Home » You Can Buy A V8-Powered Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG For The Price Of A Honda Civic

You Can Buy A V8-Powered Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG For The Price Of A Honda Civic

Mercedes Slk Ts
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Spring is in the air, and if you’re tempted by a fling with a roadster, you aren’t the only one. There’s something magic about having nothing between you and the elements, breathing with the wind through switchbacks and overpasses. A roadster is a lovely thing to have on sunny or overcast days, but what about rainy days, snowy days, or days when you’re head’s pounding and you don’t want to put up with a ton of road noise? A power retractable hardtop might be the answer, and the Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG pairs a folding metal roof with a chest-thumping naturally-aspirated V8 for good times no matter the weather. Best of all, it’s surprisingly cheap second-hand.

Sure, it might not be an SL grand tourer, it might not be supercharged, and it might not even have a manual transmission, but there’s something magical about 5.4 liters of displacement in a car 16.1 inches shorter than a Nissan Versa. What’s German for ‘yeehaw’?

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What Are We Looking At?

Slk 55 Amg Engine

The original Mercedes-Benz SLK was accused of many things, but the most valid complaint was softness. Instead of a sporting roadster like the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster, it felt like a scaled-down SL, an attempt at making a GT car out of entry-level components. Even the surprisingly quick supercharged SLK 32 AMG wasn’t as sharp as its rivals, and AMG knew it had to do something.

Do something, it did. When it came time to make a fast version of the second-generation SLK, AMG selected a 5.4-liter naturally-aspirated V8 and a seven-speed automatic transmission to shoehorn 355 horsepower and 376 lb.-ft. of torque into a car the size of a shoe. In Car And Driver instrumented testing, this thing blitzed the zero-to-60 mph dash in 4.3 seconds and blazed through the quarter mile in 12.7 seconds at 111 mph. Yep, that’s quick.

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Slk 55 Amg Interior

More importantly, substantial chassis hardware revisions helped the SLK 55 AMG feel like a wholehearted contender. Thanks to substantially newer underpinnings, the SLK 55 gained rack-and-pinion steering, better damping, stiffer spring rates, and different anti-roll bars that all added up to less roll in corners, more grip, and bigger smiles.

Oh, and let’s not forget about the mini-me SLR McLaren looks of the R171 SLK, lines it wore far better than the halo car it aped. From the distinctive F1 nosecone-shaped hood bulge to the flared skirt package, the SLK 55 AMG oozes menace in all the right ways. Mean on the outside, cosseting on the inside with available features like fans to waft warm air at the back of your neck and a 380-watt 7.1-channel surround sound system. Exactly how a jack-of-all-trades V8 roadster should be.

How Cheap Are We Talking?

Cars And Bids Mercedes-Benz Slk 55 Amg 1

A brand new base-model Honda Civic LX stickers for $25,045 including freight, but an R171 SLK 55 AMG won’t cost you nearly that much. In fact, this 2005 model with just 47,000 miles on the clock recently sold on Cars & Bids for $16,255. It has the coveted AirScarf neck warmers, the Harman/Kardon sound system, and it’s a California car since new, so it’s squeaky clean underneath.

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Bring A Trailer Mercedes-Benz Slk 55 Amg Designo 1

Alright, so maybe you aren’t one for black interiors. No worries. Last month, this 2005 model with 37,000 miles on the clock sold on Bring A Trailer for $21,250, and it wants to know what brown can do for you. It was ordered through Mercedes-Benz’s Designo semi-secret color and trim program, and it sports special order Mocha Black paint and Sand leather.

