Ahead of us, three-time Le Mans winner and touring-car hero Klaus Ludwig is doing extraordinary things with a CLK55 AMG F1 pace car that has tricked-out suspension and brakes and a straight-through exhaust. The CLK is dancing every which way into and out of corners, including the dauntingly fast Signes sweeper, the signature bend on the Paul Ricard racetrack. Meanwhile, at the helm of the CLK DTM AMG, it's pretty serene: we're going quickly, but the car is so composed that there's even time to chuckle at the antics going on up ahead.
The sad thing is, Mercedes-Benz is making only 100 DTMs, they are sold out, and they aren't coming here. The car is loosely based on a stock CLK55 AMG, except the aim was to make an all-arounder that evokes the spirit of the racing CLK that won the 2003 DTM (German Touring Car Masters) racing series.
It certainly looks the part, with its deep front spoiler, pert deck-lid wing, brawny wheel-arch extensions, and nineteen-inch front and twenty-inch rear wheels, shod with 225/35 and 285/30 Dunlop tires. It's the kind of body kit that only someone like AMG gets right: mean yet close enough to the stock car that it doesn't act as a cop magnet.
The interior is a study in carbon fiber. The stock CLK instrument panel remains, but there's a new gauge cluster, and racy carbon fiber swathes the door inners, the center console, and the space where the rear seats used to live. Carbon-fiber bucket sport seats with leather trim, four-point harnesses, a suede-covered steering wheel, and alloy paddle shifters complete the effect.
There is go to accompany the show, courtesy of a massaged version of the SL55 AMG's 5.4-liter, supercharged V-8, which now cranks out 574 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. Modified cam timing, more boost, a stiffer crankcase, and a new exhaust system help to hike power and torque over the SL55's already useful 493 hp and 516 lb-ft. The engine is mated to a five-speed manu-matic transmission.
The running gear, too, has been modified. The MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspensions have adjustable springs and gas-filled dampers, there is a stiffer rear antiroll bar and new rear hub carriers and driveshafts, and metal-to-metal joints have replaced rubber ones. A multiplate limited-slip differential helps put the power to the ground, and the stability and traction control systems have been recalibrated. Finally, there are properly large 14.2-inch-diameter front and 13.0-inch rear discs, with six-piston calipers up front and four pistons out back.
The result of these changes is a stunning car. The engine makes 86 percent of its torque from 2000 rpm, so it goes with real alacrity: Mercedes claims 0 to 62 mph in 3.9 seconds, and the car is governed to a top speed of 199 mph. It sounds fabulous, too, with an awesome growl that's an octave higher than that of a stock AMG blown engine. You're worried that the autobox won't work that well, yet the gearchanges are super-fast and smoother than BMW's sequential manual.
But the car's most outstanding features are its composure and the telepathic nature of all the controls. Mercedes-Benzes are usually let down by their steering, but this is near perfection, a great ally to a chassis that is sure-footed when you want it to be yet goes sideways at will without losing its cool or being tricky on the limit. The newly reprogrammed stability system allows for plenty of fun but saves you from expensive encounters with trees or guardrails. The brakes, too, are magnificent, and our Georg Kacher says the DTM is as involving on the road as it is on the track.
In Germany, after taxes, the DTM costs 236,060 euros, or about $300,000. That's a lot of money, but it's a real alternative to, ahem, M-B's own SLR McLaren, which is even more expensive. And the great thing about this car is that people who know cars will admire you for having one, and everyone else will leave you alone.