Don’t you just love when they neglect to explain how the hero gets out of a seemingly impossible predicament from one episode to the next? Last time on "Speed Racer," our hero was caught in a hypnotic trance cast by the irresistible 2009 Mercedes Benz SL550. Well, somehow Speed Racer was able to break free of the SL550’s spell (remember, this is just a fantasy) and is once again racing toward the finish line in his Mach 5. Little does Speed know that just around the bend awaits an even more bloodthirsty opponent. Mercedes Benz has sent the 2009 SLK55 AMG to finish what the SL550 started. While the SL550 was a balanced blend of luxury and performance, the SLK55 emphasizes all out performance. Can Speed Racer resist yet another encounter with a Benz or will he succumb to his thirst for raw power and ludicrous performance? Stay tuned for Part 2 of Challenge of the Mercedes Racer.
For 2009, Mercedes has tweaked its SLK roadster in many significant ways. Should you ever be unlucky enough to run into one in a dark alley, you’ll know you’re in trouble. From the tip of its nose to the end of its tailpipes, you’ll notice an eerie familiarity with the Mercedes Mclaren F1 car. Even SLK300 and 350 models receive an F1 fascia treatment featuring an upper and lower wing element that emphasizes the enhanced performance of this year’s models.
The SLK55 AMG is fitted with a modified version of this already race-ready fascia with an even more efficient front air intake pathway and front fender vents to cool its brakes and tires. A glance at the AMG roadster’s profile will reveal 18" staggered-width AMG twin-spoke monoblock alloy wheels. Around back, there is a new underbody wind diffuser wedged between muscular dual tipped exhaust outlets. The icing on the cake comes in the form of an AMG styled deck lid spoiler. The relatively plain exterior of Speed’s Mach 5 pales in comparison to the SLK’s race-inspired sheet metal.
However, Mercedes saved its greatest improvements for the cockpit. A new three-spoke steering wheel with F1-style flat-bottom design is a dramatic improvement over the somewhat unsophisticated silver button covered steering wheel it replaces. The new steering wheel switchgear takes on a more integrated layout. Furthermore, it is much more elegant than the Fisher Price styled steering wheel found in the Mach 5. The center stack is also devoid of any eccentrically designed controls and now features a new infotainment system similar to that found in the SL Class.
The SLK55 comes standard with the Multimedia Package. This package includes a 6.5” multicolor display, COMAND system navigation, and a 500-watt Harman Kardon digital surround sound audio system. The navigation system even suggests points of interest along the way to your destination, including restaurants, hotels, ATMs, Mercedes-Benz Dealerships, and more. Did you catch that Speed Racer? Trixie will no longer have to fly ahead in her helicopter to spot for you. Instead she can ride along with you in luxury.
Thankfully, Digital Dual-Zone Climate Control is standard so Speed Racer can stay as cool as a cucumber no matter how hot and bothered Trixie gets. And if that doesn’t work, Speed can always drop the top and use AIRSCARF.
Unfortunately, there is not much room in the cockpit for Speed Racer to stretch out and relax after he has won the race, as space is certainly not in abundance inside the SLK. Even drivers of less than average height will have a difficult time adjusting the seat to a tolerable position given the extremely tight cabin quarters. But when you realize how far ahead of the pack you were by the end of a race, the few cubic feet you gave up for a guaranteed trophy will seem insignificant.
To ensure victory by a wide margin, Mercedes has packed a ridiculously powerful AMG built 5.5 liter, 355 horsepower V8 into the SLK55’s engine bay. With 376-foot pounds of torque on tap, wrinkling the concrete is an easy chore from a standstill. In fact, it is possible to break the rear wheels free even from a rolling start. When an aerial view of the road begins to look more like a crazy straw, rest assured the AMG-tuned, seven-speed automatic transmission with AMG SPEEDSHIFT will give you the ability to keep the engine boiling while the race-tuned suspension and variable ratio rack and pinion steering keep your SLK55 tucked into every treacherous turn. The hard-biting, fade-free, AMG enhanced, dual-circuit, power-assisted disc brakes will have no trouble slowing you down should your foot become too heavy for the given circumstances. Only large road imperfections can occasionally unsettle the extremely buttoned-down albeit stiff-legged chassis. However, the SLK55 certainly never feels as harsh as the Mach 5 riding around on its tire crampons.
There are of course other vehicles to consider in this comparison. BMW’s M roadster and Porsche’s new Boxster RS 60 Spider are two capable contenders. Neither of those vehicles, however, can match the SLK55’s raw power, seven-speed transmission, and the violent acceleration the combined package provides. Nor do the other competitors offer a folding hard top. Can Speed Racer resist such an attractive package as the SLK55 AMG? We will definitely never know the answer to this question. However, sales figures will undoubtedly be in favor of the Mercedes Racer. Thus, the win goes to the 2009 SLK55 AMG.
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