"You automotive journalists are only concerned with numbers," barked Geoff Day, when he was asked how fast the new Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series is. "It's not about the zero-to-sixty numbers--it's about the experience!"
Day, Mercedes-Benz USA's director of communications, was right, but his statement was ironic, because AMG models tend to be more about numbers than anything else. Their hallmarks are incomprehensible acceleration, astronomical prices, and, frequently, way too much power for their own good. So unless AMG had come up with a chassis that could match wits with the muscle of its 6.2-liter V-8, the CLK63 Black Series would be the latest victim in the German horsepower war--another machine that generated incredible numbers but not much passion in drivers.
I began to appreciate Day's words the next morning, when I got behind the wheel of the Black Series. This is not simply the coupe version of the CLK63 convertible that hit the market last year. Instead, it is the result of an extensive engineering project involving major structural and suspension modifications. And the result is mind-blowing.
The first thing I notice is that the cabin--which has neither rear seats nor a sunroof--smells just like the inside of a new racing helmet. A nice touch. I belt myself into the seats, which are as well-bolstered as a race car's, and shove the teensy aluminum shifter into Drive.
As I slowly merge onto Rodeo Drive, the flat-bottomed steering wheel reads the road surface in a way I've never experienced in any Benz. "Hey, Jason," it says, "that was a pebble. Next up is a two-degree road crown to the right, followed by a pavement seam." The ratio is so quick that I have to concentrate on not accidentally swerving onto the sidewalk in front of Fred Segal.
The Black Series' suspension makes the outgoing BMW M3's seem soft, and the psychopath under the hood barks, screams, and backfires through an exhaust so loud it sounds as if it has no muffler at all. Pedestrians--and people in nearby cars--practically jump out of their skins any time I so much as blip the throttle. Which, of course, I do repeatedly.
On the racetrack, where most street cars lose their composure, the Black Series is even more impressive. Its body control is astonishing--this CLK turns in immediately, with zero body roll. Under light throttle, it takes a set in a perfectly controllable four-wheel drift. Any application or withdrawal of throttle helps rotate the rear--understeer is a word that's not in this coupe's vocabulary.
The Black Series' front suspension uses a coil-over-shock setup that isn't shared with any other CLK, and its control arms, bushings, and oversize hubs are unique as well. In back, beefed-up half shafts are connected to a limited-slip differential that--get this--has its own radiator and cooling fan.
Jaw-dropping sideways action takes only a slight prod of the right foot, and even though the ESP light flashes, the system does nothing to rain on the sideways parade. In manual mode, the seven-speed automatic is obedient, holding the gear of choice.
The CLK weighs close to 4000 pounds, but it's as if the engineers forgot to notify the brakes, which refuse to overheat or fade. The 14.2-inch front and 13.0-inch rear rotors transfer their stopping power to competition-rated Pirelli PZero Corsa tires mounted on nineteen-inch forged aluminum AMG wheels. In return for their comically short life, the tires generate laugh-inducing levels of grip.
If the CLK63's cornering speeds don't get your attention, its styling will. Enlarged front openings feed air to a larger radiator and a second transmission cooler. Massively flared fenders are flanked in front by carbon-fiber splitters and cooling vents. A tasteful carbon-fiber rear spoiler punctuates the trunk lid, and the differential cooler and the quad exhaust pipes are housed in a large rear diffuser.
If you want numbers, they're in the spec box. But Mr. Day was correct--they tell only part of this car's story. The Black Series is the first true driver's car to wear a three-pointed star since the 190E 2.3-16 of twenty years ago. Like that car, it is exceedingly rare (only 350 will be sent here), outrageously expensive, and unmatched in performance. The CLK has three times the 2.3-16's horsepower, leaps to 60 mph in half the time, and costs 100 grand more. The kicker? It's ten times the car. But, of course, those are just numbers.