BRABUS K8 Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
brabus k8 review

Pity the German companies who make their living 'tuning' mainstream motors. All the big German manufacturers (save Porsche) now have their own in-house performance divisions. Audi has its S, BMW has its M, Volkswagen has its R, and Mercedes has its AMG. Your local dealer will sell you an extra hot version of any basic model, complete with warranty and a choice of body mods. It's hard to see what an independent tuner can bring to the party.

Case in point: the Mercedes Benz AMG SL55. Why would anyone would want more muscle in a car that pumps out a colossal 500bhp @ 6100rpms? The SL55's V8 Kompressor also generates an epic 516lb.ft. of torque at 2650 – 4500rpms. In other words, Mercedes' uber-SL is fully capable of hurling its occupants from any speed, to any speed, without hesitation, deviation or repetition. In fact, the svelte-looking SL55 is one of those rare machines that can turn forward thrust into physical pain.

Like many enthusiasts, Professor Ulrich Gauffres is a glutton for G-related punishment who likes something a little… different. Gauffres, Brabus' resident Dr. Evil, was charged with 'improving' an already magnificent, fully developed Mercedes Benz. Under his tutelage, Essen's finest have achieved the impossible: transforming a rapid yet civilised passenger car into something darker, wilder and faster.

The darker bit comes as standard. Long before Daimler Chrysler's marketing department agreed to transport the MIB in a suitably dark E-Class sedan, Brabus finished all its mad Mercs in black hole black.

To do the wild thing, the Brabus Boyz lower the 'donor' SL55 by 15mm and graft new, more aggressive bodywork to the front, rear and sides. Twenty-inch custom wheels (up from the standard 18') heighten the sense of intimidation. In case you miss the visual menace (subtle as it is), Brabus transplants the standard exhaust with a deeper breathing, bassier sounding stainless steel unit.

To make the searingly quick SL55 faster, Professor Gauffres' minions implant an extra intercooler and pump into the engine bay. 'More cold air into the superchargers means more pressure,' Professor Gauffres explains with worrying enthusiasm. 'More pressure means more power.' A new under drive pulley also helps to increase the critical supercharger boost.

Two weeks and £75K+ later, the upgraded interior is re-attached to the SL's exoskeleton and the Brabus badges affixed. The result is predictably bizarre: an SL sex change, from Claudia Schiffer to The Incredible Hulk.

The Brabus K8 has the same footprint as the SL55, and 'only' 50 more horses, but it looks and feels like an entirely different animal. The tarmac-sniffing front spoiler, drag strip tyres and the engine's deep space rumble all tell you that the K8 is an SL55 with a serious attitude problem.

At first, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Brabus has fashioned a sheep in wolves' clothing. Around town, it's as docile as the donor car. Then, well, if you're a fan of the fine art of flooring the gas pedal and holding on for dear life, the K8 is your ultimate fairground attraction.

The 0 to 60 sprint is virtually identical to the SL55's (4.4 vs. 4.5 secs.). But the in-gear times are noticeably improved. Overtaking at any speed is so damn quick it inspires the kind of maniacal laughter beloved of comic book villains. Mind you, the SL55 already provides outrageous urge. The K8 simply offers more.

The top end is the other important – I mean 'interesting' – difference. A German 'gentleman's agreement' restricts all Mercedes products to 155mph. The de-limitered K8 takes the SL to infinity and beyond! When Continental finishes testing the car's bespoke high-speed tires, the K8 should be good for 206mph. Seriously. Even more impressive: someone in Brabus is bound to try it on the autobahn.

Which is, let's face it, this car's natural habitat. The Brabus K8's extra shove only earns its keep in a straight-line fight from 50mph to whatever. Around corners, there's nothing in it. No surprise there. At over two tons, all SL's (Sports Light?) have an inherent tendency to turn a really fast corner into a nose-first exploration of electronic drivers' aids. Still, I believe Brabus' assurance that practice dramatically increases cornering confidence. Just.

OK, now we know Brabus can make the Mercedes AMG SL55 look meaner and go faster. Time to return to the fundamental question. Why? Patriotic German autobahn freaks pursuing the Holy Grail of Total Road Superiority have their answer. For anyone else, the K8 is simply an SL55 with a Max Power cosmetic makeover and NASCAR soundtrack. Any performance advantage over the SL55 is likely to remain unexplored. And yet, if you have money to burn, why not? Owning a K8 is a bit like picking up a beautiful stranger in a singles bar. Even if you don't want to, it's nice to know you can.

Join the conversation
  • Urlik My online research seems to indicate it’s an issue with the retaining clips failing and allowing the valve spring retainers to come out. This results in the valve dropping into the cylinder.
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  • Lorie Did they completely forget the damn 2.0 ecoboosts that have the class action lawsuit? Guess those of us that had to pay out of pocket for an engine replacement for a fail at 76k miles are out of luck? I will never buy a Ford again.
  • Mncarguy I remember when the Golf came out and all the car magazines raved about it. I bought an early one in the mid level trim, brown with a beige vinyl interior and a stick. I must have blocked out a lot about that car, because the only thing I remember is one day with my wife and infant in the car, the brakes went out! I could use the parking brake and made it home. There must have been other issues (beside an awful dealer who felt like they were doing you a favor even letting you come in for service) because I swore I'd never buy a VW again. I did get a new Beetle and later a Passat. That's another story!
  • Oberkanone The Chrysler - Plymouth - Dodge Neon's racing successes - SCCA and elsewhere ( racing.