Black Series? Sounds posh and a little edgy. What's all that about then?
AMG groups its cars into five divisions. The Black Series machines are second only to the borderline psychotic and super-expensive Signature Series (i.e. CLK DTM) cars in the line-up. Black Series cars are stripped out, track focused and expensive (just like the Signature Series cars then) and this particular weapon is the second MB car to receive the Black treatment. A permanent hard top SLK 55 AMG with a carbon roof was the first.
So what's special about this CLK Black?
If you can ignore the fact that the Signature and Black Series cars appear to share a strangely similar philosophy, the CLK Black's spec is as mouthwatering as its price is eye-watering (around £100,000). AMG takes the competent but bland CLK 63 AMG Coupe and does what it probably wanted to do to the car to start with: strip it out, tune it up, fit track-orientated suspension and brakes and unleash a car that feels as tight and as trick as anything it has ever built. Aside from the F1 safety car-alike bodywork with its assorted scoops, flips and wings, the CLK 63 Black has a not-inconsiderable 507bhp – 26bhp up on the standard model – from its 6.3-litre, naturally aspirated, mainly handbuilt V8. This is a phenomenal engine; utterly smooth but revvy and angry and easily a match for BMW’s M Power V10. The Black gets a tuned exhaust system, which not only releases extra horses from the motor but also a barrage of bangs, pops, growls and grumbles. Other mods to this all-aluminium engine include a reprogrammed ECU and a tuned intake system while those 507 gee-gees gallop to the rear wheels via AMG's Speedshift seven-speed auto (there's no manual option) with a shorter final drive ratio. There's also a limited-slip diff that feels suitably sticky on the track.
Crikey. Sounds fast...
Oh yes. The Black is 0.3 seconds quicker to 60mph than the standard CLK 63 AMG, hitting the magic six-oh in just under 4.3 seconds. Top speed is limited to 188mph. That’s not a huge outright performance advantage over the standard CLK 63 (especially when you remember it costs approximately £10,000 per tenth of a second saved to 60mph…), but where the Black Series really scores is on the track.
On the track? Go on then, tell us what it’s like
Well, we drove it on the track and the road and initial impressions were good. Very good. The front seats (the only seats in the car) grab you tightly, the exhaust note is barking mad and the whole car feels brilliantly stiff and pure of purpose. The new adjustable coilover suspension delivered a surprisingly comfortable ride, and the composite brake discs (thicker on this Black version) provided massive braking performance and great feel. On track, the circuit-focused Pirelli P Zero Corsas and coilover suspension set-up provided strong, consistent grip while the handling was nicely neutral and exploitable. With such a beefy engine up front, understeer came first but a few laps with Mercedes racing legend (and former DTM champ) Klaus Ludwig demonstrated the best way to drive the car – from the rear. A couple of lifts or stabs on the brakes to unsettle the car way before the apex, then loads of right-foot to throttle-steer the car all the way through the corner. Brilliant.
Sound great. Surely it wasn't all good?
Well, on the road the seven-speed 'box with paddle shift worked well enough, but on the track there's little doubt a manual gearbox would provide greater satisfaction. If this car is about track thrills, then the lack of a manual option is a strange one – after all you can't imagine Porsche building an auto-only GT3, can you? Also, someone at AMG has once again confused steering weight for steering feel.
Ah, the sublime Porsche GT3? How does it compare?
Very favourably in terms of outright pace and price, but the Porsche is unquestionably the better car. The CLK 63 Black Series is intriguing, suitably bonkers and surprisingly capable – but at close to £100K, it is neither as focused as a GT3 nor as capable on the road as the 911 Turbo. That's not to say this isn't a good car, merely that its up against some incredible competition. The CLK 63 Black Series has massive appeal – it’s rare, it’s fast, it’s fun and it is as charismatic as any Merc I’ve driven. But £100,000! Phew.