Lithe Tiger

Mercedes' SLK 55 handles beautifully -- and is as fast as it looks

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Editor's Review

Star Rating
Four and a Half Stars

The Good Ferocious power and precise handling make it a real driver's car

The Bad Like any sports car, the stiff ride is not for the timid

The Bottom Line It offers power and prestige. There's plenty to love

A lot is going wrong at Mercedes-Benz these days, what with falling sales and a huge first-quarter loss. But if the German luxury marque is getting anything right, it's the AMG line of performance cars. Mercedes bought AMG -- a German racing and performance company -- in 1999 but souped-up performance cars have been a staple of the Benz lineup even before then.

The new SLK 55 two-seat convertible is Exhibit A. The car looks as if it's going 100 mph even when it's parked. Its beautiful lines start at the big Mercedes badge on the nose and flow toward the rear. Even with the wedge shape of a sports car, the SLK has curves.

When I first hopped in, I didn't even bother to check whether the cabin was posh. (It is.) What I really wanted to know was whether the AMG version of the SLK delivered enough punch to justify the $61,200 starting sticker price -- a full $14,000 over the base price of a more pedestrian SLK 350.

A drive on some windy roads said it all. I gave the accelerator a good push and sank into the seat as the 355-horsepower V-8 engine rocketed the car ahead -- from 0 to 60 in just under five seconds. Diving in and out of turns was a cinch. I didn't have to move the wheel much to follow the twisting road. The stiff, sports-car suspension handled the car's weight masterfully even when swerving in and out of lanes, but it made for a jarring ride on rough pavement.


Mercedes added some new hardware, such as the V-8, to justify the higher sticker. The SLK also has a seven-speed transmission -- two more gears than most automatics. It lets the car run in the optimum gear for its speed most of the time, which means smoother acceleration and deceleration. It also helps fuel economy. The SLK gets 16 mpg in the city, 22 on the highway.

Inside, the SLK 55 should appeal to the discriminating buyer. My silver test car had rich, tan leather seats. The black dashboard was topped off with thick rubber material that was soft to the touch but seemed durable. Push a button, and the retractable hardtop folds down into the trunk in 22 seconds. Hit another button, and a vent in the headrest blows warm air on the neck. It is a clever touch.

Overall, I have just minor complaints. The car allows too much road noise, even for a sports car. And the cup holders are small and awkward to reach. The SLK 55 doesn't offer the value of the Chevrolet Corvette or the name recognition of the Porsche 911. But the combination of high performance and sheer comfort makes it a pleasure to drive.

By David Welch

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