Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - SLK-class - SLK55 AMG
Delightful exhaust bark, instant acceleration, go-kart handling, compact package size
Room for improvement
Slot-like boot opening with roof down
16 Mar 2005
By TIM BRITTEN
WE’VE not yet driven the 1000Nm SL65 on home soil, but it’s easy to imagine the smaller, tighter and leaner SLK55 as close to being the pick of the bunch in the latest AMG-Mercedes line-up.
The whole package speaks of raw, brutal sports car, contained within tight confines that make it feel naturally eager and responsive even before the suspension, braking and engine tweaks are applied.
The aural factor is beautifully addressed. With its twin, dual-pipe exhausts nestled suggestively into the rear bumper, the SLK emits a stomach-churning bark when it’s used aggressively. A very noticeable bark, whether you’re inside the car or out.
The 5.5-litre V8 might not produce the torque or the kilowatts of the supercharged versions used in the E55, S55, SL55 and CL55 AMG's, but it’s possible to argue it doesn’t need to. The power/weight ratio is sufficient to cut zero to 100km/h times below five seconds, while it will reach 200km/h in 17.5 seconds. In straight acceleration, it’s within cooee of the stupendous 450kW, 1000Nm CL65.
The seven-speed auto transmission does an excellent job of minimising power loss during upshifts. Floor the SLK55 from a standing start, in drive, and it will blast down the road with a staccato blast from the exhausts as it shifts cleanly, like a well-oiled switch, from one ratio to the next. No slurring of changes here, but no unpleasant thumps either.
With the powerful AMG braking system, this means the SLK can be run deep into a corner on brakes, then punch its way out with blistering speed.
The suspension does an incredibly good job too. Because the SLK is relatively light, and quite compact, it is naturally lithe and ready to change direction without too much intervention from the electronics.
It can be pushed harder than most people would like into a tight corner, and simply drive its way around without any histrionics. If the corner tightens up, simply apply a little more lock and the SLK follows. If things start to go pear-shaped, then the ESP cuts in, quite unobtrusively, and ensures the car stays on the chosen line. Up to a point of course.
The ride is pretty good too. The little two-seater remains relatively absorbent most of the time, and is certainly not prone to losing its composure if the road surface roughens up midway through a corner.
To put it bluntly, there isn’t too much around that would stay with a well-driven SLK55 on a (safe) tight and winding road. It does things with ease that others would have trouble duplicating.
The comfort isn’t bad either. It’s certainly a lot more plush than the base SLK models with its heated, power-adjusted sports seats, satellite navigation and Thermotronic climate control – although it’s maybe a bit of a surprise that, for $161,900, the Airscarf neck-warming system remains an option.
But there’s no problem finding a cosy driving position, almost regardless of how tall or small you are, and the in-cockpit bluster is minimal, even at speed – surprising when you remember how open-top convertibles once were.
This is a car that asks to be driven top down almost regardless of the weather. The poised immediacy of the handling, the blast of the exhausts and the surging power of the normally aspirated V8 are temptations almost impossible to ignore.
But, if you must, this is also a convertible that is virtually indistinguishable from a hardtop coupe once the roof is up. The boot is great in this mode, but becomes a little pokey if the top’s open – although it’s less selfish than many similar-size convertibles.
For all its brazen on-road grunt, the SLK55 remains a Porsche-challenging super sports car that can be hacked around town with the ease of a small sedan, or cruise the boulevards with style on a balmy summer’s night.
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