November 1, 2006
In this country, otherwise known as ‘cold country’ or ‘the land of ice and snow’ for a good portion of the year, purchasing a roadster or other convertible vehicle seems like such a waste. With only five good months of warm weather in most of the country, a convertible sports car is often seen as a toy car.
Enter the hardtop convertible of the SLK series from Mercedes: not only do you get a wonderful roadster for those beautiful summer days, a flick of a button and a mere 22-seconds later, you get a true closed vehicle that you can enjoy all months of the year.
For 2007, Mercedes-Benz brings the SLK55 AMG version of the newly designed SLK series. As well as your top-up and top-down fun, you get an outstanding 355-hp V8 engine capable of propelling you from 0-100 km/h in under 5 seconds.
I won’t go as far as to say the SLK55 AMG is an inexpensive car, but when compared to its main competitors, its $85,500 base price could seem like a decent bargain. Yes, it is more expensive than the Porsche Boxster S ($77,300) or the BMW M Roadster ($69,900) but factor in the cost of your winter beater and the SLK55 might seem downright sensible.
The standard AIRSCARF system on the SLK55 extends the top-down driving season into the cooler months. Built into the seatbacks of the SLK, the neck-level heating system blows warm air from the head restraints of the driver and passenger seats, allowing occupants to cruise comfortably with the top down, deep into the months of October and November. The AIRSCARF even compensates automatically for vehicle speed – excellent!
As expected from Mercedes-Benz, the interior materials and design is top notch. Covered in AMG nappa leather available in four colour choices, the SLK55 can be customized for your tastes. The Periclase Green exterior with Beige interior is particularly stunning, as is the Storm Red exterior with a black/grey interior. Interior trim options also include Vavona Wood, aluminum or real carbon fibre trim.
As wonderful as the interior and exterior styling of the SLK55 Roadster are, the real story begins when you turn the key and fire up the 5.5-litre V8 engine, drop the top, shift the 7G-TRONIC 7-speed transmission into drive, and head out onto the open road.
A great aspect of the AMG series of cars is that they are unassuming: to the non-enthusiast they are just another Mercedes-Benz; to the trained eye, heads begin to turn. Out on the highway not a single head turned my way as I cruised down the 401 at a sedate 120 km/h. The SLK55 feels like a luxury car even top down at highway speeds. Top up and you forget you are in a convertible car at all.
The ride is so quiet and comfortable you genuinely forget you are in a vehicle capable of super speeds. One probe of the go-pedal instantly reminds you as the quad exhaust pipes howl a glorious song and the world turns into a blur. Want to go even faster? Mercedes-Benz now offers the SLK55 Performance Package that removes the speed limiter and allows you to hit speeds of 280 km/h – to be used only on the track, of course.
And that’s where the SLK55 shines: it feels light even though it weights in at a hefty 1550 kg. The added Performance Package, which bumps the price by $8,500, also adds a “Nurburgring” calibrated sports suspension and 14.2-inch front discs with 6-piston calipers and 13-inch rear discs and 4-piston calipers. The result is phenomenal braking power and extended track sessions.
I was lucky enough to get 30 minutes of straight hot lapping in the SLK55 AMG at Shannonville Motorsport Park, near Belleville, Ontario. During my 30-minute session I began to realize how extremely capable this machine is. Turn in is quick, braking is excellent and balance and precision is spot on. The ESP and traction control are there to keep you out of harms way but when turned off will allow you to do those smoky burnouts we all long for.
I do have two gripes with the vehicle though: the seven-speed automatic transmission, although programmed to be sporting still lags quite badly on manual up and downshifts. I actually preferred leaving the vehicle to shift for me, as it was smoother and felt more controlled on the track. My other gripe is the quietness of the vehicle. An excellent attribute on the road, but on the track I want to feel fast and although I was lapping at a fairly good pace it constantly felt as though I was putting along at pedestrian speeds.
Manufacturer’s web site