( at least that is what this Canadian Errol Flynn aficionado reviewer
Benz blasts off
The Mercedes SLK55 finally gets the powerful engine to go with its
CanWest News Service
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
Until now, Mercedes-Benz's SLK has been the Errol Flynn of the luxury
sports-roadster set. Blessed with swashbuckling good looks, the ladies
all loved it and, for swishing about, it was an impressive piece of
kit. But, like the flouncing Flynn, one always suspected the SLK would
fold up like a tent should a real car show up to do battle.
Normally, that would entail a comparison with Porsche's Boxster, the
class standard for sporty roadsters. Housed in a more rigid chassis
with more appropriate suspension tuning and a willing engine, the
Boxster, especially in S guise, was always more of an authentic sports
The recently released, second-generation SLK350 did little to narrow
the gap between the effeminate and the testosterone-enhanced. Stiffer,
more agile, and modestly more powerful, the SLK pointed to a new
seriousness on Mercedes' part, even if the 350 was still a rung or two
below a Boxster on a twisty road.
No such backhanded compliment is needed for the latest addition to the
SLK family. Tuned, massaged and otherwise fettled into a serious
backroad weapon by AMG, Mercedes's in-house tuner, the SLK55 breathes
fire through a 5.5-litre V8, slings through corners thanks to wider
tires and stiffer suspension, and has enough braking power to stop an
F-14 on an aircraft carrier's short deck.
First, though, would be the SLK55's magnificent engine. Basically a
5-litre V8 that's been bored out to 5.5 litres, we've seen this engine
before in the E55 AMG sedan.
Familiarity, in this case, does not breed contempt. This is because the
5.5-litre's 355 horsepower and 377 pound-feet of torque has to motivate
only 1,540 kilograms of SLK. The result is a 4.9-second
zero-to-100-kilometres-per-hour time, a number that will easily see off
even the newly revitalized 280-horsepower Boxster S.
But even that fails to capture the SLK55's turn of speed. It may not
match a Viper, but it sure feels as speedy as the new 400 horsepower
Corvette, especially since it's mated to a new seven-speed automatic
transmission. Passing is effortless and mighty quick. Mercedes says
that accelerating from 80 to 120 km/h takes only 3.8 seconds (1.7
seconds quicker than the SLK350), compared with only a 0.6-second
advantage the SLK55 holds from zero to 100). I say it just plain
Punch the throttle and the quick-shifting automatic downshifts a couple
of gears, right into the meaty part of the V8's powerband.
Lest you think the SLK55 would be quicker with a manual gearbox, it's
worth noting the SLK350 is a 10th of a second faster to 100 km/h in
automatic form than when mated to the six-speed manual. My one gripe
with the tranny isn't that it's automatic, but that the paddles for the
manual shifting option are small and difficult to reach on the backside
of the steering wheel.
The 5.5-litre also makes a very delicious V8 rumble while performing
the aforementioned scooting. Mercedes's expensive, McLaren-built SLR is
the company's ultimate two-seater, but, astronomical price differences
notwithstanding, the SLK's engine sounds more authentic.
But how about the chassis? Unlike previous roadster versions, the SLK55
doesn't feel underdamped and oversprung. Though only a race track would
do a test of this car justice, this much I know: The suspension is
thoroughbred firm for the minimal roll necessary to keep those
wide-footprint Pirelli PZero Rossos glued to the pavement.
Yet, the ride is commendably compliant over anything short of potholes
large enough to swallow small dogs. I'll even go one step further and
say the SLK55's damping is among the best compromises between road
holding and comfort I've ever sampled.
As far as the brakes go, both front calipers have six individual
pistons. Considering a garden variety family sedan has but one, you'd
be right in anticipating immediate stopping power and great feedback.
In the rear, where even some expensive sports cars cheap out, the
calipers are powerful four-piston units clamping on big 330-millimetre
discs. You won't be running out of whoa power in an SLK55.
Back to that Porsche comparison and you'll find that, at $82,900, the
SLK55 fares well against the $75,600 Boxster S. The Mercedes boasts 75
more horsepower, more powerful brakes and the convenience of that
I know I'm likely committing heresy, but not only do I prefer the SLK55
to the Boxster, but also to the SL55, not to mention the McLaren SLR.
The SLK has what all sporty roadsters should bring to the dance -
lithe, agile handling. That it happens to have a monster V8 under the
hood is what separates it from its rivals.