The Alpha Roadster
There’s a curious digital “coffee cup” icon in the SLK 55 AMG’s driver computer display. Part of Mercedes' safety system called “Attention Assist”, it monitors driver behavior and issues a warning if it detects that you’re getting tired.
Clever; however, it’s a safety feature likely to go unused in this ride, since driving the back-for-2012 Mercedes SLK 55 AMG is stimulating as all heck.
Small, low-weight, V8
Just looking at this little beastie gets the blood pumping. Wearing the celebrated AMG badge promises top-notch, track-ready excitement -- and with styling cues like larger lips, sills, exhaust pipes, calipers and wheels applied to the SLK’s compact body, a concentrated styling punch is delivered.
Mainly, the pre-drive stimulation comes from the fact that, at its core, the 2012 Mercedes SLK 55 AMG is an overkill fantasy plaything lusted after by anyone that’s ever loved gas-burning things on four wheels. It’s a small, nimble roadster with a great big V8 shoved under the hood.
The Alpha Roadster
Japan doesn’t play here. Neither does BMW. Their Z4 roadster (the SLK’s key competitor) isn’t getting treatment from the “M” division (AMG’s key competitor), so it tops out with just north of 300 horsepower.
The Audi TTS Roadster (the TT-RS is coupe-only), has even less. A Porsche with 400-plus horsepower requires parting with $30,000 more than the 2012 Mercedes SLK 55 AMG’s $80,000 sticker.
So, effectively, AMG’s tuned-up SLK makes it the Alpha Roadster in the sub-$100,000 German drop-top scene.
The SLK 55 also capitalizes on a recent update to the SLK range, which includes refreshed interior and exterior styling. It’s a much richer-looking, livelier machine than ever. And when you tell your buddies this little ride packs 415 horsepower, it’s hard not to smirk.
Dynamic Excitement Shining Through
The best return on investment will come to owners who take their 2012 Mercedes SLK 55 AMG to the track -- but even on public roads, you can feel the capability through all of the controls.
Even slight steering inputs crank the SLK’s nose sharply in with near-zero body roll. Sporty steering inputs are transmitted directly and quickly to the road “right now.” A swift twist of the wheel makes the SLK turn in suddenly, stopping sharply a half-moment after as if it’s hit a wall.
It’s not the most razor-sharp steering in its class, though it feels absolutely locked on to its line in corners. Tossed around, the 2012 Mercedes SLK AMG grabs your attention hard and encourages exploration of its limits.
It isn’t nervous on the highway, either. The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK AMG feels excited and alert, but not over-caffeinated. A nice balance, here.
Brakes are similarly set-up. Without going for all-out precision, they inspire confidence by clamping down with alarming force at any touch of the pedal. Used hard, you feel like you’d go through the seatbelt if it were any thinner. That’ll wake you up if you’re nodding off.
5.5 litres of Sauce
But it’s the other pedal that does the most to invigorate drivers. Plant the throttle, and the 5.5L V8 snaps into action with a deep, snorty growl that grows to a meaty, high-revving roar towards redline. Approaching the 7,000 rpm mark, drivers can call for an upshift with a click on the right-hand paddle-shifter. Though far from the fastest-responding transmission on the road, the SpeedShift gearbox swaps ratios quickly and precisely in the 2012 Mercedes SLK AMG, with perfect rev-matching in both directions.
Passing slower traffic requires little forward thought, as the SLK will get by other motorists as quickly as you can roll its accelerator to the floor. And every prod on the accelerator will leave drivers feeling as though they’ve just had a pot of coffee.
Or Just Relax
Of course, you can also leave the gearbox in DRIVE, sit back and enjoy the cruise in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG. Ride quality is decent, wind noise and buffeting are well managed, and there’s plenty of space for two average-sized adults on board. (Extra points for the plentiful at-hand storage.) It’s a comfortable, laid-back place to be inside the SLK, though far from devoid of stimulation.
Other notes? The Magic Sky roof is a must-have -- changing from clear to darkly tinted blue at the touch of a button in about a second. This keeps unwanted rays out of the cabin when desired, and creates some visual theater in the process. Your passengers will want to see it again and again. And, with the V8 selectively turning off four of its cylinders during gentle driving, mileage is pretty decent, too. I achieved 10.8L/100km during highway cruising at a good clip.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a hardcore, stripped-down racecar of a thing like a Porsche Cayman R, which has carbon-fibre seats and shocks with scarcely more give than a steel girder. Instead, the 2012 Mercedes SLK is nicely set up for daily use and lengthy trips... And weekend racing... And bragging rights over your buddy’s Z4... And blasting '60s V8 sound effects off tunnel walls.
Shoppers after a convertible that’ll transition between touring, track and a night on the town with ease should check one out. Pricing from $80,000.
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