The AMG version of the previous SLK always seemed an odd mismatch, mainly because Mercedes-Benz's in-house tuner was working from a mediocre starting point. The second time around, however, the merging of an overachieving AMG powerplant-this time, a 5.4-liter V-8 making a stout 355 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque-and M-B's smallest sports car is very compelling indeed.
For a start, the AMG SLK looks meaner than the stock car, thanks to a nicely integrated body kit and gorgeous eighteen-inch wheels that are shod with 225/40 front and 245/35 rear Z-rated tires. The interior is almost identical to the base car's well-executed cabin. The AMG gets unique sport seats in Nappa leather with Alcantara inserts, a unique gauge cluster and steering wheel, and stainless-steel doorsills and trim. The real reasons you will pay a premium of about $14,000 are under the shapely bodywork, however. The 5.4-liter, SOHC, 24-valve V-8 is the same as the CLK55's and the C55's but is mated to the new Mercedes seven-speed automatic transmission.
The damper-strut front and multilink rear suspensions have stiffer springs, gas-filled dampers, and bigger antiroll bars. The brakes have been uprated, too, with 13.4-inch-diameter front discs and six-piston calipers and 13.0-inch rear rotors and four-pot calipers. The compound front discs have an aluminum center and steel outer to help reduce heat and unsprung weight. On the twisty mountain roads around the ultra-swank Paul Ricard racetrack in southern France, the SLK was a honey. The V-8 makes a wonderful gruff growl when you are on the throttle hard and provides lots of thrust. In fact, you wonder why an engine with so much torque needs seven forward gear ratios. In manual mode, shifts aren't quite quick enough, and the shift buttons on the back of the steering wheel are annoying when you're looking for a gear.The suspension is supple, with moderate body roll during high-speed cornering. The car tends to understeer, but that's easy to dial out with all the torque. With ESP stability control switched off, you can still get some sideways action out of tight second-gear corners, but then the electronics step in to save you. The brakes are superb. The only dynamic letdown on the street is steering that doesn't totally connect.
On the track, the car was more entertaining. The stock SLK has a really well-balanced chassis, and the AMG's fatter tires, stiffer suspension, and extra power make it even more fun. Even though ESP will always cut in, it gives you enough leeway to drift with quite a bit of slip angle. The steering livens up with the extra g you can pull on a track, especially a place like Ricard, where the runoff areas seemingly extend into Spain and Italy. Mercedes limits the SLK to 155 mph, but it gets up there rapidly, with 0 to 62 mph taking just 4.9 seconds. The new AMG SLK has lots of appeal, even at nearly $60,000. Sometimes things just work out better the second time around.