Cars And Bids Mercedes Benz Slk 55 Amg P30 1

Those examples are great, but what if you want something a bit newer? Well, this 2009 SLK 55 AMG with 86,100 miles on the clock sold on Cars & Bids back in November for $18,750. Not only is this a facelifted model, but it features the P30 performance package which includes a unique suspension calibration, upgraded brakes, multi-piece wheels, Alcantara on the steering wheel, a smattering of carbon fiber, and a higher top speed limiter of 174 mph. Yep, that ought to knock your socks off.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Cars And Bids Mercedes Benz Slk 55 Amg P30 Shifter

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Aside from the usual old car problems like aged suspension components, interior wear-and-tear, and the odd minor electrical gremlin, not much. The 5.4-liter V8 is a solid unit, and the R171 SLK 55 AMG is fairly simple as far as fast, modern Mercedes-Benz roadsters go. As with other Mercedes-Benz vehicles with the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission, keep an eye out for conductor plate failure, an issue with the transmission electronics that costs a bundle to fix due to the part being coded to each unique car.

Watch for any signs of moisture in the cabin. The retractable hardtop features an array of seals, and given that these cars are getting on there for age, seals can go bad. Speaking of the top, such a complex mechanism features an array of microswitches and hydraulic components that can go bad over time. The switches themselves aren’t expensive, but troubleshooting top issues can prove a time-consuming venture.

Slk 55 Amg Brakes

One expense you might not expect from an SLK 55 AMG is the sheer expense of brakes. New front brake discs from OEM supplier Brembo cost $602.99 each from FCP Euro, meaning you’re looking at well over a grand in parts for discs and pads on just the front axle. Worn brakes could be a bargaining chip or reason to stay away, depending on if the seller wants to play ball on negotiation.

Should You Buy A Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG?

Cars And Bids Mercedes Benz Slk 55 Amg 2

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If you’re okay with spending a couple grand on upkeep every year, a Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG is an absolute riot. By aging performance car standards, these are great cars that avoid most modern AMG pitfalls, so a decent example should provide a pleasurable ownership experience. Sure, it’s not as surgical as a 987 Porsche Boxster S, nor as easy to upgrade as a Corvette, but for a fun, sporting luxury roadster, you could do a whole lot worse than an SLK 55 AMG.

Think of the Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG a bit like a modern AC Cobra 289. It’s a dashing compact roadster with one heck of a motor up front, guaranteed to widen your grin every time you dip your big toe into the throttle. It’s a pocket-sized drop-top muscle car you can take to both the gym and the opera, and if that isn’t the breadth of capability, I don’t know what is.

(Photo credits: Cars & Bids, Bring A Trailer)

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AMGx2
AMGx2
25 days ago

I have a 2009 SLK55. Ask me anything. It’s sitting next to its opposite ; an ML63.

Issues so far ;

  1. leaking valve covers. For some reason they leak and will leak again after some years. And easy and safe fix, just odd
  2. the Rear Main Crankshaft Seal can and probably will leak. It is a ‘transmission-out’ job but you can also decide to just let it drop a few drops of oil every week. The seal itself is just a few dozen dollars, the man hours aren’t
  3. This is a 3 valve direct injection engine. The pistons foul up. I just let them clean off all carbon using specific cleaning tools, costed me here $200 and most of the head of the piston looks like original
  4. Electronics are early 2000s so the circuit boards might start to cause issues. Often they regulate all kind of controls. Repairs are doable, replacements are more expensive. Luckily the 55 shares nearly everything with the other SLKs in the series
  5. The rear original factory shock absorbers were done, I replaced all 4 around with an adjustable sport suspension for about $1000 and since then it drives and handles great
  6. fuel economy is bad. You’ll see 11 to 20 liters per 100 km. From 20 mpg to 11 mpg if you drive fast. 20 mpg is really no problem, but then you miss out on the fun factory of the car
  7. I’m 6’5 and have no problem sitting in the car. Legs, body, arms, head ; I have head room. Wearing a helmet though is difficult and will hit the roof but I’ve done quite a few laps on a track with the helmet (low profile) and it actually wasn’t a problem. If you’re 6’3 or less then you + helmet should fit in with a closed roof
  8. Engine mounts ; mine weren’t good anymore. You should use original engine mounts, some after market ones were pretty bad after installation so we reverted back to original Mercedes and they are good

Changes I did which weren’t necessary to drive but made the car much more interesting than it already was:

