I've had a special weakness for the SLK ever since it appeared in four-cylinder supercharged mode in 1995 (MY 1996). To me, the SLK is one of the best-looking, sexist vehicles on the road today. Every time I see one on the road, a nearly uncontrollable urge to drive to the nearest M-B dealership and buy one comes over me. When the six-cylinder version appeared in 2000, the desire to own one became even more intense. Mercedes just upped the lust factor even more with the introduction of the 349-bhp SLK32 AMG. How will I ever resist? (And, do I really want to?)

The SLK32 is even better looking than its stablemates. The wider rear track and integrated trunk spoiler give the SLK the best-looking rear end of the three available models. And, combined with the AMG-designed front apron, sporty side skirts and 17-in. wheels, the roadster displays an even more aggressive stance.

The SLK32 is just as striking looking on the inside. Two-toned sports seats with pronounced contouring and integrated head restraints were specially designed for the high-performance roadster, offering superb lateral support and high comfort. The center console sports a dark, bird's-eye maple trim, while the instrument cluster is ringed in silver.

The SLK32 uses the same supercharged V6 found on the C32 AMG model (European Car, July 2001), which outputs 332 lb-ft of torque-nearly all of which (300) is available at a low 2300 rpm, peaks at 4400 and stays online until the 6220-rpm redline-and 349 bhp from 3250 to 5000 rpm.

The supercharger-jointly developed with the Japanese company IHI-is a belt-driven helical type with cast aluminum, Teflon-coated rotors. Activation is load- and rpm-dependent and is enacted by an electromagnetic coupling that, in turn, receives its signals from the newly developed, fully electronic Bosch ME 2.8.1 engine management system.

M-B-AMG developed a new intercooler to counteract the high temperatures caused by the supercharger's high pressure, and thus improve efficiency.

The SLK32 also uses the AMG SpeedShift. This new tranny combines the advantages of an automatic with the control of a manual. The tranny's shift points and shift logic parallels the engine's high performance, resulting in a 35-percent faster response when compared to the base gearbox. In addition, a lighter torque converter with a lower inertia reduces torque converter slip above first gear by means of a mechanical lockup clutch.

While the SLK32 still houses M-B's outdated recirculating ball system (AMG had to work within the model's basic setup), AMG outdid itself in developing a system that can hold its own against the supercharged V6's characteristics. The extensive measures taken include a specific spring/shock configuration, the aforementioned wider rear track and a larger torsion bar stabilizer on the front axle. The internally vented brake disc's diameter was increased to 330x32mm, front, and 300x22mmm rear. The braking system comes complete with ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, ESP, Brake Assist and traction control.

It's Saturday morning, the sun is shining, the ocean is sparkling and my colleague and I are handed the key and told to be back by 11 a.m. No specific driving route, no scheduled stops, just go out, have fun and BE BACK IN TIME.Cool! If the SLK32's looks don't give enough of a hint to the car's potential, starting up the engine and listening to the exhaust rumble is a dead giveaway. This is how all roadster's should sound-deep and purposeful. And, unlike with the C32, you can barely hear the whine of the supercharger with the SLK's top up. Top down you can't hear it at all.

As we only had a couple of hours to play, we opted for a short run up the coastal road north of Lisbon. Unfortunately, our high-speed driving time was cut short due to endless detours around Lisbon's annual marathon weekend. We did, however, get to experience the SLK's handling abilities in what had to be one of the worst traffic jams I've ever been in (and I live in L.A.!). The roadster's compact size combined with the very torquey engine and responsive suspension setup enabled us to squirt in and out of virtually non-existent traffic spaces. As expected, frequent and immediate braking was called and the AMG calipers and rotors, along with all the electronic program assists, worked perfectly.

Once we got clear of the race, we availed ourselves of the SLK32's 4.5-sec. 0 to 62-mph acceleration.Mashing the throttle to the floor caused the SLK to bolt ahead as though released from a slingshot-whoosh! Acceleration wasn't exactly linear; the somewhat touchy throttle resulted in a few instances of unintended lurchings until we got the feel of the accelerator down pat.We stretched our time in the roadster to the "we're going to get in trouble if we don't head back now" point, zipping in and out of traffic, taking curves at what were probably illegal speeds (Speed-limit signs? What speed-limit signs?), delighting in the perfect blend of power, handling and styling. Did we make it back in time? Just barely. Neither one of us wanted to give the key back, but the roadster had to go back to Germany.

The SLK32 will go on sale in the U.S. this fall as a 2002 model, retailing for around $56,000. I know I'm going to be in trouble when they start appearing on the roads here. That barely controllable urge may turn into an obsession. Does anyone have $56k I can borrow?

SLK32 AMG Specifications
Type/valvetrain Supercharged and intercooled V6 sohc, three valves per cylinder
Displacement 3199cc
Bore x stroke 89.9 x 84mm
Horsepower (SAE net) 349 @ 6100 rpm
Torque (SAE net, lb-ft) 332 @ 440 rpm
Max. engine speed 6220 rpm
Compression ratio 9.0:1
Fuel system Bosch ME 2.8.1 sequential fuel injection, helical-type supercharger
Supercharger boost 14.5 psi, brief periods > 14.5 psi (1.0 bar)

Type Five-speed automatic with AMG SpeedShift function
Ratios (1) 3.59:1; (2) 2.19:1; (3) 1.41:1; (4) 1.00:1; (5) 0.83:1; (R) 3.16:1; (FD) 3.06:1

Suspension, f Double wishbone, anti-five, coil springs, gas-filled shocks, stabilizer
Suspension, r Multi-link independent, anti-squat and -lift, coil springs, gas-filled shocks, stabilizer
Braking system Hydraulic dual-circuit with vacuum booster, stepped master brake cylinder,
internally ventilated and perforated 13.0 in. front discs, internally ventilated 11.8-in. rear discs,
drum-type rear parking brake, ABS ASR, Brake Assist, ESP
Steering Recirculating-ball power steering, steering shock absorber
Wheels 7.5x17-in. ET 37, front; 8.5x`7 ET 30, rear
Tires 225/45ZR17, front; 245/40ZR17, rear

Wheelbase 94.5 in.
Track, f/r 58.58/58.15 in.
L/w/h 157.9/67.4/50.0 in.
Curb weight 3,200 lb
Turning circle 34.8 ft
Trunk capacity max. 5.12/12.29 cu ft (roof down/up)
Tank capacity/reserve 15.85/1.85 gal.

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