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Standard SLK 55 upholds standards just fine, thank you

July 04, 2007|Dan Neil | Times Staff Writer

SOMEWHERE in Germany, rich guys are geschwinging around in their 400-hp, mega-dollar Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG Black Series, the excessively excessive version of the company's yar little roadster. And yet, for reasons that remain mysterious (well, I suppose I could ask), Mercedes elected not to bring the first creation of AMG's "Performance Studio" to these blessed shores.

Fine. See if I care. Jerks.

In fact, a consolation lap in the regular SLK 55 AMG reveals that American buyers are not missing much in the SLK Black Series, and what they are missing costs way too much. Consider horsepower. The standard SLK 55 is anything but, with a rip-snorting 5.5-liter, 355-hp V8 crammed into its curvaceous snout. The Black Series version of the V8 adds an extra 45 hp and a slight 7 pound-feet more torque (and subtracts 99 pounds from the standard car's 3,420-pound curb weight). That's a paltry 14% better power-to-weight ratio.

Wait, no. OK, that's a lot. But what does that translate to in raw performance? Our test car completes the zero-to-hero dash in 4.9 seconds. The Black Series is quicker by only four-tenths of a second. And look what those four clicks cost. A maxed-out SLK 55 AMG sells for around $75,000 in the States. The Black Series version costs, at current exchange rates, $146,260.03. At $17,815 apiece, these are among the most expensive tenths of a second in all of Autodom.

The most charming thing about the SLK 55 is its retractable hardtop. Cleverly packaged, smartly engineered, the SLK's top goes away in 30 seconds, leaving a rakish little convertible behind. But with the Black Series, the retractable top is replaced with a fixed carbon roof. No open-air motoring for you, Mein Herr Sporty Pants.

In other ways, the SLK 55 AMG Black Series mirrors the kinds of cost-no-object upgrades as seen in the CLK 63 AMG Black Series. You've got the swollen wheel wells made of either carbon fiber or collagen, I'm not sure. You've got the carbon-ceramic brakes, the corset-stiff suspension, the strakes and gills and whatnot.

But, honestly, so what? The regular SLK 55 AMG is a little gem: well balanced, eager, easy to drive at the limit. The seats are comfortable, the amenities plentiful. As the needle swings, sure, it's more country club than club racer, but it's still a fine car that -- midway through its design life -- is aging extremely well. Hah. There, Mercedes. I don't even want your stupid Black Series!

Unless you're offering.

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