LOCH TAY in May, and the rain falls mainly on Breadalbane. What a pain. As rhymes go, it’s a stinker – Breadalbane doesn’t even rhyme with rain – and as a means of improving the Scottish spring climate, it’s even worse.
Which is why, after wasting an hour in a deserted car park in Killin, willing the clouds to part so I could drop the top of my Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG without fear of drowning, I was on my way home again without even a glimpse of blue sky to show for my efforts. Harrumph!
Mind you, every cloud has a silver lining. That was the only day rain stopped play in our week with the SLK, which probably gives it the best dreich-to-dry-day ratio of any open-top car we’ve tested. It certainly fared better than our previous SLK – the more modestly-engined SLK 200 we drove six months ago. It faced rain, hail and low-flying pensioners during Hurricane Bawbag.
Anyway, the whole roof-dropping thing was a bit of a vanity project. I just wanted to drive around and get a tan in the process. The truth is, the big news about the SLK55 AMG is not its folding hardtop which, although slick in operation (20 seconds to unfold in a manner so precise, it will draw a crowd), is in no way different to the folding tops you’ll find on all the other SLKs in the range.
No, the big news about the SLK55 AMG is its very big engine. It’s a five-and-a-half-litre, 420bhp V8 which barks like a Rottweiler and makes the 1,600kg Merc go like the clappers. Best of all, it’s handbuilt by a boffin at AMG. If you know your automotive acronyms, you’ll know that this is good news. For the rest of you, here’s brief recap: Mercedes + Aufrecht, Melcher, Grossaspachengine boffin = very fast Mercedes. Yes, I think that just about covers it.
If such an enormous engine in such a small car seems ludicrous, that’s because it is. Push the accelerator into the carpet and hang on as the horizon rushes towards you and the seven-speed automatic flicks between ratios quicker than you can think. If you want to make even more noise, switch to manual mode and use the flappy paddles to hold the revs longer.
“Hunter, control your emulsions!” you protest. “What’s all this tarmac-tearing tomfoolery going to do to the planet?” Well there’s good news on that front as well. Mercedes claims the SLK55’s engine is the most fuel-efficient V8 in the world, and official figures of 33 mpg and 195g/km of CO2 certainly bear that out. In our real-world test, we weren’t a kick in the pants off 30mpg, which is astonishing for something with so much power.
The secret is AMG’s cylinder management system. Under light throttle, with the engine spinning at between 800 and 3,000 rpm, four of the engine’s eight cylinders shut down, which does wonderful things for fuel consumption and emissions. From the driver’s seat, you’re not even aware that half the engine has gone for a kip – there’s no sudden dip in performance or change of exhaust note. Dab the throttle to up the pace or overtake and the snoozing cylinders instantly wake up again.
Stylewise, I’d say the latest SLK is a grower. Bits of the latest Mercedes family design strike me as fussy in places, but the fastest SLK of all certainly benefits from its lowered suspension and fat rubber. And, having driven a red one, I couldn’t see myself in any other colour.
Stiffer springs help to give the AMG’s handling a keen sporting edge, although M3 and Porsche Boxster drivers will still claim bragging rights. There’s a trace amount of body flex with the roof down, but what it lacks in the bends, it makes up for on the straight bits in between.
And, although it’s pushing it to call a two-seater convertible practical, the boot swallows 335 litres of luggage with the roof up and a handy 225 litres when it’s folded away for sunny days. But, really, who gives two hoots about the boot? Let’s hear it one more time for that magnificent engine. It bellows and roars with a rhyme and rhythm that I, a duff poet who knows it, can only dream of.
CAR Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG
PRICE From £54,965 (£63,470 as tested)
PERFORMANCE Max speed 155mph; 0-62mph 4.6s
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 33.6mpg
This SLK is a sure sign of a master at work
I’VE yet to have the pleasure of meeting Sascha Peukert – chances are, I never will – but I know two things about him. One, his handwriting is a bit shoogly and, two, he knows how to handle his pistons. Sascha, you see, is the man at AMG who hand-assembled the 5.5-litre engine in my SLK. I’m confident he’s a he because Dr Google tells me only boys get to be called Sascha in Germany.
Pop the bonnet and you’ll see a plaque bearing his autograph atop the engine cover. That’s the calling card of an artisan. Yes, there’s an engine builders’ manual tucked away in a workshop drawer, outlining the order of assembly, tightening torques and that sort of thing, but you can be certain it hasn’t seen the light of day since Sascha completed his first AMG engine many bierfests ago. He builds by touch, by instinct, and the results are amazing.
“But it’s just bits of metal bathed in oil!” I hear you cry. “Anyone could do it.”
Well, anyone can switch on a cooker, but millions still idolise a creased-faced little chef whose main skill seems to be swearing a lot while making the tea without burning it. Me? I’d rather show my appreciation for Sascha and his mouthwatering mechanical signature dish.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 21 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west