My co-pilot sat motionless, stupefied from the previous night's revelry. Strangely, this poor fellow thought I could be trusted not to challenge Alka-Seltzer's restorative powers. I allowed him the luxury of this delusion all the way from the hotel to the highway. And then I floored it. The CLK Black Series' engine bellowed WAKE UP FOOL! The uber-bad Benz' back end quivered from side to side. The traction control light sent a steady stream of Morse code through first, second and third gear. The ten second wake-up call placed us well north of 100 mph. The jobbing journo groaned his disapproval. God I love this work!
Of course, any pistonhead who's ever inhaled the smell of burning brakes in the morning and identified it as "victory" knows that AMG on a Benz' butt guarantees straight-line firepower. To that end, the CLK Black Series boasts a near-as-dammit 6.3-liter V8, modded to produce 500 horsepower and 465 ft.-lbs. of torque. But this time, the boys from Affalterbach have wrought something a little different: "a track car adapted for use over the road." Stimmt?
Stimmt. The carbon-covered cabin's cornering bias is immediately identifiable by its miniaturized seats, steering wheel and transmission stalk. Despite its diminutive diameter, the leather-clad, square-bottomed helm is a superb addition to the AMG canon (cannon?). The CLK BS' racing-derived chairs are less successful. Even this 140-pound test pilot found the hard shell seat incredibly confining; the side bolsters are ended right around my armpit, resulting in non-stop elbows akimbo. My 200-pound compadre moaned about his back throughout our journey.
Those of you who say shaddup– adding lightness is the best way to get a sedan to sprint from rest to sixty in 4.1 seconds– don't speak AMG. Yes, AMG's Black arts artists fitted lightweight forged alloy wheels, removed the back seat and carbon-fibered the brake cooling ducts, rear spoiler and rear apron. But the CLK BS is 228 lbs. heavier than a CLK500.
All that extra heft is deployed in pursuit of handling. We're spreching three transverse chassis reinforcements and a new multi-plate limited slip differential. There's also a trick adjustable suspension that allows changes to the CLK's ride height, camber, toe-in and shock dampers' compression and rebound. Provided you're a mechanic in a tuning shop, AMG says "you" can transform the CLK AMG 63 Black Series from a road-compliant commuter to a track-ready monster in an hour or less.
The out-of-the-box, on-the-road solution is insane. Anyone who wants, needs or thinks he could use more lateral grip on a public road should have their license revoked on general principle. The steering is a shout-out to Porsche: "we could match your helm feel on all our cars; we simply choose not to." And the brakes– including 360mm ceramic front discs with six-piston calipers– could stop an evangelical preacher mid-syllable.
I saved my comments about the tranny for last because I liked it the least. No doubt the 7G-Tronic's stubby lever looks cool, but since it is made of aluminum, looks can be deceiving, especially on a hot day. Worse, it feels flimsy. The first time I waggled it sideways to shift the gears, it felt like I was giving the car a prostate exam. Fortunately, the paddles behind the steering wheel are beefy and loads of fun to press. The seven-speed even blips the throttle for downshifts, DSG-style.
Driving the CLK Black Series over serpentine mountain back roads near Half Moon Bay, I hereby solemnly swear that Mercedes can build a car that is not solemn and will make you swear. If nothing else, the CLK BS sounds like the unholy off-spring of a Mercedes – NASCAR union, complete with popping backfires during engine braking. But there's plenty else, and all of it makes this car weapons-grade ammunition for drivers determined to murder corners and terminate straights (with extreme prejudice).
In fact, the CLK Black Series is a slap in the face of BMW's new M3– albeit at a daunting price.
Yes, there is that. At $130k, the CLK Black Series asks for a 150 percent premium over the CLK 350, and demands $40k more of your hard-earned money than the CLK 63 Cabriolet, which packs a "detuned" version of the same engine. Mercedes has sold all 350 U.S.-bound CLK BS– ensuring that your "investment" will seem cheap compared to the resale market. But the onset of AMG's traditional cliff-face depreciation curve can not be forever delayed.
There are now 15 models in the AMG line. Die-hards (literally) will be glad to hear that more Black Series AMG cars are on their way. While the CLK 63 AMG Black Series is a very special car, it's worth waiting for these details to be applied to a more interesting chassis, like the SL-class, before making the jump to hyperspace.