The CLK63 AMG doesn't have a big light bar on its roof like the AMG-built CLK that you see pacing the Formula 1 races-in fact, it doesn't even have a roof-but it drives pretty much the same. You're making terrific time, clipping the curbs and rocketing down the straights, but it looks as easy as driving to the store-all speed and no drama.
AMG's new, 6.2-liter V-8 pumps out only 475 hp in the CLK cabrio (compared with 503 or 507 hp in other AMG models), because the CLK's smaller engine bay restricts the size of the intake. It has the broad spread of midrange torque that you'd expect from a large-displacement V-8, yet AMG also has given this engine the right kind of hardware to enable it to breathe deeply at high rpm, so it pulls all the way to the 7200-rpm redline. If you switch off the stability control, you can feel the rear tires tremble with wheel spin every time you lay into the gas pedal.
Much of the CLK's feeling of effortless speed comes from the new seven-speed transmission, a highly refined manu-matic with paddle-shift capability. AMG prefers this quick-shifting automatic with its very tightly calibrated torque converter to BMW's automated manual SMG. The AMG unit produces none of the clumsy, head-bobbing shift action that's so characteristic of BMW's SMG. A switch on the center console selects Comfort, Sport, or Manual mode, and it calibrates the speed with which the transmission grabs the next gear and whether it holds each gear to the redline.
This AMG convertible is a beautifully balanced road car, true to the sporting spirit of the coupe version. It bristles with the latest electronic components, including Mercedes' quick-response body-control system. But what it needs is a steel roof. AMG dropped the CLK coupe from its U.S. lineup at the end of last year, and it has no immediate plans to bring us the CLK63 coupe. As a result, it's the cabriolet or nothing for America.
But for us, the lesson of the AMG Hammer is that a serious brand needs a serious package as well as a serious engine, and for that we think the CLK coupe is a far better choice than the CLK convertible. So we're hoping a more aggressive Club Sport edition of the CLK63 AMG coupe will come to the States, and we'd sure like to learn more about a street-legal CLK F1 safety car.