Kyle Fortune grapples with the dark side in the latest offering from AMG's Black Series
I like the idea of AMG’s Performance Studio. It’s existed in one form or another since AMG started some 40 years ago but was only opened officially last year, revealing a darker side to the AMG brand – a side once open only to those with limitless budgets and the right contacts. It’s the home of the track-biased Black Series cars, the first being the SLK 55 AMG last year, the second this new CLK. I’m in that now with Willow Springs Raceway as my destination. Surprisingly, I’m in no rush to get there, as I’ve just found a road that rivals California’s numerous rollercoaster's for dips and bends. Spunky Canyon Road – cue schoolboy giggling – is the most interesting stretch of tarmac I’ve ever experienced in the USA. This is run number two and the CLK 63 AMG Black Series is impressing more and more as I’m becoming familiar with Spunky’s numerous and challenging corners.
The Merc dark side badge
So what has AMG done to the CLK 63 AMG to warrant the Black Series
badge? Quite a lot it seems, and enough for Mercedes to slap a quite scary price tag on it. Nothing’s official yet, but don’t expect to see much, if any, change from £100,000. That’s a hefty £34,000 more than the standard car. It all makes the £14,000 premium Porsche charges for its GT3 RS over the GT3 seem like an absolute bargain. But that sizeable increase in price certainly buys you a more butch looking CLK, the Black Series
having more than a passing resemblance to that other mentalist CLK – the limited-run DTM. No bad thing in our book.
It’s also likely that if you’ve watched a Formula One race recently you’ll have spotted a monster CLK heading the field when Ralf crashes or an engine expires messily. Lose the Christmas lights and the Black Series CLK is that car, or at least a rough, road-legal approximation of it. That showy carbon fibre addendum serves a purpose. The vents on the front bumper give the hot air from the larger radiator and optimised power steering cooler a more efficient escape route. The punctured front wings with their 6.3-litre badges serve the additional engine and transmission oil coolers. The rear axle also gains a separate cooler, this time situated under the diffuser fins added to the rear apron.
Carbon fibre rear diffuser fins
Aside from a host of new radiators there’s a rear spoiler lip (in carbon, obviously) but perhaps AMG’s greatest signal of intent that this is a track-optimised car is the fitting of a limited slip differential to the rear axle. The multi-plate LSD gives 30% lock under load and 10% on overrun. The suspension too is similarly track-biased with fully adjustable springs, damping that can be altered for both compression and rebound, and front and rear axle track and camber adjustment. It all sits on a wider track (75mm at the front and 66mm at the rear) on specially forged 19-inch alloy wheels – the wider track and those wheels necessitating the blown wheel arches. Weight actually goes up by 5kgs over the standard CLK 63 to 1760kg, despite AMG binning the rear seats and fitting lighter buckets up front.
Wider track aids stability through corners
Those buckets are essential up on Spunky Canyon Road, holding tightly as the limits of the Pirelli P Zero Corsas are reached and breached on the dusty surface. The revised suspension has done wonders for the steering. The slightly offset, thick-rimmed wheel has more detail as to what’s going on and better weighting than the standard car, turning in with real precision. The wider track obviously aids stability, the CLK feeling neutral in all but the tightest corners - where understeer builds gradually. Play with the accelerator and the rear is easily coaxed out - only to then be reigned in rather abruptly by the recalibrated, but still nannying ESP. Turn it off and the CLK goes ASBO, being quick and easy to get hugely sideways. All good fun, but not exactly sensible on tricky Californian roads patrolled by cops with hand cannons and no sense of humour…
26bhp increase for the Black Series
Being track-focussed you might expect it to ride terribly but it copes with the worst Californian roads exceptionally well. The body control is impressive too, retaining composure even when asked to cope with the rapid changes in direction and odd off camber dips and crests that Spunky delivers. Here the engine changes are less obvious than the significant dynamic enhancements – the CLK 63 AMG Black Series’ additional 26bhp gained through revised air intake ducts, a sports exhaust with less back pressure and revised engine management. Toque output remains the same at 630Nm, but it’s produced higher up the rev range at 5,250rpm. All this means that like all the 63 cars you need to remain in the upper reaches of the rev range to really get the best of their power.
0 to 62 in 4.3 secs
Even so 62mph is reached in 4.3 seconds – 0.3 seconds quicker than the regular car – and the limiter’s been raised to 186mph. Nobody at AMG’s saying anything, but unshackled it should easily breach 200mph. Perhaps the weakest link in the CLK’s make up however, is AMG’s retention of the 7G-Tronic Speedshift seven-speed automatic. Sure, it’s a paddle shift system, but it’s still an auto, and one that despite the additional transmission oil cooler repeatedly reverts to ‘safe’ Drive mode at Willow Springs Raceway - overriding the manual programme until it’s cooled down. Sure, it’s warm in California. But the mercury rises just as high in the summer in Europe and it’s doubtful if customers will be too happy if they’re denied complete control of their £100k playthings on a warm day hot-lapping at the Nurburgring.
7G-Tronic Speedshift the weakest link
When it’s cool enough to let you drive it, the 7G-Tronic transmission is smooth and quick. As it’s 20% faster in Manual mode than the Sport setting, and significantly more so than in Drive, Manual mode has to be the setting of choice. Do so, and it won’t shift down on full throttle, nor up at the limiter. You need to mentally adjust to remember to drop a couple of gears if you’ve reason for a quick change in pace to account for that rev-hungry V8 - forget to do so and torque-rich turbodiesels will sail by you.
So is it worth the extra? Certainly it’s a faster, better controlled and far more enjoyable CLK 63 AMG. And as a demonstration of what AMG can do it’s very impressive indeed. But it’s not got the measure of Porsche’s 911 GT3, or a used 360 Challenge Stradale as the well-healed track day enthusiast’s toy. If you must have an AMG and a track car, buy an E63 AMG, a Brian James trailer and a Clio Cup car or Caterham to put in it. And spend the rest on ferries, fuel and tyres for those inevitable trips to Germany.