Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - SLK-class - SLK55 AMG
Slingshot performance, comfortable ride for a sporty model, smooth automatic transmission, relatively good fuel economy
Room for improvement
Engine note should be more exciting, rear suspension reduces handling confidence, steering takes a while to get used to, idle-stop system can be frustrating
19 Mar 2012
OVERKILL is the word that best sums up the SLK 55 AMG.
It has the least powerful and smallest capacity engine in the AMG stable and yet still has more performance than you need in a roadster like this.
But that’s not to say it won’t do well, especially with a near-$25,000 price cut to a more palatable $155,000.
Besides, vehicles like the ML 63 AMG show that slingshot acceleration and the urge of a thumping V8 often win out over common sense.
These things are always coloured by personal taste, but this writer’s favourite SLK is actually the four-cylinder version, the SLK200 (and I hear the slightly more powerful SLK 250 is even better).
For all the work Mercedes-Benz has done, the SLK is still best described as a convertible cruiser and the previous-generation model looked the part, too, with an organic and slightly feminine look.
Although the designers have made the latest model look more masculine, the SLK is still not the sharpest tool in the Mercedes shed, with a metal folding roof – which is heavier than fabric – a relatively comfortable ride and a steering system designed to make parking easier.
The SLK model range has a sporty edge, but essentially they are cruisers, lovely cars for that country drive or a run down the coast with the roof down soaking up the sun. They are capable of a spirited drive and can be fun, but are not chiseled athletes or brutes like the C63.
The most important feature for many SLK customers is the vent in the headrest that blows hot air on your neck for winter top-down driving.
While it might not be the most appropriate engine for the SLK, the 5.5-litre V8 is a cracking unit.
There may be some AMG fans wondering why in the SLK it misses out on the twin turbochargers of other AMG models, but it simply doesn’t need them.
The naturally aspirated V8 of the SLK 55 thumps hard from low revs, and continues on all the way through to the 7000rpm cut-out. It spins-up quickly, too, so you have to pick the point to change gear precisely or be caught out by the engine cut-out.
On the odd occasion you can open the throttle without breaking the speed limit, it’s worth exploring the upper rev range because it has plenty to give.
The forward thrust is certainly impressive and the gearshifts are quick enough, despite having a traditional torque-convertor auto rather than a faster-changing dual-clutch transmission.
The transmission rightly holds the selected gear when the engine winds out (in M mode), rather than have it change up automatically like other Mercedes models.
The engine sounds good, but isn’t the most aurally impressive powerplant around and is particularly quiet with the roof up. It gets better and louder with the roof down and you do get a meaty note on hard acceleration, but it doesn’t produce the kind of awe-inducing thunder you get with the larger 6.2-litre V8 in some AMG models, which is also naturally aspirated.
It should also make more noise when shifting down or when the driver backs off the throttle. After all, the audio drama of a performance V8 is one of the most compelling reasons for buying such an engine.
The SLK 55 handles well enough, but is really set-up for touring.
On a blast along roads near Marysville, north-east of Melbourne, the SLK rounded the bends well enough, but the suspension would be best described as not quite right.
The front end felt well-sorted, but the back was a bit soft and was prone to bounce when it met a mid-corner gradient change. That tends to affect your confidence and cause you to dial back your speed.
A few times the suspension appeared to bottom-out when coming into contact with a particularly nasty bump.
The upside was a relatively comfortable ride, which is important for an SLK, although the firm front can pick up a lot of surface imperfections at lower speeds.
We also drove a model fitted with the optional AMG Handling Package, which includes stiffer suspension, but our run was limited to city and highway driving.
This should sharpen the car’s handling in the twisty stuff, but all we noticed was the downside as it hardens the ride to the point of being unpleasant, crashing and bashing over the kind of bumps and ruts that are common in our big cities.
The SLK 55 AMG steers well enough when you get used to the steering system, which takes less turning effort at lower speeds, but that can take a while.
The idle-stop feature, like many others, was frustrating in slow-moving and stop-start traffic as it would often only be stopped for a second or two before it was time to move forward again.
On a hot day of around 35 degrees, the air-conditioning failed to keep the car cool when the engine was stopped.
All up, the SLK 55 AMG is a fun car to drive and, unless you go for the AMG Handling Package, it is also comfortable.
The engine has more power and torque than the car can really use, but if you are a fan of V8s and top-down cruising then you should still be well pleased.
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