Ray Leathern finds the Mercedes-Benz ‘Sport, Licht, Klein’ 55 AMG, or SLK 55 AMG for short, has developed a treasonous, self-sabotaging edge in AMG form.
Probably the most infamous case of treachery there ever was, must be the account of Judas Iscariot in the New Testament and his ‘kiss and betrayal’ of Jesus for a miserly ransom of 30 pieces of silver. As we know now, his subterfuge didn’t end well, it was so bad in fact, that we’re still talking about it thousands of years later. This brings us to a small, fast, roadster made by Mercedes-Benz. Sure, it’s a bit of a stretch, but I can’t help talking about God and biblical figures when I talk about AMG’s. There is just something about those handmade V8s that carries with them something, I dunno, biblical.
When the first SLK arrived in 1994 it was designated as the ‘Sport, Licht, Klein’, or SLK. It was the first car for Mercedes-Benz that diversified their model range significantly and ushered in the end of the era of ‘cost-no-object’ engineering. You could also call it ‘cost cutting’ I suppose, but that didn’t stop the original SLK being the first ever car with a folding hardtop roof. It also came full of everything you’d want in the way of luxury from the bigger SL. Now three generations of SLK have passed and many folding hardtop pretenders are trying to steal the SLK’s throne.
I’m not going to delve into the technicalities at this stage, because when you drive an AMG there honestly feels as though so little technicality is in the mix (although because it’s German there secretly is). It’s brilliantly refreshing in that way. I would argue the AMG V8 in the SLK goes so far as to distract the driver from driving, I certainly found that personally when I was behind the wheel. In a top of the line BMW Z4 sDrive35iS, its wonderfully balanced, force fed, straight-six powerplant mixes with the long bonnet and elegant flow of the car’s weight, as you carve over a mountain pass, to hone your mind and bring out the agility in your driving. That’s the very essence of what that car has to offer customers.
With the SLK 55 AMG it’s different and you honestly couldn’t care less if you hit an apex or a clipping point on the run out of a corner. One’s driving changes to only make sweet, heavy metal music with the aural talents of that gurgling AMG V8. That for one, means you’ll drive over Du Toits Kloof in the Z4, but you’ll want to take the Huguenot Tunnel in the SLK. Something I did over and over again. No innuendo intended.
However, if the tunnel was undergoing maintenance and you did take the pass in the AMG you’d probably be surprised at how close you got to the apexes and clipping points of its tens of blind corners, with the car in ‘Sport Handling’ mode. I personally feel, and rightly so because the AMG doesn’t come cheap, that one doesn’t sit low enough or far enough back in the SLK to make a solid connection with the car. The steering too, is a bit glassy around its centre radius.
It’s also a car with such a small foot print on the road and yet, when you’re barrelling along to its V8 thunder-strum, it somehow makes it feel big all of a sudden. I think my brain associates V8s with bigger cars, so the neurons take a bit of rewiring to tell your driving sensibilities, “Yes, you’re in a tiny sports car that just happens to sound like a Messerschmitt, but you can go through this corner with your foot buried flat into the carpet.” If you do, my word the SLK is properly fast, be in no doubt, but it takes time to adjust to. You’ll learn that and maybe need to change your underpants a few times as you hurl it at some corners, that’s the point I’m trying to make.
Not helping the delicacy of its dynamics is of course the requisite scuttle shake and chassis flex that a car without a fixed roof brings. Other cars suffer the same symptoms, but my riposte to that is they don’t have a 5.5-litre V8 under their bonnet. Of course you can close the folding roof (which can’t be done on the move like in a Z4 I’m afraid) and have a sports coupe instead. That does tighten everything up nicely, but then the World War 2 battlefield sound is all the more hidden and trust me, once you’ve heard it you don’t want anything else. I was happy to drive with the roof down through spittle, then a small drizzle, then a substantial rain storm, then when a fully-fledged white squall landed on the Peninsula, only then did I give in and put the roof up.
I suppose I should give you some figures for the 5.5-litre AMG engine shouldn’t I? This car even drives me to distraction when I’m writing about it. It’s the most powerful SLK ever and yet its 30% more efficient than before. It has a normally aspirated unit that makes 310 kW and 540 Nm, gets it to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds and consumes a claimed average of 8.4 L/100km.
The V8 also has an engine stop/start system for when you’re stationary at the traffic lights. It’s smooth in igniting the engine without too much delay and that does help save those expensive litres of petrol. It also has a system that shuts off four of the eight cylinders if you’re just cruising in ‘Eco’ mode. You can feel this system click on or off through a delay in throttle response and the ECO4 sign turning to ECO8 on the display. It’s very comfortable to drive when everything is set to its most relaxed setting.
Although it doesn’t matter because like I said, all you’ll do in the SLK 55 AMG is wait for an open piece of straight road and mash that peddle till it bursts through the floor. The fuel consumption suffers a bit when you do this, think 15 L/100km plus, but you won’t care about that either. It’s as much a betrayal of the traditional, delicate, two-seater roadster as Judas pulled on Jesus before the last supper.
The SLK 55 AMG is totally mental, quite flawed in some respects and quite expensive, but if the only other V8 roadster you can buy ‘new’ is the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Convertible S, you have to say it’s filling a sub-million rand niche that, at the moment, is only big enough for one and that’s the Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG.
What we like…
- The sound, the sound, the sound.
- Comfy cruiser when you’re not in the mood.
- V8 roadster exclusivity.
What we would like…
- A more rigid chassis.
- More space on the inside.
- More functionality for the roof.
|Base Price||R975 000|
|Warranty||2-year / Unlimited km|
|Engine Capacity||5, 461 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||8-cylinders, V-formation|
|Power||310 kW @ 6 800 r/min|
|Torque||540 Nm @ 4 500 r/min|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0 – 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||250 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||8.4 l/100km (claimed combined)|
|CO2 Emissions||195 g/km|
Ray Leathern is South Africa’s 2010 Motoring Journalist of the Year in the magazine category, as well as a member of SA’s 2011 Car of the Year jury. Apart from his regular contributions to SA Car Fan, you’ll also find Ray’s opinion in Fleet Magazine and Drive South Africa.