When Americans build a sporty car you can be sure of one thing: Power. The Mustang and GTO are classic examples of massively powerful cars for bargain money. However, controlling that power is something the Americans are not so good at. Both the Mustang and GTO are the loosest, most tail-happy cars you’ll find anywhere in the world and I love them for it, but looking at the horizon through the side window isn’t everyone’s idea of fun.
For some people, charging at the horizon is more important and for those folks we have AMG. Ze volks at AMG are very serious about their speed. Like all German cars, with the exception of Porsche, AMGs are limited to 250 km/h because, frankly, that’s fast enough for anyone to be bloody well going anywhere. AMGs have complex stability control systems and peerless high-speed aerodynamics and there is usually enough rubber to keep a chemist shop in condoms for all eternity.
The suspension is tuned to deal with rapid lane changes at massive speeds… under braking, in the rain, without spilling your cuppa. In short, you’ll find no better autobahn eater than a Mercedes with an AMG badge on the boot lid. But there’s a limit even to what ze Germans can control, right? Let’s ask the Mercedes SLK 55 AMG, shall we? Here’s a car with a similar footprint to a VW Golf (albeit with a shorter wheelbase) though instead of 200 or 250 bhp they’ve packed a 5.5litre V8 under the bonnet that produces a startling 360 bhp and an astronomical 510 NM of torque. Power writhes to the 19-inch,245/35 rear tyres via a seven-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually by nudging the gear-lever left and right or by using the optional switches mounted neatly on the back of the steering wheel.
There’s a rather OTT body kit, some attractive but murder-to clean AMG alloy wheels, four tail pipes, a subtle boot spoiler and an ugly outbreak of AMG badging to differential it from lesser SLKs - a necessity to entice buyers to lash over twice the cash of an entry-level model, I suppose. Inside, there are special dials with big numbers on them, bespoke AMG seats, more of that AMG rash breaking out here and there and most of the basic toys you’d expect including head and thorax side airbags, air conditioning and an electrically operated roof. Sadly, forking over €100,900 isn’t enough to get you the ‘Airscarf’ neck-level heating, the gearshift switches, a CD changer or an alarm. Climate control is almost two grand and the computer with Satellite Navigation is almost six fecking grand in Ireland. Typical.
Most of your hundred grand is hidden away behind the scenes though. The engine is a throaty masterpiece of linear power delivery and an endless wave of forward momentum is on tap and any time.0-100 km/h takes just 4.9 seconds and that time can be achieved over and over again by simply stamping hard on the right pedal and keeping it there until you run out of road. That gargantuan power and speed demands equally epic brakes and a heavily stiffened suspension to cope with the exceptional loads the SLK 55 AMG is capable of generating and again, the engineering is flawless and the SLK is more composed than an Olympic archer. In short, despite being vastly overpowered for its size and 1,540 kg weight the SLK 55 AMG manages to be impeccably mannered in just about every situation you could find yourself on the street. And yet it bores me to tears. Even at 245 km/h the SLK refuses to misbehave and just gets on with task of going very, very fast, very, very boringly.
Corners and negotiated via a direct but lifeless steering and the transmission has about four ratios too many considering the power and torque available. In automatic mode it’s forever changing gears (albeit smoothly and quietly) while the manual override is more-or-less redundant because it will change gears on its own anyway whether you want it to or not. The brakes are powerful but wooden and the aerodynamics are so good that you can have a conversation at 230 km/h with the roof down. Honestly.
Breaking the back end loose requires lots of space and lots of skill because those tyres have no interest in letting you slide frivolously around. It’s so thoroughly over-engineered that it’s absolutely no fun whatsoever and manages to make doubling the speed limit seem mundane and routine. If it were me, I’d spend my money on a Porsche Boxster S or if I absolutely had to have a Mercedes, an SLK 350.It’s only half a second slower to 100km/h and can be had with a reasonably slick six speed manual. Without all that weight and speed, the chassis is more communicative and with the €26,000 I’d saved I’d order the AMG wheels and hit that scandalously expensive options list for some sat-nav and neck heaters. I wouldn’t have to look at that silly body kit either, nor would I have to feed its appetite for premium unleaded. Quite what the point of the SLK 55 AMG is, I just don’t know.
Mercedes SLK 55 AMG
Engine 5,439 cc AMG V8 AMG 24Valve SOHC
Power 360 bhp @ 5750 RPM
Kerb weight 1540kg
Acceleration 0-100 km/h 4.9 seconds
Top Speed 250 km/h (limited)