The Mercedes-Benz SLK – a car designed for ladies, hairdressers and ladies' hairdressers, right? Perhaps, but there is a version aimed at an altogether beefier demographic. The SLK 55 AMG brings all the best aspects of the SLK range – it's small, stylish and has a metal, folding hard top -- but also features a giant, naturally-aspirated 5.5-litre V8 engine under its stubby little bonnet, giving it enough performance, especially with the top down, to ruin any hairstyle for good.

The SLK 55 AMG is designed for hairdressers that cut quiffs with a chainsaw.
The SLK 55 AMG is designed for hairdressers that cut quiffs with a chainsaw.

Design

The standard SLK is a dainty thing – at least by sports car standards. But if the brand is womanly by design then this SLK 55 AMG is Fatima Whitbread meets Jessica Ennis – muscular, athletic, and not half as hideous a proposition as it may, at first, sound. It's smaller than other cars with equivalent performance, but there are plenty of muscular flourishes, such as the SLS AMG-inspired front grille, that give it a mean, athletic look. Its proportions aren't quite right – it'd be far more attractive it were a tad longer – but we've yet to meet a person who'd turn one down if offered.

There's only enough room for you and one very special friend inside the SLK 55 AMG.
There's only enough room for you and one very special friend inside the SLK 55 AMG.

Practicality

The SLK 55 AMG is really quite impractical, mainly because it only seats two. Sure, many of its rivals have rear seats that are only large enough for children or dwarves, but they do at least give you the option of ferrying one or, at a push, two, mates for short journeys. Tthis car does no such thing, howver. Its boot is pretty decent, though. It offers a respectable 335 litres with the roof up and 225 litres with it folded down. For reference, a Ford Focus offers 316 litres.

Don't let its tiny dimensions fool you, it's as fast as almost anything on the road today.
Don't let its tiny dimensions fool you, it's as fast as almost anything on the road today.

Performance & Handling

It probably won't come as a surprise to hear that, with 5.5 litres of AMG-fettled V8 under the bonnet, the SLK 55 AMG is fast – very fast. 0-62mph takes 4.6 seconds, which is enough to rival most high performance sports cars. Its top speed won't make any headlines as it's electronically limited to 155mph, but it'll reach that limit pretty damned quickly. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you're complaining that 155mph isn't quite fast enough, may we suggest you write your last will and testament sometime in the near future because your recklessness knows no bounds.

The SLK 55 AMG is not the last word in handling. The car has a relatively short wheelbase – its front and rear axels are quite close together – so it not only does it feel a little fidgety over normal roads, it also becomes quite unpredictable when asked to change direction rapidly. We found it hugely difficult to predict whether the car would oversteer or understeer – it just seemed to do whatever the hell it fancied, squirming under power, cornering or braking.

If easy powerslides are your idea of good handling then you'll have a lot of fun in the SLK 55 AMG. With the stability control system disabled, it'll happily spin its rear wheels, throwing itself into huge oversteer while creating massive clouds of tyre smoke for as long as you keep your right foot planted. It's fairly easy to control the car in these situations, too – just keep your foot buried and the steering wheel in an opposite lock position and it'll drift like there's no tomorrow. The stability control can never truly be turned off, however. If you deliberately or accidentally initiate a slide at higher speeds, the onboard computers will kick in, rob you of power and pull the car back into line.

The 7-speed gearbox lets you drive in normal, sport and manual modes. The first two are fairly ordinary 'auto' modes, while the latter lets you manually select gears using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. Again, you'll never quite have total control, however. The car occasionally feels luggish when upshifting, which can cause you to hit the rev limiter, and it is often reluctant to change down if it thinks you're going too fast for a particular gear. It's a perfectly logical failsafe, but it makes you feel as if it's the SLK 55 AMG that's doing the driving rather than you.

It might use a big V8, but this baby Merc is surprisingly frugal.
It might use a big V8, but this baby Merc is surprisingly frugal.

Equipment & Value

The basic SLK 55 AMG costs £53,860 – £10,000 more than the next cheapeast SLK 350 BlueEfficiency. It's available in 12 colours, most of which look the same (there are four silver shades, one grey and two whites). Inside, black, beige or red Nappa leather comes as standard, and you can opt for a parking guidance system £680, an analogue clock (£195) a cheap-looking airguide wind deflector (£285), the clever airscarf neck heating system (£395) and the bonkers panoramic vario-roof with Magic Sky Control – a sunroof with user-selectable transparency levels (£1,995).

If you're poor, you'll be pleased to hear the SLK55 AMG comes with a host of standard tech. Blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, sports suspension, a limited slip differential and a system that calls the emergency services if you crash all feature as standard.

Economy & Environment

As impressive as this car's performance may be, we found ourselves being most impressed by its efficiency. Most V8 engines are thirsty, planet-destroying lumps, but the unit under this car's bonnet is nothing short of a revelation. It uses a clever cylinder deactivation system that shuts down four of the engine's eight cylinders in order to improve efficiency – but only if you're gentle with the accelerator. It can, at a push, return 33.6mpg and emits 195g/km of CO2, which is far more impressive than the 20-ish mpg and 300+ g/km you get (if you're lucky) with most V8 vehicles.

Safety

Mercedes-Benz is a pioneer in safety technology, so it should come as no surpsise to hear the SLK 55 AMG is fitted with a host of safety tech. Attention assist can suggest you take a break if it senses you might be weaving in and out of your lane a little too often, speed limit assist scans the road ahead for speed limit signs to tell you how fast you can or can't go and distronic plus lets you electronically latch onto the car in front, matching its speed, acceleration and braking as if the car were connected via some sort of electronic tow rope.

Should the worst happen, pre-safe braking can detect when a collision is imminent and can apply full braking force – even if you're not pushing the middle pedal hard enough. The active bonnet can deploy to create an additional active crumple zone, and roll over protection can preent you being decapitated in the event you flip the car.

Conclusion

Don't let the SLK's reputation fool you, this particular model is an absolute beast. It's fast, fun and delivers thrills most cars can't hope to provide. It isn't the last word in handling, it can be a little unpredictable, and the ride is a little too jiggly for our liking, but if you're after a car that is both rapid, attractive and is relatively cheap to run, this is definitely worthy of consideration.

Key specs

Model tested: Mercedes-Bens SLK 55 AMG
Engine: 5.5-litre petrol
Power: 421bhp
Torque: 540Nm
Acceleration: 0-62 in 4.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Economy: 33.6mpg
Emissions: 195g/km CO2
Price: £54,965

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