BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature
View the latest news
First Drive

Retro review: the Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Black Series

£52,785 when new


  • BHP


  • 0-62


  • CO2


  • Max Speed


  • Insurance


A terrible place indeed to take delivery of a £77,000 sports car, jamming up the needle-thin lane outside the local shop in this sleepy West Country village. People know me round here. Nice, unassuming people popping out for the papers and a pint of milk. 

The SLK Black – SLK 55 AMG Black Series in full – is a fearsome little thing, squatting across this quiet, narrow thoroughfare like an animated gargoyle, pausing to empty its godless bowel. I don’t really want to be associated with such a thing in a place where everyone still says good morning in the street, and there’s a vicar who knows my mum. 

Advertisement - Page continues below
Top Gear Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Black Series

This review was first published in Issue 172 of Top Gear magazine (2008)

Feeling not unlike Lucifer on his way down from Paradise, I clamber aboard and usher the thing quietly (if only that were possible) along the back way home. And all day from here, I’m utterly obsessed with working out who is going to buy the SLK Black. 

And it isn’t actually Satan or one of his minions. There are precious few people with enough money and time on their hands to indulge such spurious fantasies as buying and running a car like this. Living and working in London highlights in HDV clarity what sort of person buys what sort of car. And lucky them, in most instances. But in this particular case, maybe not... 

On paper, the SLK Black Series is a car enthusiast’s daydream. The sort of thing overly hormonal and perennially single men wistfully conjure up in pubs together when the football isn’t on.

Advertisement - Page continues below

You give the SLK an immoveable hard-top. This instantly implies focus, substance over style. All that. Of course you have to use the ludicrous AMG version as your base car, but with power boosted to 400bhp over the standard 360bhp from that 5.5-litre V8. Then, as any pub-based performance pundit knows, you need to lighten it. This must largely be down to the generous application of carbon fibre, made as ostentatiously visible as is humanly possible. So firstly an unpainted carbon centre section to the new hard-top, already lighter (of course), thanks to the absence of motorised convertible bits and bobs. This will serve to lower the car’s centre of gravity and look immensely impressive. Carbon door panels are a must too, heavily embossed with enormous AMG initials, just in case you or your passenger might momentarily forget what’s going on here. 

Top Gear Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Black Series

Flared front wings will also need to be made of carbon, but regrettably must be painted for aesthetic balance, so you’ll need to remind people of this one quite a lot. Perhaps a post-it on the glovebox to that effect? 

Beefier front air intakes with carbon inlays will be harder to miss, however, and will also improve cooling for both engine and transmission, all of which will necessarily be in a constant state of magma-like overheating. 

Bucket seats are mandatory, these ones deep and comfortable (we are road-legal after all) but still with the appearance of a total lack of compromise. perhaps to ram this point home, delete the weighty side airbags. Alcantara on the steering wheel is another must, as is a generous application of utterly spurious carbon trim flecked around the cabin. 

Top Gear

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

Clearly you’ve got to do something about the chassis too. Pub engineering disregards the comforts of day-to-day driving in favour of that once-in-a-lifetime (dear God, never again – it was bloody terrifying) track day. So that calls for height-adjustable suspension, with adjustable damper settings. All of which you will doubtless leave well alone, for fear of utterly ruining the car’s handling set-up, but it’s good to know it’s there. Larger, lighter wheels. Preferably 19-inch over the standard car’s meagre 18s, shod with Pirelli P Zero Nero tyres. This will ensure the ride is so hard that not even Colin Chapman would be under any illusions as to just how seriously you are to be taken. 

At this point, even the most devoted car nerd is starting to run out of ideas, but someone pipes up with that age-old track-day necessity, the strut brace. That’ll sharpen up the front end. Bigger composite brakes would probably be a good idea too. And how about a limited slip diff? 