  1. installed TPMS sensors in all tires and a small display to keep track of tire pressure. You’d be surprised how much pressure drops or rises when your outside temps go up or down. I don’t know how much people are losing with under inflated tires
  2. bought a real Torque Biasing Differential (Wavetrac) to replace the open diff. The open diff is safe, but on a track a LSD (or TBD in this case) keeps power to both wheels even if one is a bit slipping. Helps to accelerate better out the corners
  3. Replaced transmission fluid and differential fluid even though both are technically lifetime. But a flush will also remove all small metal particles, so I think it’s smart to change those fluids once every 5 years even though they’re so called lifetime
  4. There was/is a problem with a fault-code the EGR actuator/valve which doesn’t go away. We replaced the small actuator ($50) but the error sometimes shows up which makes no sense. It could be that the ECU circuit board has some connections which aren’t perfect. I expect the ECU needs to be re-soldered one day but with a local semi-DIY guy that should not be too much neither
  5. Brakes ; I got both new normal brake pads for the front (OEM) and later a race set for endurance races. The latter allow for consistent safe braking on a track but aren’t suited for normal driving (they don’t work when cold and make a heck of a noise). So I replace them after each track day/weekend. It’s a job of half an hour for the fronts (only) so no big deal
  6. tires ; for the track days I got a local semi-slick brand with very stiff sidewalls, great for cornering at high speed, very predictable and they keep my Continental CSC6 and Michelin PS4S tires safe
  7. installed an electronic rear view mirror with camera to the front and rear (on the trunk) to both see where I am reversing into and to record anything happening on the road (dashcam). Love that.

Mine has around 120k km now, interior looks almost new except for some creases in the side bolstering of the driver seat. Exterior looks fine as well.

Driving and other comments:

  1. this is like a very large go-kart with a Huge Engine. The car weighs around 1600-1700kg so it is not light, but it also not as heavy as my ML which is around 2500kg. The center of gravity of the SLK feels like about 2 inches above the road. Even a regular sedan normally doesn’t come close to the handling
  2. the engine is lazy, but high on torque. From 2000 rpm it goes like a firetruck. At 5000+ it makes a heck of a noise, a good noise, European V8 noise but with American Muscle undertones. It is addictive. And is the main cause of the low MPG
  3. with the hard top roof closed OR open ; it drives fine. Visibility is good, also thanks to the rear view camera
  4. the trunk is small but large enough for your groceries and weekend trips with 2 people to some cottage in the mountains. If you really need to log a lot of stuff then keep the top up and you have plenty of space. If I really need more I’ll take the ML which can easily haul like 2 metric cubic meters of stuff
  5. the thing is fast. not as fast as most Teslas, but those are only good in a straight line and when they turn they have serious trouble keeping up. Even with just 360 hp. And with the proper brakepads fitted the SLK can keep doing laps for half an hour without overheating ; at speed the radiator and oil cooler do a decent job. People claim 4.5s to 100km/60mph. I don’t like to do these speed tests since I like to keep the 14 year old transmission in one piece and besides that it doesn’t prove anything. So if I go fast, I do that from a rolling start, sometimes even from 2nd gear ; who cares is the small car does 4.5 or 4.7 or 5.0s ; either you smoke the other car or you lose plenty.
  6. Porsches are sharper, Z4s are also interesting, but both do not have what the SLK has ; a serious natural aspirated V8. I don’t care if a new Porsche 718 Boxster is faster on the track ; I’m glad being able to keep up even though that car is just a couple of years old, but everyone will enjoy the nice V8 sounds, me included
  7. The 7 speed automatic transmission is good but sluggish to move gears. So I normally let it shift on its own, manually shifting is possible with the Very Nice paddles on the steering wheel , but the transmission sometimes doesn’t listen and then you hit the rev limiter which isn’t cool
  8. I’m helping the noise department with a muffler bypass valve (remote controlled) but the catalytic converters are both still installed. The noise is enough (though a real track made car without muffler makes 3 times as much sound – not always pleasant noise though). I am considering a small change to the exhaust (improved short headers), for a little more horsepower but the job is at least $1000 for perhaps as little as 10whp gain. With long tube headers you could get close to 400hp (crank) but then go as low as 4s to 100/60mph. But not legal in most countries
  9. There is a bit of a downside for the more playful drivers ; the car cannot turn off its ESP/traction control entirely. Probably to keep 99% of its intended driver audience safe from spinning out of control, but annoying when you WANT to drift through a corner. While the car does allow for limited drifting ; if it seems too much of wheel spin it will either cut power or start to brake individual wheels. It wasn’t a problem on the track (I wasn’t driving OVER the limit) but I’m sure it will put off anyone who has visions of drifting Supras, E30s and Mustangs. Again for normal driving AND track use I didn’t see it as a real problem. Just so you’re aware.

