Buyers Guide Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG R171

Buyers Guide Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG R171

We’re back with another SLK but with our rather more substantial budget we’ve been able to treat ourselves to the full-fat SLK55 and if you’re looking for full-on driving thrills, this is the machine for you. While rivals BMW and Porsche were happy putting their hottest straight-sixes into their range-topping roadsters, AMG’s engineers decided to stick a V8 into the diminutive R171 SLK and the result was completely and utterly unhinged, and that’s exactly why it’s on our list.

R171 SLK55 AMG


We suppose that the elephant in the room here is the R171’s styling – it was no evolution of the R170 and dramatically different in every way, and whether or not that was a good thing is very subjective. Some people love the F1-inspired nose that shares its look with the SLR, others not so much and it still divides opinion to this day but there’s no denying it’s distinctive and gives the little roadster plenty of presence. We reckon it’s a grower and the longer you spend looking at it, the more you can appreciate it. The enhanced AMG styling gave the SLK55 a pumped-up, muscular appearance with almost cartoonish levels of aggression thanks to the lower ride height, 18s, aggressive front spoiler, sculpted side skirts and fat quad exhausts that look like they have no place on a car like this. The interior, meanwhile, received sport seats that were available with the must-have optional air scarf function to help keep your neck warm with the roof down on chilly days. Barely fitting under the bonnet is that 5.4-litre M113 V8, here mated to the seven-speed Speedshift TCT 7G gearbox, making 360hp and 376lb ft of torque and that meant a 0-62 time of just 4.9 seconds. Those monster outputs make this a seriously fast car and it sounds ferocious too, something you can enjoy all the better with the folding metal roof stowed away. The SLK55 came in for some criticism for being a little nose-heavy, its harsh ride and for feeling a bit loose at the rear, but these are minor points that can be easily forgiven considering its ample charms.


This price range will give you access to a wide range of SLK55s and should put the best examples right at your fingertips. At £11,500 we found a tidy example with air scarf seats, COMAND and HK audio with 68,000 miles on the clock, which looked like a great buy; above this we found a glut of cars right at £15,000, with the pick of these probably being a well-specced 36k-mile example and this is pretty much the very top end of the SLK55 price range so you wouldn’t have to spend any more than that.


With an M113 up front, the things to look for under the bonnet are leaking valve cover gaskets and the leaking rear main seal which is a five-hour gearboxoff job, but luckily unless it’s leaking badly it doesn’t have to be done. Also, replacing 16 spark plugs is expensive, so check to see when it’s been done (approximately every 40,000) and if you need to budget for it. The seven-speed 7G-Tronic gearbox is known for problems with its conductor plate and valve body, which cause problems with shifting, the gearbox slipping and the transmission going into limp-home mode. A replacement control module is around £1500 from a main dealer but you can get the conductor plate rebuilt for around £215. On pre- 2006 cars the front brakes use six-piston calipers and two-piece discs, which cost around £1500 per pair; later cars use four-piston calipers and smaller, single-piece discs that are much cheaper, but the road tax is much higher on these models.

Rust isn’t much of a concern on the outside, but it’s a very big issue on the rear subframe and this can rust badly enough to cause a car to fail its MOT – if possible, get under a prospective purchase to check over the rear subframe to avoid any nasty surprises. Make sure the roof is working properly and it will need regular lubrication as well as regular operation, otherwise the micro-switches clog with dust. Water in the boot is a common issue, caused by the boot lid seal becoming compressed and allowing water in at the top edge, so check under the spare wheel for signs of water ingress. On the inside, the lower heated seat elements in the base are prone to failure, often caused by people kneeling on the seats – OEM replacement elements are £700 each but you can use cheaper aftermarket webbing elements. Also, if the air scarf system is fitted, make sure it works.


The SLK55 is a real mini hot rod and if you’re looking for a modern performance machine with an old-school feel that will never fail to put a smile on your face, this is it. Best of all, there’s not even that much to worry about in terms of running costs and potential repairs, and a well-looked-after example should provide you with years of reliable service. It’s not perfect, but it is fun and that counts for a lot.

SLK55 looks incredibly muscular 5.4-litre V8 makes 360hp. Aggressive F1-inspired styling

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