It sits there, all tension and sinew, ready to pounce on lesser cars. Start it up and it barks with a clear V8 voice that thumps off the neighbor's house, setting them discreetly peeking from behind their lace curtains. This is an SLK? Oh yeah. No longer a blocky Benz with dwarfism, the SLK55 AMG ripples with muscle and delivers speed like a spin kick to the temple. A bad-ass Mercedes, indeed.
Of course, the SLK55 AMG is still relatively small â€“ about the size of an MX-5, with a bit more nose. Ignoring the hand-built 5.5 liter V8 for a moment, there's plenty of Mercedes-ness to make you happy, if that's your thing. COMAND is without humor, but tries to compensate by having lots of buttons and a clunky GUI. Once you figure out how to work it, COMAND isn't actually that bad, but we'd be plenty happy paying more to just get the ease and simplicity of single-function switches for commonly used items and stripping out all the multimedia gimcrackery.
Leave the nav and the Harman Kardon stereo at the dealership. As nice as that stuff is, even a fully loaded iPod plugged into the glovebox-mounted interface will go unused from the first moment the smart key is twisted around clockwise. Corvettes sound like this, hot rods too. But a Mercedes? The muscular voice AMG has bestowed upon this roadster is even more of a surprise than the Jaguar XK's rorty tone. The multitudinous speeds in the automatic transmission are slapped around by wheel-mounted paddles, and the snappy sport shift mode is the one to use. Fuel economy? Who cares? For the record, the EPA thinks it'll do between mid-teens to mid-twenties; numbers which assume you'll be able to keep your boot out of the throttle. Not bloody likely.
A sharp two-tone color scheme of black and red leather adorned the eight-way power seats in the SLK55 we tried. The black outer and red inner cowhides are also accented by black alcantara, and the comfortable seats have built-in neck warmers to complement their heaters, making alfresco motoring possible into deepest Autumn. The beltline is high, though, so while the seat feels good on the rump, us shorties would like a little more height from the power adjustments. Overall, materials and fit and finish seem right on the mark for the price Mercedes wants.
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Gallery: Mercedes SLK55 AMG