Now that 500-horsepower cars are practically clogging the automotive marketplace, 500 hp sounds like shopworn marketing spin, as if we were talking about friendly little ponies. Not this time. In the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series, they're more like thoroughbreds hopped up on some synthetic growth hormone.
Just switching off the car's stability control and laying its gas pedal to the wood sends the CLK's rear tires spinning well into 3rd gear.
But this is not some big-block muscle car. AMG has built a genuine Mercedes-Benz track car, the kind of street-legal racer we've seen in the parking lot of the Nürburgring's Nordschleife, where a $10.75 ticket entitles you to test your car against the classic racing circuit.
In fact, the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series is the most serious car you can buy from Mercedes-Benz, a single-minded expression of performance that's built just like the pace car you see at Formula 1 races.
The Mystique of the AMG V8
The AMG-built DOHC 6.2-liter V8 makes the CLK63 almost vibrate with energy. You can feel the sharp power pulses from the tall, 11.3:1 compression ratio and then hear the hollow echo in the tone of the free-flowing AMG exhaust. There's plenty of thrust as low as 2,000 rpm thanks to variable valve timing, but the engine's real character comes from its ability to carry the power curve all the way to 500 hp at 6,800 rpm.
As you'd expect, this is enough power to turn this car into a bullet on the open road. Those 19-inch Pirelli P Zero Corsas are big and sticky but they give in to time-wasting wheelspin at just 1,000 rpm. Make your getaway like you're heading for the supermarket and the Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black Series will get to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.
The final-drive ratio is 6 percent shorter to suit track work, so the Black Series pins your ears back in the quarter-mile with a run of 12.6 seconds at 115 mph, and yet still effortlessly reaches an electronically limited top speed of 186 mph. Even the car's revised steering geometry feels like it has an instinct for triple-digit motoring.
We should have figured something was up with this car when Mercedes-Benz first invited us to drive it and then brought along Klaus Ludwig, a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and a former champion for Mercedes in the DTM, the German touring car series.
Chasing Mr. Ludwig around the tight Streets of Willow racetrack (us in the CLK63 Black, him in a CLK63 DTM) northeast of Los Angeles proved this to be a track-ready car, one that likes to be drifted sideways D1-style.
It's also the only Mercedes with an adjustable suspension. Not an electronically adjustable suspension, but the real deal. Apparently even rich guys like to get down on their knees in the garage, adjusting corner weights and ride height with the threaded spring collars, fiddling with the damping and stringing the alignment.
But there are consequences, and the Black Series skips across the crests between the cement slabs on the interstate as if it were some kind of crazy German speedboat. Set it up correctly and the ride quality isn't too bad, but this thing makes an E63 AMG feel like a Sedan DeVille. There's also plenty of tire noise from the R-compound Pirelli P Zero Corsa tires, as the tread sings a different song across every change in the road surface.
Getting Your Game On
Once you get off the highway and onto one of the little squiggly roads that the standard Mercedes navigation system reveals in the surrounding countryside, you can tell there's a beast inside this 500-hp V8 that wants out. The throttle action has a very aggressive tip-in, so there will be no romping on the gas pedal. Even though the limited-slip differential helps the wide rear tires hook up, abrupt wide-open throttle at corner exit will require fast hands to catch the slide or your AAA card to get your new Benz yanked out of the ditch.
Fortunately the seven-speed automatic softens the jump from the engine, even when you use the quick-shifting manual mode that holds each gear to the engine's redline. The aluminum shift paddles are sizable and solid, and they're properly attached to the steering wheel and not the steering column. The stubby central shift lever really isn't meant to be used.
Unlike other automotive exercises in 500 hp, the Black Series gives you the tools to make good use of so much power. When you begin your move into a corner, the steering action is quick and wonderfully accurate, a perfect match with the chassis. There's a fine sense of overall command through the steering that Mercedes-Benz doesn't usually deliver.
The cockpit is a great place to work. The panoramic windshield and a good seating position give you a great view of the road, even when you have to peer up through an upper corner of the glass to see a hairpin climbing out of sight up the mountain.
Of course, it helps if you can fit into the AMG sport seat. You can get along with the manual adjustment for fore-and-aft travel, and the three electronically controlled bolsters make the seat comfortable enough, but you might have to drop a dress size to get into it in the first place. Don't worry about the rear seat, because AMG leaves it out to save weight.
The Businesslike Performance Package
Once you're hustling the Black Series on the road, the AMG magic really begins to work on you. This car is perfectly coordinated in the corners, and you can feel the front tires suck up the road camber as you turn in, and then sense the car rolling through the corner in a gorgeously controlled arc. This is a heavy car, yet it takes a solid set in a corner and then hangs in there, supremely balanced and under perfect control. The limit is amazingly high, as the car's 0.96g on the skid pad and 67.8-mph slalom run show you.
The power comes in with a predictable, authoritative rush; and if you drift out of the stability control system's envelope of acceptability, it doesn't yank you back as if the hand of Gottlieb Daimler himself were shaking you. Just as important, the brakes are always there when you need them. The pads don't have a lot of initial bite, yet the actual braking power is stupendous and fade-free besides. Our 3,918-pound test car came to a halt in just 108 feet, a combination of great brakes and great tires.
And in the AMG way, both the Black Series and its driver can put in a full day of this back and forth without breaking a sweat. Composed, responsive car dynamics help make speed seem effortless. Only the transmission's inability to match engine revs during downshifts (AMG tried to program it into the software and got only 50-rpm blips for its trouble) compromises your efforts.
Meanwhile, the car itself is engineered for track-ready toughness. There's a larger radiator, plus an engine oil cooler in the front wheel arch, while the power steering, transmission and rear differential all have dedicated fluid coolers as well.
The End of an Era
As advertised, the 2007 CLK63 AMG Black Series is the Mercedes of track cars, a piece that makes 500 hp seem like a useful amount of power instead of just a carnival stunt. It also restores some useful exclusivity to AMG, especially now that some 20,000 AMG-signature cars are sold every year (10,000 of which come to the U.S.).
Yet even as the 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series joins the 500-hp club, we might be coming to the end of an era. As manufacturers devote more resources to environmentally friendly technology, there will be less money to fund pure performance exercises like this car. Speed will never go out of style, but the 700 examples of this car that come out of AMG's facility in Affalterbach surely mark some kind of memorable moment in the ambitions of both AMG and Mercedes-Benz.
Inside Line Editor in Chief Scott Oldham says:
Chivalry is not dead.
As any gentleman would, before I left the woman in the minivan in the thick cloud of tire smoke, I made sure her windows were closed.
I hope she appreciated it — the burnout, not the graciousness. It was a beauty. Three gears and several hundred feet long. And all I did was floor it. No brake torquing required. Not when you've got 500 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque, all of which seems to hit off idle.
Which brings me to my next point: how freakin' cool-looking this car is.
To park a Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series next to a BMW M6 is to reveal the Bavarian for the ill-shaped beast it really is. Hey, Chris Bangle, you listening? What about you, Bob Lutz? Too bad the Pontiac GTO didn't look this tough. Somebody get J Mays on the phone; it's high time he takes a lesson in stance from the gang in Affalterbach. This thing makes the Mustang Shelby GT500 look like a chick car.
And so I'm smitten with the Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series. It isn't the best car I've ever driven, but it's close. I just wish I fit in the Euro-spec seat. The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.