2003 Car Review: Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG


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SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

THE AUTO PAGE By JOHN HEILIG

SPECIFICATIONS

MODEL: Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG ENGINE: 3.2-liter supercharged V6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 349 hp @ 6,100 rpm/332 lb-ft @ 3,000-4,600 rpm TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic with manual control WHEELBASE: 94.5 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 157.9 x 67.5 x 50.4 in. STICKER PRICE: $56,115

At last year's New York Auto Show, a Mercedes-Benz executive introduced the AMG version of one of the company's cars by saying you could give AMG an office desk to work with and you would end up with an office desk that could go from 0-60 in under 5 seconds.

Well the SLK sports car wasn't exactly an office desk to begin with. In its mildest form, with a 2.3-liter supercharged four-cylinder engine, it is capable of seven-second 0-60 times and a top speed of 130 mph. In this form, it is a very nice sports roadster at a Mercedes-Benz price of $40,265. It competes with the BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster, both of which were introduced at the same time.

Mercedes offers a warmer version of the SLK in the 320, with a 3.2-liter V6. This version puts out 215 horsepower and trims a few tenths off the 0-60 time. It is priced at $46,715 for people who would like a little more performance out of the car. This version would compete with the Boxster S, for example.

This week's tester, however, has little competition in the "Small German Sports Car" class. It's the AMG-improved version of the SLK, with a supercharged 3.2-liter V6 that delivers 349 horsepower and can take the little rocket from 0-60 in 4.8 seconds with an automatic transmission. Granted, the automatic has a manual mode, but you can leave it in "D" and get all the performance you'd want. I know that the capabilities of the SLK 32 AMG are far greater than my abilities, even though I'd love to try it out on a track somewhere.

But the SLK 32 AMG isn't just about speed. It's a fine little sports car (as opposed to the larger SL-Class cars) that is a ball to drive. Knowing you have the potential under your foot for some exciting driving makes the AMG that more attractive.

One of the SLK's greatest attributes is its top. When the car was delivered, it came as a hard-top coupe. But push a button in the center of the console and the "coupe" coverts to a convertible in just a few seconds (you have to be certain that a shade is in the proper position in the trunk first, but that's to protect whatever may be in there). And driving a convertible around, even in Indian summer, isn't bad, because between the two roll bars behind each seat is a screen that takes away a lot of the backwash wind that can make a convertible sports car uncomfortable in cool weather. It's a long way from the days of my MGA, where I had to manually remove the top every time I wanted it down, and perform the reverse when I wanted it up, like in sudden rain storms.

Cargo volume is compromised by the top, though. You can put 9.5 cubic feet of stuff in the trunk with the top up, but only 3.9 cubic feet with the top down. This begs weekending to the location with the top up to hold the luggage, then putting the top down once you have reached the location, and putting it back up for the ride home. It's a small sacrifice for a lot of fun.

Being a Mercedes, the SLK has all the attributes of a luxury car. Power windows, seats, steering column and mirrors conform the cockpit to the environment you want. The seats, while flat, are comfortable, at least when you have enough padding to put into them. The shifter falls right to hand, so if you want to use the manual mode, it isn't difficult.

The SLK32 AMG uses 17-inch rubber, with 225/45ZR-17 tires up front and 245/40ZR-17 tires in the rear. The suspension has also been tweaked by AMG to provide better handling without sacrificing ride quality, while the four-wheel disc brakes are larger to help stop it from "exciting" speeds.

The Mercedes-Benz SL cars have always been slightly out of my league. That's not to say that a car costing $56,115 is in my league, but it's a lot less that the $100,000 of the larger car. There's a surprisingly large market for cars in this price range that includes Corvette and Viper, for example, besides the German manufacturers.

But the SLK32 AMG, while at the top of Mercedes-Benz's SLK lineup, has a lot to offer if you're willing to pony up the pennies.

© 2002 The Auto Page Syndicate

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