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Old 05-18-2007, 01:00 PM
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Arrow First US Drive: 2008 Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black Series


First US Drive: 2008 Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black Series

Yesterday I was out at the Willow Springs race track in the high desert outside Los Angeles, running hot laps in the brand-new 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series. I couldn't help but keep looking over my shoulder for the Formula 1 cars of Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso: The CLK63 AMG Black Series is for all intents and purposes a civilian version of the official F1 Safety Car--which, as you know, regularly appears on Speed channel after somebody's wheel nut falls off or whenever one of the Spyker cars takes to the circuit.

Even without 22 Formula 1 machines weaving in its wake, the Black Series is a machine for bumping your adrenaline amplifier to 11. Compared with the 6.2-liter V-8 in the CLK63 AMG Cabriolet, the engine in the Black Series coupe uses newly enlarged intake ducts, reprogrammed software, and redesigned exhausts to make 25 additional horsepower, a heady 500 hp at 6800 rpm (torque remains the same, 465 pound-feet at 5000 rpm). In addition, the Black Series benefits from a final-drive ratio shortened by roughly six percent and a weight reduction (courtesy of a jettisoned rear seat and a carbon roof) of roughly 100 pounds. Mercedes claims the improvements help the car blast from 0 to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 186 mph.

Other Black Series upgrades include a retuned suspension with adjustable coil springs, a wider track front and rear, 19-inch forged AMG wheels (wearing Pirelli P Zero Corsa performance rubber), thicker composite front brake discs, strut tower braces under the hood and in the trunk, and a multiplate rear limited slip. Look closely at the front wheel arches and you'll notice carbon-fiber air outlets, the left one for an additional transmission-oil cooler and the right one ducting the engine-oil cooler.

The Black Series cockpit is an intimate space (the Euro-spec car I drove on the track featured a single-piece molded racing seat, but the U.S. car I sampled on the road has a two-piece bucket with power recliner). If you've been ignoring your diet lately, you won't enjoy the accommodations--even the American-market seat fits like a wetsuit. Ahead of you is a superb leather steering wheel with a flattened-off bottom-- tres Grand Prix. Aluminum shift paddles for the standard seven-speed automatic sit in perfect position behind the wheel hub; the main shift lever in the center console is a cool little aluminum stub. The rest of the cabin could put a carbon-fiber fetishist into a trance.

On the road, the Black Series reminds you of its macho/sport mission with a chassis that never feels anything but flat and a ride that's as taut as an upper-octave piano string. It's not brutal, though. During 99 percent of all civilian maneuvers the engine is simply loafing. At 90 mph it's turning about 2300 rpm.

Out on the tight Streets of Willow circuit, where the Black Series can legally strut its stuff, the big V-8 romps with good old-fashioned, naturally aspirated cubic inches. Torque surges freely at any rpm and the power starts stampeding as revs rise--though there wasn't enough straightaway to visit the redline much (mostly I was running in second or third gear). The paddle shifters work brilliantly, clicking off light-switch upshifts or downshifts, but the transmission is nearly as good simply left in Drive (it seems intuitively to know what you want it to do). Though recalibrated for Black Series duty, the electronic stability-control system still feels heavy-handed, cutting in hard just when you're trying to cancel some understeer with a dab of throttle. Switch the system off and the CLK63 AMG feels better balanced, showing what the sport suspension and grippy Pirellis can really do. The speed-sensitive power steering, modified for Black Series action, has a pleasing heft and feels more communicative than what we've experienced in other AMG models recently.

Source: [url=http://blogs.motortrend.com/6208162/editorial/first-us-drive-2008-mercedes-clk63-amg-black-series/]MotorTrend Magazine[/url]
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