The last time I met the SLK, it was trying hard to look muscular between its sharply sculpted lines.It handled well enough, but there was something that did not quite push it into the league of sports cars that parked themselves in your bucket list. But six years later, as I take the wheel of Mercedes’s entry level compact sports car, things are very different.
UPSIDE: Improved muscular design, Good handling skills, Practical storage, Exquisite interiors
FLIPSIDE: Manual drive unsatisfactory, Less dramatic exhaust notes, Compromised 0-100 speed
The Price: AED 374,500 as tested
DriveTrain: 5.5 L V8, 420 hp, 542 Nm torque, 7-G-Tronic automatic, AMG Rear-axle differential lock, 250 kmph top speed limited, 0-100 acceleration: 4.6 sec claimed (5.5 achieved)
Specs: Distronic Plus (Distance monitored cruise control), Blind Spot Assist, Lane keeping assist, Sports suspensions, Tyre pressure control, Memory driver seat, AMG Performance Steering, Panoramic vario-roof with ‘Magic sky control”, Pedestrian protection
To begin with, this time I am shaking hands with the machismo of a 5.5 L drive train, and not the gracefully petite 1.8 L. The V8 engine, that shuns the dual turbo-chargers giving it a boost elsewhere, has 60 hp more than earlier version and is mated to a 7-speed transmission.
The SLK 55 AMG is everything you expect a sports car to be and also what you don’t, in terms of practicality. In true Mercedes fashion, the SLK 55 comes with driver assistance features that most sports cars consider a surplus. Steering vibrations kept warning me of my lane departures; it put me on the alert about blind spots and the diminishing front distance too, because it’s got an adaptive cruise control.
After a series of sportsters riding on massive 20 inch wheels, the 18-inch rollers anchoring the four corners brought things into perspective – that not-so-huge is not-so-bad! The SLK 55 is one of the most compliant rear wheel drives you could get. As the torque shows up in the rear, the car tends to dance around a bit on its hind wheels; handling the drift that comes naturally makes you feel good.
The SLK 55 handles very well on straight as well as curves. The Sport mode accentuates its powerful character and taut steering. Mercedes has apparently chosen to keep the sportily firm ride quality of the AMG enhanced car even in the Comfort mode. The deliberate drag during the take off phase resulted in a 0 to 100 time of 5.56 seconds, despite its powerful V8. But in the long run, the 7-speed transmission delivers power with distinctive shifts, which is the closest you get to driving a manual tranny.
Ironically, the Manual option built into it is less satisying in comparison. Clearly defining each of the multiple downshifts, I had to take it one gear at a time, which meant sliding down the gears in succession to squeeze out the golden eggs all at once was out of question. That settled my mode of choice. Deriving an automated sort of response from a manual box was much less desirable than enjoying manual-like ride quality with an automated sports shift.
The fuel efficiency turned out to be 6.5 km per litre of gas – reasonable for its mammoth engine!
Among the legends tested during the ’0-100 and beyond’ series, the 2014 SLK 55 AMG was one of the best designed – stunning enough to keep up with a Maserati or an Aston Martin parked on the same ground.
The lines are sharper and more pronounced with a longer looking hood that reminded me of the SLS – may its soul never let its admirers rest in peace! If you are one of those, why look for the mini SLS as they call the upcoming AMG GT? Well, the mini SLS is already here and this is it. With its subtle yet sharp lines, the SLK 55 is the closest you can get to muscularity without making its bulk felt.
A wide rear stance with large wrap around tail lights and quad exhausts complete the beautifully designed rear with muscular haunches and a character line that runs just above the side vent, finishing off at the door knobs. This is perhaps one sports car that stood out in white, thanks to its design character. There is a generous dose of black, right from the blackened headlamps to the avant-garde styled roof and design. The 10-spoke alloy wheels add to the external greys, while the internal elegance is underlined by a large dose of carbon fibre on the console.
Cabin and Controls
Counting in decibels, the SLK 55 is the subtlest of all the sports cars that joined our little party, and that has its ups and downs. The cabin is silent overall, especially because it’s a hardtop. True, that let me enjoy the exceptional audiophile quality of the Harmon Kardon on board, but at some point, I started missing the sounds of showtime. But that is not to say that the car lacks a sonic character; especially in the Sports mode, the V8 growl grows on you, though it still remained understated when compared with a Jaguar or a Porsche. The SLK 55 sings a very pleasing tune. For those who like it that way, this is the perfect sports car.
What makes it even more appealing is the practicality of the whole design. With enough boot space to run it as an everyday car and more thoughtfully detailed interiors, especially with the storage options that are so absent in most sports cars. Right from the leather pouch between the seats which got cozy with my MacBook Air and those floor level pouches both behind the seats and on the side of the console, to the two cup holders.
The monitor doesn’t have a touch screen and therefore there is no lack of buttons on the console but all are neatly arranged with a control knob on the tunnel console.
The funky black and red seats with a red outer lining are quite supportive, but more importantly rather wide enough to accommodate bigger people, and let them in and out without fuss. Even the riding stance is not quite as crouching as in a typical track car.
The interesting thing about the retractable hardtop is that the SLK has ‘magically’ introduced a sunroof of sorts. Mercedes actually calls it the magic roof. It uses photochromatic technology by which the rooof gets a dark tint that shades you from the sun, and can revert to a clear state, making the cabin brighter.
The Essential SLK 55
For those who appreciate sharp and accurate handling with a torque amplified rear nudge will find the performance of the SLK55 much more deliberate and gripping, pun intended, than your standard sports car. And this is where the Mercedes SLK badge gains compared with compact sports cars from a Porsche or a BMW. In practicality, it surpasses the BMW Z4 or the new rage, the Jaguar F-type. For those who earlier overlooked it as a pretty and petite sports car will think twice – even in its off-white purity, this car looked aggressive enough. Better still, it promises to be a good companion on weekend long drives too.
Drive Courtesy: Gargash Motors
Pictures: Orkun Orcan