All in all a very pleasant car. People are surprised by it, it is small, but it is comfortable to sit in. It drives nice, but more like a race-car or go-kart than say an E-class or a BMW 5 series. I like it because this way the car communicates very well when driving. The tail is quite happy when you step a bit on the throttle, but it is easy to catch. The design of the nose and when the top is closed is absolutely not standard. You like it, maybe not love it, or you just plainly dislike it because it is so different. Personally I only had good comments on this car, but its often from people I know so they might have been just nice.

I do like the nose of the newer R172 model more, and that one can ALSO be gotten with the 5.4 V8 but only for a short time. After that the SLK changed to “SLC” and it got a 3 liter turbo as top car. The SLC looks even more modern than the R172 but the changes are more incremental, whereas the SLK55 R171 definitely looks older than the R172 with its more modern ‘big Mercedes oval radiator gap’.

Can I recommend the car? If you can pick one up for a good price ; yes. Don’t expect these cars to increase in value, perhaps after 10 years when all V8s are finally dead and buried. But I expect the world to be in a very different shape than now, with the whole EV thing going on.

The SLK55 R171 is a fun car, low on the practicality score, but fairly unique among the current range of cars on the roads. If you don’t need more than 2 seats and like V8 sounds and sometimes enjoy gokarts or even a track day then this is a solid car.

Alternatives ; Porsche Boxster (top end with 300 ish hp) / BMW Z4M

Note ; this is not an MX5/Miata with some V8. The hard-top, higher end interior, more unique exterior and the AMG V8 put it really in it’s own category.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
28 days ago

” but an R171 SLK 55 AMG won’t cost you nearly that much. In fact, this 2005 model with just 47,000 miles on the clock recently sold on Cars & Bids for $16,255. ”

That is equivalent to 76,000km and CAD $24,382. And for that mileage and money, I’d rather spend CAD$12,000 more on this 2017 Tesla Model S 75D:
https://www.autotrader.ca/a/tesla/model%20s/oakville/ontario/5_61745951_20230206141200707

That Model S has comparable performance, but will still have a powertrain warranty good until 2025, will be way more practical and will cost way less to operate/maintain.

And if you have bad luck and the battery pack goes after the 8 year/unlimited mileage warranty expires, chances are that the fuel savings alone will cover the costs of a new battery pack.

Plus the Model S as an additional advantage of having a body made mostly of aluminum. And that matters since I live in the rust belt. So corrosion resistance is one reason alone that a Model S will last me much longer as a daily driver compared to most other cars.

So while this old Mercedes looks great and the price looks cheap, I know enough about cars like this to know that cheap price still isn’t cheap enough.

For me to buy this, I would have to LOOOOVE how it looks… and I don’t. It’s nice, but it doesn’t grab me in terms of style like a BMW i8 or a series 2 Lotus Elise does.

Last edited 28 days ago by Manwich Sandwich
Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
28 days ago

No thanks. This car tops my list for ugly cars. That shnoz makes me think of that picture of a blob fish. Worst part is, if it didn’t have the Gonzo nose, it would jump high on my SuperSexyMachine list.

