of fact when the top is up the SLK looks like someone washed the SLR and tossed it in the dryer, the extended nose looks like it is extruded from the hood oversized wheels nestle in neatly tailored wheel arches and even the rear deck and taillights feature styling cues that purposely evoke SLR similarities. The interior too has a true sports look and feel of the $400k mucho benzo but the appeal of styling also has other similarities. Both exhibit the AMG tendency to put enough brakes and tires on to haul a passenger jetliner to a steady stop – consistently without any fade. The tires are pretty damn impressive too with a whole lot of contact patch for such a small car.
The driver is swaddled inside very adjustable and comfortable seating that will still tax a taller pilot to fold himself into. At just a nudge over six-foot average height here in the office none of us really ran into that limit but the lanky one (Tim) was better served to not try and drive with the top up.
Under the long nose cone hood is wedged crammed and any other word to say miraculously stuffed a 5.43 l V8. This is far from a journeyman powerplant, it is hand built and is among the most efficient and resilient in the industry and has shown up in various configurations both supercharged and turbocharged, in every Mercedes vehicle on the US market, but in the case of the SLK it is a normally aspirated multi-port fuel injection. I don’t think they could figure out how to get the supercharger to fit. Lifting the hood for admirers to prove there was an 8 under there usually drew a whistle or a sound of wonder at how it all fit. It is almost like looking at one of those complex Chinese boxes that you can never seem to figure out how to get it all back inside.
This engine develops 355 HP @ 5,750 rpm 376 foot pounds @ 4000 rpm. The power delivery is wonderful across such a range you might forget it is not turbocharged or other wise hopped up. Even the not so hot regular SLK 320 version puts out admirable numbers of 268 hp @6000 rpm and 258 Foot pounds across a range from 2400-5000 rpm offer great performance numbers. I had on of the SLK500 ‘s for a run from Dallas to San Antonio and back when I did the photoshoot for the Porsche 550 spider we featured in the March April issue of Texas Driver Magazine. Leaving early with only one of Mister Valentine ‘s products as my companion I was able to do a 3 hour photoshoot and return in the same day. Coming back towards Hillsborough only the constant warbling produced from a large cluster of black and white revenue vultures kept me awake.
Cargo room is always compromised in a drop top but the SLK is again an amazing realization of those compromises. With the top up the trunk borders on big, especially when you look at the over all foot print of the car. This little car has an overall size of a Honda civic hatchback but packs V8 that is in the Corvette League of power. Now that is the kind of alchemy we love around here.
Nimble and lithe the rear wheels still take some motivation to brake away as the (ahem) Seven speed semi auto box and advanced traction and stability controls can make you look like a far better driver than you are. Still the simple off switch can be hit giving you a car that will squirt along on those big low profile 19inch rubber hoops. All together the SLK is worthy of every look the stunning exterior garnered from passers by. The AMG variant tweaks the look just a bit more to even more of a resemblance to the big Daddy SLR and event the Big Brother SL65AMG.
Top up or down the SLK has really grown into a real performer but this is an example where the equation also equals a hefty price. The full jam AMG loaded to the gunwales is going to roll down the road at over $68,000 but entry to the SLK family starts at $46,275.
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