The Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG is not a hairdresser’s car. It may be a convertible with a fancy folding metal roof, but those last three capital letters ensure this version of the German car maker’s roadster is not for the faint of heart.
Powering this beheaded beast is a normally aspirated variant of Mercedes’ 5.5-litre twin-turbo V8, sporting 310kW of power and 540Nm of torque in this tune. Given the SLK55 AMG has a kerb weight of 1610kg, it’s almost identical in the power-to-weight-ratio race as a Lotus Elise S.
As you might imagine, the combination of a powerful V8 engine in a compact sports car produces eye-catching performance. The SLK55 AMG sprints from 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds – a time that makes it quicker than cars costing almost twice as much, such as an Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
As with the rest of the third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK range introduced in 2011, the company has given its compact roadster a more aggressive design. The front end is easily recognisable as part of the current Mercedes-Benz family look, inspired by the range-topping SLS supercar.
The bold rear-end design also conveys its sporty credentials with quad exhausts and a rather noticeable rear diffuser. The AMG wheels and cross-drilled brake discs and huge callipers also enhance the visual appeal.
There’s aural appeal, too. Just tap the accelerator pedal in Sport mode and the V8 emits a tasty exhaust note. The SLK55 AMG is definitely not shy of being heard. It doesn’t have the ear-pleasing allure of the raw-sounding Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG but it does produce a mechanical and somewhat technical V8 note, something we’ve seen more from the company’s arch-rival, BMW.
The exhaust system has flaps that can open or close depending on the drive mode and throttle application, but you can opt for a relatively subdued noise in Eco mode that also has cylinder deactivation that can shut four of the engine’s eight cylinders to help save fuel. Officially it uses 8.5L of fuel per 100km but if you drive it with a bit of enthusiasm, your average fuel economy is likely to be be similar to ours: 15.2L/100km.
On the road the SLK55 AMG is a superb drive, and is more subtle and easier to live with on a daily basis than you might imagine.
Around town the specially tuned AMG transmission adjusts its change points to provide a much smoother driving feel, so you won’t be jerked around with each gear change.
Engage Sport mode, though, and the driving feel changes significantly. Gearshifts from the seven-speed automatic transmission (not dual-clutch) become blisteringly quick rather than fast, and everything seems to tighten up.
The flat-bottom AMG steering wheel, which is wrapped in nappa leather and Alcantara, feels good in the hands even if the steering lacks the precision found in the rival BMW Z4 sDrive35is or new Porsche Boxster.
Push the SLK55 AMG hard out of a corner and the rear allows a little bit of play though not enough to scare you, and definitely not on the same scale as the manic Z4 that can be noticeably twitchier in the back end (which can be fun depending on your driving style).
The SLK55 AMG feels more planted and easier to control from the get go. On the odd occasions that it does step out, it’s never in a violent or sudden manner. It’s predictable and simple to control.
If you’re looking for the most sublime handling in this segment, however, the mid-engined Porsche Boxster has it nailed by some margin.
And if you’re expecting C63 AMG levels of performance, you may be a tad underwhelmed. The SLK55 AMG doesn’t have anywhere near the manic-packed personality of its bigger brother.
Neither the C63 AMG sedan nor Coupe has the SLK’s folding roof, though.
It opens simply by pressing/pulling and holding a switch, with the ‘coupe’ turning into an open-top roadster or vice-versa in about 20 seconds.
Annoyingly it refuses to work unless you’ve come to a complete stop, which is different to the Z4, which can operate up to 7km/h, and the Boxster.
This isn’t a big issue if you live in sunny Brisbane where the weather is nearly always perfect, but if Melbourne’s weather is having one of its typical schizophrenic days, the ability to slowly drive away from the lights while the roof is operating is dearly missed.
Our test car was optioned with a panoramic vario-roof ($1750), which is a tinted polycarbonate roof that allows a reasonable amount of sunlight inside the cabin.
It’s a more affordable option than ticking the box for a Magic Sky Control roof ($4550), which gives you the ability to alter the amount of sunlight you want inside the cabin via a fancy system that applies voltage to tiny particles inside the glass roof to vary the shade offered.
Regardless of the amount of light in the cabin, it’s a strong point of the SLK. The SLS-inspired air-con vents (now also seen in the likes of the B-Class and upcoming A-Class) look stylish and interior quality is excellent, even if the initial perception of quality doesn’t seem perfect with some of the switchgear.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG gets a solar-reflecting nappa leather upholstery, which is designed to keep the seats cooler in hot sunshine.
There’s also the exceptional Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround system (though to be honest we spent more time listening to the engine than anything else). As per usual, the Comand infotainment system does the job but still doesn’t feel as intuitive or easy to use as rival systems from Audi and BMW.
With the absence of a BMW Z4 M and the availability of the Audi TT-RS in Coupe only, the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG Roadster is essentially the shark at the top of the food chain.
Its $155,000 price tag isn’t cheap, though, especially when you consider a BMW Z4 sDrive35is is $120,500 and a Porsche Boxster S asks $133,800.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG smashes them both for power and straight-line speed. It would easily win the German autobahn war, but if you're heading to the country’s famous Nurburgring circuit you’d want to be in the Boxster.