Mercedes-Benz CLK63 2008 Review
February 15, 2008
$16,720 - $21,450
That has to be a good starting point in anyone's books, because, while it's not intended to beat the open wheelers, the safety car has to be fast and agile enough to let the field keep everything warmed up while it's held in check.
The CLK63 AMG Black Series is the second F1 minder derivative — following the SLK55 — to come from the new Performance Studio of Merc's in-house Affalterbach tuning arm, AMG, and marks that division's 40th anniversary.
That means another desirability pinnacle over the top-shelf standing of the AMG badge. And that brings with it a whole new level of styling, with buffed arches housing staggered-width, 19-inch alloys, an aggressive front apron with its gaping mouthful of air vents that feed the engine and transmission radiators, carbon-fibre spoiler and rear diffusers cradling the quad exhaust tips.
In true Merc tradition, the kit is subtle enough to escape the notice of the uninitiated in normal traffic. And from a distance it seems to have an almost podgy derriere that belies the menace beneath. That's because this is not just a prestige coupe with a catalogue of body kit bolted on.
It's a street-legal racer.
At the pointy end of the car there's what Mercedes calls a 6.3-litre V8 — actually 6208cc — with a plate bearing the name of the engineer who built it under AMG's “one man, one engine” policy — matched to a seven-speed sequential transmission from the “standard” CLK63 AMG with shortened final drive ratio to help acceleration. The V8 is from the same car, with intake and exhaust systems overhauled to develop 630Nm of torque at 5250rpm and 373kW at 6800rpm. That's only an extra 19kW over the original, but the Black Series doesn't depend on power alone. A lot of work has gone into the wider-tracked platform and chassis refinements.
The showcase feature of which is a new adjustable suspension — and not the kind you can adjust by pushing a button from the comfort of the driver's seat. Like a true racing suspension, you set about it by hand; changing ride height, compression and rebound, front axle camber, and the track of both axles. When you have all of that to your liking, you can climb inside to enjoy the interior's blend of sport and luxury, with well-bolstered leather sport seats and a tactile flat-bottomed wheel with aluminium shift paddles that fall to the hand so readily, you'll rarely be reaching for the stubby shift lever.
There's a surprising amount of people room — for two. Where there might have been back seats, there are back storage indents. That's a good thing, as proper storage spaces are sparse and the boot shallow. There's plenty of glass and great visibility, and the range of adjustments on the driver's seat and steering column make it easy to find the best position.
And sprinkled among all the leather and soft surfaces, there's enough carbon fibre and metal accents to remind you of the job at hand. The CLK63 AMG is expected to arrive next month with a price tag of $299,900, but of the 50 earmarked, only four were still looking for owners when we tested the car in mid-January.
Press the start button and the car responds with a bass growl that settles to a guttural grumble in the lower rev range. But thump the pedal and you provoke a menacing snarl as the car warps forward, the limited-slip differential allowing some spin from both rear wheels if you've switched the ESP off while playing with the controls. As we inadvertently did.
There are no turbo or super-breathing aids to boost the effort, and you don't feel the lack of them. Merc says the car gets to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds, and the kick in the lumbar as we accelerated gives us no reason to doubt it.
Nor were we likely to get near — or to doubt — the claimed 300km/h limited top speed. Planting the boot in a 20-second exploratory spurt got us from 110km/h up to 235km/h, with no sign that it would trail off above that. Transmission shifts are smooth, with a sense of the car “gathering itself” before it leapt forward on up and downshifts.
Steering is sharp and responsive — although at first it felt a bit leaden at low speed — and once you start rolling there's a sense of direct and clear communication between hands and road.
With the ESP back on, the rubber claws into the surface and the car goes where you point it.
But what surprised us was how tractable the suspension set-up was. With its ability to glide flat and poised in corners, we assumed we'd be checking the floor for dental fillings. But it deals with everything quickly and smooths out the average surface nasties. This is refined enough to be an everyday drive — a fast one.
Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG
Price: $299,000 (Black Series)
Engine: 6.3L/V8; 373kW/630Nm
Transmission: 7-speed sequential; rear-wheel-drive
$16,720 - $21,450