Last edited 28 days ago by Lizardman in a human suit
Inthemikelane
Inthemikelane
28 days ago

Loved these when they came out from reading about it, but then saw one on the street and was stunned by the size. Would love one but interior space when you’re tall is of prime importance. Does anyone make a convertible, hard top or not, that someone of a taller stature can fit in?

Óscar Morales Vivó
Óscar Morales Vivó
28 days ago
Reply to  Inthemikelane

I’ve tried Z4, Z8 and TT roadster and they’ve all worked out for me (6’6″, 250lbs).

Not spacious but perfectly able to operate the controls and no forced posture.

I’ve never tried one of these but I wouldn’t be pessimistic. Germans design for tall people most of the time.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
28 days ago
Reply to  Inthemikelane

Rolls-Royce or Bentley probably? Or maybe the Chevy Corvette?

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
28 days ago

I had a 1/18th scale model of one of these when I was in 8th grade so they have a special place in my heart. I’ve always loved the baby SLR styling and I agree that the design language works a lot better on a tiny roadster than the behemoth of a supercar, but I have love for the big daddy SLR too. It’s an unapologetically ridiculous relic of a bygone era.

Anyway, I’ve been tempted by these for years. I’d also imagine they’ve gone up in value lately because of the market losing its mind and Doug giving one a positive review a while back. They’re not going to be cheap to keep running but they’re far less of an endeavor than a lot of other AMGs of a similar vintage.

Anyway I’m off to browse listings again. Goddammit. Remember when AMG used to stand for something? 20 years ago they were shoving 5.4 liter V8s into roadsters that weren’t all that much bigger than a Miata. Today they’re shoving boosted 4 cylinders into six figure GT cars…how the mighty have fallen 🙁

65tux
65tux
28 days ago

Proud SLK owner – great bang for the buck for sure. But I went for a 350 and not the AMG because you could get it with a manual trans. Save the manuals!

And could The Autopian stop putting all of my favorites on here and reminding people why they are so great? You’re driving the prices up!

Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
28 days ago
Reply to  65tux

That’s so cool! What a lot of people don’t realize is that there are actually quite a few early aught’s Mercedes that could be had with a manual transmission. The most common ones I see are the CL203s, which are kinda like the E46 compact we never got in NA, except with pretty bad interior materials.

I’ve owned four Mercedes and driven many, but have never driven a manual Mercedes. How is the clutch and shifter feel in yours? I’ve heard the old adage that Mercedes makes amazing automatics (true) and crappy manuals, but I don’t know if there is any validity to that.

65tux
65tux
27 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

So far so good. I’ve only had it from 85k to 90k, clutch feels great, shifter is pretty ok, far from great. About the only thing I don’t like about the car are the creaks and rattles. It’s a good excuse to always drive with the top down though! Oh, and no lumbar support whatsoever.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
28 days ago

Wait, when you say the AMG gets rack-and-pinion, does that mean the standard SLK featured recirculating ball?

Last edited 28 days ago by Ricardo Mercio
Matthew Lange
Matthew Lange
28 days ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

I think the article is referring to the previous gen SLK (R170) including the AMG versions had recirculating ball steering.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
28 days ago
Reply to  Matthew Lange

I see, that makes sense. I also remember hearing something about the E39 V8 models (incl. M5) having recirc ball due to packaging constraints.

Last edited 28 days ago by Ricardo Mercio
Micah Cameron
Micah Cameron
28 days ago
Reply to  Ricardo Mercio

That is correct; all V8 E38s had recirculating ball steering, including the M5s. The E60 fixed that.

If the E60 M5 was manual only and had a more traditional design, I wholeheartedly believe that it would be appreciated much more than the E39s. Although I absolutely love E39s, especially their looks, the E60 is better in every way imaginable, especially if you get the dynamic handling package. They drive amazingly.

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
28 days ago
Reply to  Micah Cameron

I can imagine, it’s on my short list of cars I need to drive some day. Maybe not own, but certainly drive.

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