So around about now, a few more beers in, you can probably start making claims about performance. With your fantasy SLK now some 45kg lighter than the standard 55 AMG, 62mph will come up almost half-a-second faster. And, of course, there’s not going to be a speed-limiter on a car like this, so top speed jumps to 173mph. Perfect for the big straight you’ll never drive, or the trip to the derestricted Autobahn you’ll never make. 

But to turn this adolescent fiction into market reality, Mercedes has had to sting its punters. So the car costs £64,000, give or take – almost £14,000 more than the standard SLK AMG. This slight uncertainty as to cost stems from the fact that cars are only available via special order through Merc in Europe, and as such will be priced up in Euros and only converted to Pounds Sterling at the precise (and rather rash) moment you open your chequebook. 

Top Gear Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Black Series

And then there’s the options, which always strike me as a cheeky way of forcing more money out of the sort of berk who’ll pay whatever you ask regardless, but without which, you’d be wasting your time really. That diff will cost you around £2,400, and the leather interior trim on our car a rather whopping £4,363. Interior carbon inserts are another £1,800, while the exterior carbon pack, which only means grille bits, mirrors and rear boot spoiler is a daft £2,990. Obviously all these prices are subject to a bit of ebb and flow, but the stark reality is that if you get this car with its appropriate bells and whistles, it’s a simply horrible £76,600 at a current-ish conversion rate. That’s spot on what the all-conquering Audi R8 will cost you, lots more than a bog-standard Porsche 911 S and almost as much as a basic Aston Martin V8 Vantage. And is it worthy of that rarefied company? In a word, no. 

AMG cars are mostly of a certain ilk; the point-and-squirt philosophy that was once the preserve of over-powered, under-engineered British sports cars. But Mercedes seems to have a monopoly on this now, with a range of high-performance vehicles that consistently raise the horsepower bar, with little regard for the niceties of handling and feel. Of late, things have improved, with the excellent C63 AMG, but the likes of a CL and an S-Class with V12 power and enormous gangster-spec alloys are a constant and more honest reminder of the brand’s basic, brutal intent with AMG. 

This SLK, despite the sports car credentials inherent in a small two-seater, is uninvolved in that old-school AMG sense, with little steering feel and a general sense of detachment. It sounds fantastic, if Beelzebub on the bog be your definition of that, and goes like stink with it, but it’s still very much an impression of being strapped to something (rather than controlling it) that you come away with. 

The ride is utterly appalling, both in its primary and secondary roles, where undulations and imperfections are dealt with respectively. Track-bent as the Black Series may be, this lack of comfort is going to be one hell of an issue for anyone spending £77,000 on a car that they could justifiably intend to use on a semi-regular basis. Porsche’s current 997 GT3 – easily the best performance car I have ever driven – is a £79,000 track car, but it rides superbly well over almost any surface. It’s no limo obviously, but it soaks up the bumps and bangs beautifully, and, in the process, retains a vital degree of composure. This the SLK lacks, making it borderline alarming at serious speeds, unless the road is smoother than a baby’s bum, and just generally unpleasant when making more modest progress. 

Top Gear Mercedes SLK 55 AMG Black Series

To compound the problem, the violent ride accentuates the myriad rattles from around the cabin. I kept trying to isolate the sound to one little thing that was coming loose, but finished up fearing that the problem was widespread and probably unavoidable. The sin of truly biblical proportions however, was that the supposedly ‘fixed’ roof was squeaking like a Guinea pig on heat, undermining any delusions about the reborn purpose of this less-than-convincing roadster.

From a car with that mighty a price-tag, and with the expectation of quality people still have for Mercedes, this sort of thing is going to cause serious warranty-related grief at the dealerships. 

A ridiculous indulgence then. Wonderful in its pandering to testosterone-fuelled fantasy, far from perfect in it is execution and ultimately, completely pointless. 

Verdict: All the right ideas in principle haven’t added up to a great product in practice. Too imperfect to be this pricey.

5.5-litre V8
400bhp, RWD
0-62mph in 4.5secs, max speed 173mph
Circa £77,000

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Try BBC Top Gear Magazine