- 500-hp 6.2-liter V8
- 7-speed automatic transmission
- 19-inch forged alloy wheels
- $135,000 asking price
Ever want to lead the pack in a Formula 1 race? Then you want the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series — a 500-horsepower, street-legal version of the official F1 safety car. This is the successor to the SLK55 AMG Black Series introduced exclusively to the German market without much hoopla last year, a badass coupe that introduces AMG’s new line of track-ready cars to America. Tobias Moers, AMG’s development boss, openly admits that the sublime Porsche 911 GT3 is the inspiration and performance benchmark for AMG’s latest creation. As its name suggests, the Black Series begins with the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG, the coupe version of which isn’t sold in the U.S. But while the two Benzes share the same name and basic driveline package, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 Black Series is a completely different animal, a pure high-performance car.
Battle of the Bulge
One fleeting glimpse is enough to tell you that this is no ordinary Mercedes-Benz. Sporting a dirty front spoiler that’s designed to ramcooling air into an enlarged radiator while simultaneously dialing out aerodynamic lift, the Black Series instantly appears more menacing than the standard CLK63 AMG, itself hardly backward in signaling its performance potential. The CLK63 Black has the look — stylized air vents in the carbon-composite front fenders, chiseled rocker-panel sills, a deep rear valence that incorporates a cooling element for the differential and a carbon-fiber spoiler. The body’s bulging wheel arches are part of the body, not simply tacked on as in AMG’s earlier CLK DTM coupe, and they enclose lightweight 19-inch forged alloy wheels that weigh just 24.3 pounds each, some 6.6 pounds lighter than the CLK63 AMG’s standard wheels. This crucial reduction in unsprung weight is just one of the secrets to the Black’s more responsive nature, says Moers. The lightweight racing-style makeover is carried into the interior, where carbon-fiber trim has been used for the door inserts and center console, giving the Black Series a pared-down look without making it appear too tacky in the process. It’s the tactile bits that really make the Black’s interior unique, though. You might expect the small-diameter, flat-bottom steering wheel and forged-aluminum shift lever, yet there are also racing-style AMG bucket seats upholstered in flame-resistant nylon velour. (Side airbags are deleted.) If you’re really hard-core, AMG will even ditch the rear bench seat, replacing it with two trimmed wells suitable for soft luggage.
More Powerful V8
We can’t remember ever thinking that the CLK63 AMG’s 6.2-liter V8 has ever been short on power. With 478 horsepower, it produces 58 hp more than the Audi RS 4’s 4.2-liter V8 and even the forthcoming BMW M3’s 4.0-liter V8. Still, the power brokers at AMG are a hard lot to please. Predictably, they’ve upped the output for the Black Series by 25 hp, giving this high-revving, 32-valve DOHC lump a solid 500 hp at 6,800 rpm. The engine’s torque output remains 465 pound-feet at 5,250 rpm. The engine is noticeably more responsive due to the adoption of remapped electronics, a new inlet manifold with larger ducts and a reworked exhaust system with equal-length pipes that reduces back pressure. The exhaust note is great, a subdued V8 rumble at low revs that builds into a deep industrial-grade roar through the midrange before erupting into an all-guns-blazing blare of intake and mechanical noise until the rev limiter cuts in at 7,400 rpm.
Bye-Bye RS 4
As with the standard CLK63 AMG, power is channeled through Mercedes-Benz’s 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission. Fettled with AMG’s Speedshift electronics for faster gearchanges, it swaps up smoothly under light loads, surfing the prodigious torque curve to provide seamless progress. Bury the throttle and the CLK63 Black responds beautifully, banging through the cogs with rifle-bolt precision. The 7G-Tronic is no substitute for a proper manual gearbox, but you can call up gears at will via aluminum paddles mounted on the steering wheel. As a signal of its purposefulness, the transmission refuses to shift up in manual mode, holding onto the selected gear right to the redline. Just two shift modes are provided: Sport and Manual. Corralling all the power is a limited-slip differential, which gets its own oil cooler and electric pump to keep temperatures in check. It provides 30 percent lock under load and 10 percent on a trailing throttle to ensure optimal traction. In addition, the rear-axle ratio is 7 percent shorter than before at 2.82:1 for quicker acceleration. Add it all up and the Black Series goes faster, feels faster and sounds faster than the standard CLK63 AMG. How fast? Mercedes-Benz claims the 0-60-mph time has dropped by 0.3 second to just 4.1 seconds. And remember, the German carmaker is notoriously conservative when it comes to quoting acceleration, so expect independent tests to reveal it to be even quicker off the line. Top speed is limited to 186 mph. “It is capable of more,” Moers tells us, “but the tires are not.”
Meats the Road
For all the added pace of the CLK Black Series, it’s the handling that really steals the show. No Mercedes-Benz model — SLR included — offers such rabid response or poise at the limit as this car. It’s reflected in Moers’ claim that the Black Series can lap the Nürburgring in just 7 minutes, 52 seconds. By way of comparison, the Porsche 911 GT3 is said to be capable of 7 minutes, 47 seconds in the right hands. As the substantial wheel arches suggest, there have been some major revisions underneath the car, with the front track widened by 3.0 inches and the rear track increased by 2.6 inches, largely a function of the wide wheel rims. The C-Class-based suspension has been heavily reconfigured, and screw-type adjusters for the springs afford adjustable ride height, while the dampers have adjustable compression and rebound. The front suspension permits camber adjustment, while both front and rear track can be slightly changed as well. Sturdy strut braces front and rear also contribute a useful amount of chassis rigidity. It’s a track setup, really, adapted largely from Mercedes-Benz’s F1 pace car but with some special attention given to items like the front wheel bearings, which will also be incorporated into the forthcoming C63 AMG. On the road, the ride harshness tells you immediately that the spring rates are much stiffer, yet there is sufficient wheel travel to ensure you are not banged about too badly on pockmarked bitumen. There are 265
/30ZR19 Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires under the front fenders and even wider 285/30ZR19s in the rear — R-type rubber that’s designed for ultimate grip. Spearing through some tricky switchbacks in the mountains on the outskirts of Los Angeles, the new AMG coupe proves remarkably agile. The steering is massively improved — a little slow coming off the center as you turn in, but possessing a crisp feeling of detail from the road surface that makes the steering of just about every other Mercedes-Benz seem prosaic. The wider track helps, Tobias Moers says, effectively making the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering around 8 percent quicker. Such confidence-building dynamics and prodigious purchase on the pavement allow you to carry big speed into corners and then plant the throttle early for romping exits. Meanwhile, an array of driver aids, including a specially calibrated ESP, are nowhere near as intrusive as they are in the standard CLK63 AMG, so it’s possible to provoke lurid oversteer in the right conditions. While the appeal of the standard CLK63 AMG depends largely on its heroic engine, the Black Series has the dynamics in the corners to back up its straight-line speed. Unlike so many track-ready cars, the Black Series makes you look forward to a lot more time behind the wheel.
Time To Get in Line
The bad news is, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series will do a $135,000 dance on your checkbook, a $45,025 premium over the CLK63 AMG Cabriolet. In fact, you could buy both an Audi RS 4 and the new fourth-generation BMW M3 for the same price. Madness, you say. Perhaps, but Mercedes-Benz is adamant there is a market for the car, and a production run of 700 cars has been planned. Mario Spitzner, AMG’s marketing manager, says he has already taken 300 orders for the car from U.S. customers, and only 350 examples of the CLK63 AMG Black Series are allotted to North America. We’re telling you, get in line right now.