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2009 Mercedes Benz SLK 55 AMG

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

This SLK is a blast to drive with the top down. I did notice more wind buffeting than in an SL, but I don't mind a windy roadster. I think it takes too long to raise and lower the top, but these folding hardtops are pretty complicated. Not all cars can transform as quickly as a Boxster or a cloth-top Miata.

The supercharged AMG V-8 sounds great and produces lots of power. I very much felt like I was driving an SL63 AMG's little brother, which is a good thing. The power isn't as insane, there isn't nearly as much exhaust noise, but, according to the in-dash reading, I averaged about double the number of miles per gallon in the SLK than I did in the SL. Sure, the two cars appeal to different buyers, but both do the AMG name proud.

My only complaint is how tight the cabin is. I'm a little over 6' tall and I felt cramped. The much larger SL fits me better, but costs a whole lot more. A better comparison is the Porsche Boxster and I'm not as cramped in there, either. Plus the Boxster is more fun on a curvy road. Still, even the Boxster S doesn't pack as much wallop as this AMG car.

Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor