The Mercedes-Benz SLK has fought long and hard to shake off the hairdresser's sports car tag bestowed upon it by the monolithic presence that is Jeremy Clarkson. Admittedly, the asthmatic two-liters and their automatic gearboxes kind of deserved the abuse, but the new R171 55 AMG is a real weapon with performance to back up its brutish looks. Especially this one.
Because this is the Väth V58, a 565-hp beast with 516 lb-ft of torque that can rip a hole in the road and the murky world of preconception all at the same time.
Väth might not have the global reputation of a Brabus or Carlsson, or even the more outlandish Lorinser, but the small Aschaffenburg firm has a history of cranking out super-fast Mercedes that stretches back 21 years. Its recent work on RS-style rollcaged C63s grabbed our attention. Then this SLK came to light, and we just had to have it.
Because that power comes courtesy of deep engineering rather than quick fixes. Väth has bored the unit out to 5.8 liters, fitted forged pistons, exhaust manifolds, high-grade cats, polished cylinder heads, and a long-stroke crankshaft. Then, having done all that to the internals, they strapped on a supercharger to truly unleash the dogs of war and a near 200-hp boost in the compact roadster.
This is C63 power, and 20 percent more, in a lightweight, two-seat sports car, so the results are truly explosive. Plant the throttle and the seven-speed auto just bolts through the gears to a 193-mph top speed. With the top down and the world impacting on your face, that's more than enough. And dipping into Sport mode and letting the revs climb to the limiter-that's opening a whole new can of crazy.
The zero to 60 mph time drops, officially, to the low fours, but it feels even quicker. The linear power delivery from the supercharger means there shouldn't be, but there's still an added kick beyond 4000 rpm as the V8 finds its feet and sends this car screaming towards the horizon.
Wheelspin was a problem in the base car. Even with the wider 19-inch wheels clothed in 235/35 and 275/30 Yokohama Advan sport tires and firmer adjustable suspension there's a chirrup on the upchange as the rubber scrabbles for traction. Without that moment's hesitation the car would hit 60 in the high 3s all day long and take on Ferrari and Lamborghini drivers in the traffic light Grand Prix. And it rivals them both for pure emotive noise.
At full force that Mercedes V8 sounds like a WWII Messerschmitt, the lazy rumble of the big-capacity powerplant sending birds scattering from the trees. Now, with the Väth sport exhaust, even greater displacement, and the overlying track of a whining supercharger, the noise is just out of this world.
Is it worth the $40,000 price of the engine mods alone? That's a question for the individual, but this car comes with its own unique character, and for a true Mercedes lover who wants the power and the pose of this almighty engine, and who likes the feel of forced induction, there's nothing that comes close. Of course it's flexible and driven within the realms of sanity it's simply a louder, bassier SLK with a slick interior. But take this car to the limit and all the oversteering fun of the SLK is simply cranked up to 11.
This SLK sits on a user-adjustable suspension which lowers the car from 20mm to 65mm, which is pretty much dropping it off a cliff. You have to wonder how much an owner will truly trim the car for minimal understeer when it comes at the expense of a broken back. Still, it's nice to know you can, and there's more good news with an optional locking diff that should help this car power oversteer for Germany without ending up in an embarrassing crumpled heap on a curb.