2012 MERCEDES-BENZ SLK 55 AMG REVIEW
Vehicle style: Luxury sports roadster
Price: $155,000. As tested (with $1750 panoramic vario-roof) $156,750
Fuel economy: (claimed) 8.5 l/100km | 98RON unleaded.
Fuel economy: (on test) 10.9 l/100km | 98RON unleaded.
The arrival of the third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG to Australian showrooms came with a nice little surprise.
Despite landing with more standard features and a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, the new model is more than $24,000 cheaper than its predecessor.
That doesn't happen every day at the premium end of the car parc. You can possibly put it down as one of the little joys of a persistently high dollar.
But there are other joys with the SLK 55 AMG. This is a real drivers’ car with sizzling performance and handling, and one that rewards at the wheel in every way.
Quality: As well as borrowing exterior styling cues from the sensational SLS AMG roadster, the SLK also pinches some SLS interior ideas, including the 'jet-engine' look for its four dash-mounted air vents.
The centre console houses the C (comfort), S (sport) and M (manual) transmission controls and it’s finished in classy-looking brushed aluminium. There are other metal-trim highlights throughout the cabin.
There’s a great-to-hold multi-function leather-and-Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and aluminium shift paddles and pedals.
The clean-looking AMG instrument cluster with its two main circular dials is right where it's needed, and the well thought-out ergonomics for the various controls and switches means they fall perfectly to hand.
Electric adjustment for height and reach of the flat-bottomed steering wheel is a bonus.
Comfort: The SLK’s heated AMG sports seats are not just functional and supportive, they’re also comfortable.
There’s plenty of thigh and hip bolstering and, to keep the chills at bay when you've got the lid open, there's an 'air scarf' system to direct warm air to the head and neck.
Equipment: As you’d expect with a car that carries a $155,000 price tag, there’s a pretty impressive list of up-spec features.
That list includes leather trim, 18-inch AMG five-spoke alloy wheels, a 40GB HDD Harmon Kardon Logic 7 surround-sound system with Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connectivity, 'thermotronic' climate control and SUNA-equipped satellite navigation with Google Maps intergration.
Storage: Being a sports roadster, there’s not a heap of cargo space. Inside, you'll find a reasonably-sized glovebox, a small centre-console bin, two cup holders, small door pockets that are big enough for a couple of mobile phones and a small pouch on the bulkhead behind the seats.
The boot is not exactly cavernous but with the 'vario roof' closed it offers 335litres of luggage space.
This shrinks to 225 litres on sunny days with the roof open - but with the wind in your hair and a wonderful exhaust snarl filling your ears, who cares?
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The engineers from AMG have done wonders with the SLK’s powertrain.
Needless to say, with 310kW and 540Nm champing at the bit, the imperious way the 5.5 litre V8 dispatches hills and overtakes is nothing short of stunning. This is a seriously quick car, attested by a 4.6 second 0-100km/h sprint.
And, best of all, given a heavy prod, everything happens to the tune of a simply marvellous exhaust note.
While the seven-speed automatic isn’t as slick as - say - the BMW M3’s dual-clutch unit, few will find it wanting.
The AMG unit has an automatic downshifting double-declutching function and, once in Sport mode (by rotating the control knob one turn to the right), the changes become even faster.
One more turn to the right and you dial up 'Manual'. Then the transmission does exactly as it’s told via the perfectly-positioned shift paddles.
The SLK 55 AMG also comes with a start/stop system (that can be switched off) and cylinder deactivation to assist fuel consumption. It would seem to work; we managed an average of 10.9 l/100km under test - brilliant for a car of this performance.
Refinement: While people who buy serious sports cars are looking primarily for performance and handling, with the new SLK they also get a generous measure of refinement.
Dawdling around town can be as quiet and refined an experience as you want it to be.
Likewise, cruising at 110km/h on the freeway gives no clue to the sizzling performance just waiting to be let loose.
Maybe, if we're being really picky, there's a degree of intrusive road noise from the low-profile 18-inch rubber. It tries – but mostly fails – to diminish the sound of that barking snarling exhaust that floods the cockpit when at work.
Suspension: The AMG suspension set-up employs an anti-dive multi-link independent arrangement at the front with coil springs, gas-pressure dampers and a stabiliser bar.
The rear, independent multi-link with coil springs, gas-pressure shocks and stabiliser bar, also features anti-squat and anti-lift technology.
Even in the tightest corners and some seriously enthusiastic punting, the SLK 55 sits flat and delightfully balanced. The way it brakes and turns in is enormously reassuring - it is in every way the sports car when you show it a clean stretch of road.
Steering is via an AMG rack-and-pinion direct-steer system with speed-sensitive power assistance and steering damping.
Braking: There are huge 360mm x 36mm AMG discs at the front and 330mm x 22mm discs on the rear. All are ventilated and perforated and the stopping power they deliver can just about pop your eyeballs out of their sockets.
The new SLK has impeccable safety credentials, and, while it hasn’t yet been Euro NCAP or ANCAP tested, Benz is confident of a 5-Star rating.
Driver and passenger have the protection of roll-over bars, ABS brakes, brake assist, electronic stability program, acceleration skid control, adaptive braking, adaptive brake lights, a torque-vectoring braking system and attention assist.
In addition, Benz’s electronically controlled 'pre-safe' system is available. It senses when a critical situation is imminent and then automatically tensions seat belts, positions the passenger seat (in conjunction with the memory function) and closes side windows.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY:
Despite the new SLK55’s $155,000 price tag being a whole $24,360 less expensive than its predecessor, it's more expensive than its logical key competitors.
BMW’s Z4 sDrive 35is $120,500: A brilliant drive with a brilliant engine, but doesn't offer quite the aural pleasures of the SLK 55 AMG and perhaps its style is too edgy for some. (see BMW Z4 reviews)
Audi TT RS $139,900: Easily underestimated because it's equally easily mistaken for a 'garden variety' TT. It's more the switch-blade to the SLK 's hammer but driving it is a rare joy. (see Audi TT RS reviews)
Porsche Boxster S $145,900: Sublime balance, superb driving but forever destined to remain in the considerable shadow of the 911. It's also soon to be replaced.
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new third-generation SLK 55 AMG is an outstanding and thoroughly enjoyable driver's car.
It's certainly no 'girly convertible'. With sledge-hammer power and superb handling, it delivers on its sporting AMG heritage in spades.
For the fortunate few who get to own one, the 4.6-second sprint time to 100km/h and the glorious snarl from the exhaust will have them smiling every day.
But don't expect to achieve the 8.5 l/100km combined fuel-consumption figure if you do too many sub-five-second sprints. You can just be smug in the knowledge that it is possible… as is a 250km/h top speed.
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- 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 BlueEfficiency: $118,900
- 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG: $155,000
- 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG With AMG Handling Package: $163,825
Note: prices exclude on-road costs.