AMG. What can we say about cars with these three letters that we haven’t already said before? They’re fast, they’re fun, and they’re pricey. And they represent the pinnacle of Mercedes-Benz performance. Now, our love affair with these three letter luxo-speedsters started back in 1995 with the C36, and it’s grown hotter ever since. Of course, so have the cars!
One of the latest of these high-octane speedsters to come from those crafty fellows in Affalterbach is the 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG. And talk about the pinnacle of Mercedes- Benz performance! Based on the SL500 roadster, under the SL55’s hood is the most powerful engine ever offered in a Mercedes-Benz passenger car. So it’s no surprise that the SL55 is also the fastest Mercedes passenger car in the company’s history.
How fast you say? Well, how about 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds! And quarter mile passes in 13.3 seconds at 108 MPH! Acceleration is smooth and gutsy right out of the gate and never lets up until you do. Shifting is done by way of a heavy duty 5-speed automatic transmission with SpeedShift programming that delivers 35 percent quicker gear changes.
Okay, now that we know it’s fast, let’s take a look at what makes it that way. Pop the hood and you’ll be greeted by the sight of this hand-assembled 5.4 liter, single cam, 24-valve, Kompressor V8. Output is a stunning 493 horsepower with 516 pound feet of torque available from 2,650 to 4,500 rpm! AMG specialists have taken the SL500’s 5.0 liter V8 and tweaked it to 5.4 liters for the SL55. Then they bolted on a Lysholm, or screw-type, belt-driven supercharger that pumps out a maximum boost of 11.6 psi, along with a cross-flow air-to-water intercooler for a denser charge. It all adds up to one very powerful package.
The SL55 makes a pretty powerful visual statement, too. AMG additions to the SL500’s svelte bodywork include more dramatically sculpted rocker panels and a rear valance with four chrome tipped exhaust tubes underneath, and large standard 18 inch alloy wheels.
And let’s not forget the SL’s fully retractable hard top. Which gives the SL55 a highly desirable split personality by transforming it from a tight coupe to an open air roadster in a scant 16 seconds with just the push of a button. And with the way Mercedes has cleverly packaged the roof, top down you’ll still have a very useable 8.3 cubic feet left of the trunk’s normal 11.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Top up or down, you’ll be coddled by the SL55’s supremely luxurious interior, especially the hide-covered seats. Which offer more comfort features than a top-of-the-line living room La- Z-Boy. In addition to standard Mercedes fare like park assist, Distronic adaptive cruise control, and the complement of audio, NAV, and telephone wizardry built into the center stack, there are other cool features like the optional Keyless-Go system that allows you to open the door, trunk, and start the car with a shift lever-mounted push button, as long as the chip card is in the vicinity of the vehicle. And with front, head and thorax side, and knee airbags in the lower dash, and rollover bars, you’re well covered on the safety front, too.
Of course, standard Mercedes fare also includes excellent ride and handling characteristics. Most of which is handled by Mercedes’ technically advanced and by now proven ABC active suspension system. At the track we carved up the low-speed slalom like an electric knife on a holiday turkey. Feel from the speed-sensitive rack and pinion steering is typically Mercedes, heavy and a bit numb, but it’s still easy to just point the car in the right direction and let the throttle do the rest of the work.
Should that adrenalin rush carry over out on those long tempting straightaways, and trust us, it will, the SL’s electronic brake-by-wire braking system is plenty capable of pulling you down from any speed. With massive 14 inch rotors up front, 13 inch in the rear, ABS with Brake Assist and electronic brake proportioning, it hauled us in from a respectable 60 MPH in a very satisfying 124 feet.
By now, like us, you are no doubt hooked. But before you’re reeled in, there are a couple of things you should know. First, with a limited number of SL55s in production, they’re going to be mighty hard to come by. And if you can pin one down, be prepared to shell out $113,915. If you load up with all of the available options, and you should, you’ll need another ten grand.
So our amore for AMG continues to burn bright and we don’t see the fires dimming anytime soon. And while we’re sure the gents in Affalterbach are still holding a few cards up their sleeves, for now we’ll crown the SL55 the ultimate AMG, and the ultimate Mercedes-Benz too!
Engine: 5.4 Liter, Single Cam, 24-valve, Kompressor V8
Torque: 516 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.8 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.3 Seconds @ 108 MPH
60-0 MPH: 124 Feet
EPA Mileage: 15 MPG City 22 MPG Highway