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.
The brake upgrade is more useful, mating six-piston calipers with 378mm discs at the front and giving the SLK a fighting chance of hauling off that obscene speed. The car has simply epic performance, and although the gearbox hampered the original car, this one has such a surfeit of power that even the automatic isn't the deal breaker it once was. Rev matching would be a nice touch on downchanges, especially from these speeds, but this is nitpicking on a grand scale when faced with a weapon of mass destruction like this.
The exterior mods, thankfully, are more subtle than the engine tuning. The LED light strips that have bred like rabbits throughout the tuning world are beginning to look just a touch passé, but that aside, the Väth is an epitome of understatement.
What is there, like the chin spoiler and diffuser, is perfectly produced in real carbon fiber, and there's more on the interior to give the SLK the truly badass feel that the performance deserves.
Väth might not come with the global reputation of the other big Mercedes tuners, but this SLK is an alluring package. It's expensive, but then tuning always is, and with the kind of monstrous power on offer here it's easy to see where the money has gone.
And there's a certain perverse appeal to this machine. It might be an SLK, but call it a hairdresser's car and prepare to get your head ripped off.
5.8-liter V8, dohc, 32-valve. Forged pistons, stroker crankshaft, ported and polished cylinder heads, exhaust manifolds, sport catalysts, sport exhaust
Six-piston calipers, 378mm rotors
Wheels and Tires
Väth alloys, 19-inch Yokohama Advan Sport, 235/35 (f), 275/30 (r)
Peak Power: 565 hp
Peak Torque: 517 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 4.1 sec.
Top Speed: 193 mph