First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG


AMG: three letters that make an impact. You’ll find the logo of Mercedes’ performance arm on range-topping cars from the relatively humble C-Class right up to the CLS and S-Class, where six-figure price tags are fairly normal.

It’s also on the baby convertible in the range, the SLK. As emissions laws and fuel prices take their toll on the truly great engines of our time, the 6.2-litre naturally-aspirated V8 from the C63 AMG is living out its twilight years, replaced by a 5.5-litre twin-turbo in most of the latest AMG models.

But, the SLK only being a tiddler, installing the full-banzai twin-turbo version would be like strapping a jet engine to a skateboard, so in a bizarrely simple – but clever – move, Mercedes has more or less just taken the turbochargers off and made some intake adjustments to the new-age eight-pot vee to leave 415bhp. Which is enough.

Rear-wheel-drive only as always and with a rather complex but deceptively neat folding hard-top roof, the SLK is one of the most attention-grabbing cars. The amount of heads it turns wherever it goes is remarkable. Even the lower models get an unusual amount of attention, and aside from the V8 badges on the front wings the 55 AMG looks from the front and sides much like any other SLK.

It’s a different story at the back, though, with four gargantuan exhausts flanking a display-only diffuser. From behind, the SLK AMG looks as meaty as a bulldog wearing a suit made of steak.

The engineers behind the car describe it as mostly a lifestyle car, cut from a different cloth to other rear-drive sports cars you could buy for this money. But don’t let that fool you into thinking AMG has gone soft. Yes, it’s a little heavier than it could be and it’s not necessarily biased towards handling or dainty B-road blasting, but that engine is a sledgehammer.

Bellowing its heart out like a wounded stag, the SLK is epic under power. There’s anger in that noise; rage even. ‘Addictive’ doesn’t even scratch the surface. It’s not as hard-edged as the C63 AMG’s 6.2, but the loss of the turbos has made the 5.5’s throttle response faster.

After pre-selecting second via paddles connected to the seven-speed AMG gearbox, burying the throttle from around 3,000rpm produces the kind of shove that has unsuspecting passengers screaming strings of words you’ve never heard them come out with before.

Accelerating up to 62mph takes about 4.5 seconds in the real world, with ‘Sport’ mode engaged. It’s fabulously rapid, and with the volume from the exhaust apparently turned up to 11 it’s a desperately tempting way to burn up some super unleaded. If Carlsberg did exhaust notes, etc etc…

Lab coats on, though, because the SLK also has a cylinder deactivation system that engages in the transmission’s Controlled Efficiency mode (hmmm, catchy). It cuts fuel to four cylinders on a light throttle and displays ‘Eco4’ on the instrument cluster to let you know when the system is active. The cutting in and out is just about detectable if you’re looking for it, but it’s pretty cool.

Although it’s not a cheap car, as per the normal Mercedes style the SLK’s options list is expansive. If sir would like a limited-slip differential, it’s there. An analogue clock in the dashboard? Certainly. What about an 11-speaker surround sound system from Harman Kardon? No problem.

What grates a little is that electrically-folding door mirrors are optional extras. So are cupholders. On a £55,000 car you’d have a right to expect those as a no-cost option at least.

A wide range of AMG-specific cosmetic and driver enjoyment upgrades are included as standard, alongside the expected luxuries like electric leather seats, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and Mercedes’ excellent COMAND Online infotainment system, including sat-nav. There’s far too much going on to list here.

Typical of the brand is the thick, high-quality feel throughout most of the interior materials. It all feels luxurious in a way that gives it more of a ‘GT-lite’ feel. The seats are quite long under your legs and general comfort is excellent.

Sometimes, though, on the road the chassis betrays a little flex, while the suspension can feel like it has too much compression damping, crashing over rough surfaces. It’s rare but when both happen at once it amounts to a mismatch. In any case, slow in, fast (very fast) out is the order of the day for cornering.

In true AMG fashion the SLK is a bruiser; a drop-top European muscle car for the 21st century. It’s a car that people love to look at and love to listen to, despite perhaps a few muttered accusations of hooliganism. It really doesn’t matter if it isn’t as incisive as a Boxster or as affordable as a 370Z. It’s a magnificent piece of automotive theatre and that’s all it needs to be.


Model: Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG, £54,965 on the road.

Engine: 5.5-litre naturally-aspirated V8 petrol producing 415bhp and 398lb.ft.

Transmission: 7-speed automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels.

Performance: Top speed 155mph, 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds.

Fuel economy: 33.6mpg.

CO2 rating: 195g/km.


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