With two seats and trunk space for only two modest bags and a cooler, the Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG may not be the best car to travel in during a long July 4th weekend. Don't get me wrong - I love the SLK's signature retractable hardtop. It can be lowered at a traffic light in 21 seconds, and nothing feels better than watching fireworks from the seat of a convertible. But the extra trunk space dedicated for roof sheetmetal prevents passengers from hauling any sizeable goods or weekend purchases.
Inside, the SLK 55 cabin isn't much more practical. The hardtop does buffer a bit more sound than a conventional fabric roof, but wind and road noise still makes carrying on any type of conversation difficult. The AMG car's low-profile tires and 18-inch wheels don't provide much comfort on highways either, as passengers feel every small crack, bump, and surface change. Steering feel, however, is almost perfect for this luxury roadster - heavy enough, but responsive and easy to maneuver. Using the glovebox Ipod adapter and user interface is a breeze (I'd say it even beats the Infiniti G37's interface), and the seat-mounted, "warm air scarf" is useful for those with shorter hair.
Still, the real reason people will pay $65,000 for this car is under the hood, and they will be making quite an entertaining investment. The hand-built, 355-hp AMG engine (ours was signed by builder "Sasha") feels limitless at normal cruising speeds. Want to blow around a merging semi? No problem - 376 lb-ft of torque is available at 4000 rpm. And don't worry about flying too fast for too long because AMG Speedshift helps slow you down (albeit, sometimes too intrusively). A drawback to this performance is, of course, (premium-only) fuel economy. On a 300-mile highway trip, I observed 22.6 mpg, which was better than the 20 mpg EPA estimate. Around town though, I saw numbers below the 14 mpg EPA estimate.
Exterior design seemed to appeal to others more than it did me. Obviously, the gigantic Mercedes-Benz logo attracts attention in traffic, but I don't think many notice the extra AMG front lip and quad exhaust tips.
David Yochum, Assistant Editor