So, the Mercedes SLK has morphed into the SLC, with the most significant model change happening right at the top of the tree. The mad-as-a-box-of-frogs 5.5-litre V8 SLK 55 is gone, replaced by one of the new breed of '43'-badged Mercedes-AMG models with the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 petrol engine. On paper, then, it might look like the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 has gone soft, but don't be fooled by it for a second - this thing is an animal.
In the metal
Nicely understated and sufficiently muscular, the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 doesn't shout about its credentials, instead standing confidently and quietly like a professional bodyguard closely monitoring the personal safety of a crazy-haired, orange-coloured, certifiable loon of a US presidential candidate. Sure, there are AMG identifiers there, such as the quad exhausts, 18-inch alloys and the different front air intake and rear diffuser treatment, while the lip spoiler on the boot is probably the most in-yer-face bit of styling - but even that's not overblown. By AMG's standards, the SLC 43 is reserved to look at, which might not please those who have been fans of Mercedes' performance arm for some time (and who therefore remember some of the mental 'Black Series' creations), but we happen to think aesthetically it's about bang on the money and it's easily our preferred look for any SLC/SLK yet.
Same goes for the interior, where - apart from some AMG logos, sports seats and an IWC timepiece in the centre of the dash top - it's broadly the same as the regular SLC, which means beautifully screwed together and logically laid out. The AMG version comes with a comprehensive kit list, but, as ever, there's still room for options and we're talking about an €87,000 roadster here, so customers ordering need to go easy unless they intend passing the psychological barrier of 100 grand.
Bare stat-gazing at the AMG variants of SLK that have gone before will tell you this latest model has the smallest engine and almost the slowest performance data of any of them. It took five years from the 1996 launch of the SLK for AMG to create a hot version, which in 2001 had a supercharged 3.2-litre V6 of 354hp. The Mk2 went to a humongous 5.5-litre V8 with 360hp, which was continued by the Mk3 SLK 55 AMG with 421hp - albeit the later car used an all-new, normally aspirated lump. At three litres of swept capacity and 367hp, the SLC 43 appears as if the game has hardly moved on in 15 years, but as it can call on two turbochargers for thrust, does it make a case for itself?
Let's be clear, this car - while easily the most exciting SLC of the lot - is far from faultless. If anything, the 43 is one of the most raucous cars we've been in. Even in modes where the traction control is still engaged, it will attempt to waggle its backside under any meaningful throttle openings in second, third and fourth gears. In the dry. Thus, turning the traction control off fully would take ballsy commitment and in the wet, a degree of insanity, because we suspect the 520Nm of turbocharged thump could make this short-wheelbase motor swap ends all too easily.
That's because it has extremely unforgiving suspension. With adjustable dampers an option (and they were fitted to all the cars on the launch), you'd think the SLC could balance compliance with rock-hard body control, but even in Comfort mode in the city it transmits an awful lot of detail about the road surface to its occupants. It also makes the SLC 43 susceptible to being knocked off line by larger bumps and compressions, although to be fair to the test cars on their standard-fit 18s, they didn't tramline or skitter appallingly. It's never uncomfortable, the AMG SLC, but it is much less easy-going than we were expecting. And if you think it's a lightweight, because it's reasonably small, think again - at 1,595kg with a driver, fuel and a bit of cargo on board, we're getting into Jaguar F-Type and even Mercedes SL territory here.
However, you forgive the SLC 43 all of its dynamic deficits when you first hear the furious noise it makes. We drove this same engine in the aforementioned SL 400 in the States recently, where it stunned us with its symphony. Nevertheless, as a 'mere' Benz 400, the larger Mercedes roadster didn't benefit from this disgracefully magnificent AMG exhaust and as an added benefit, due to the SLC's stumpy rear end, your ears are physically closer to the tailpipes here. Never mind Nigel Tufnel's amp that goes up to 11, the 43 seems to be set on 17. And despite a history of glorious AMG V8 bellows, this has to be one of Affalterbach's finest sounding cars. Pops, bangs, crackles, thumps, roars, gargles, screams - they're all in the mix as the needle sweeps round the rev range and the SLC surges forward hungrily. OK, if you were being hyper-picky, you could say that in the balance between induction and exhaust, the former is like a man with a triangle trying to make himself heard against the latter's full brass band played through a concert arena's sound system, but there's just enough there to remind you all the time you're driving a V6. It's utterly, utterly demented and utterly, utterly brilliant too.
And of course it's quick. That 3.0-litre has a wonderful blend of low- to mid-range torque with high-revs power, so you're never lacking for urgent acceleration in the SLC 43. The 9G-Tronic gearbox seems a touch quicker on the uptake here than it did in the SL 400, with less gearchanges 'refused' by the car's software, while the AMG steering is peachy - weighted beautifully, incredibly pointy in its rate of response and, most crucially of all, possessing meaningful feedback. The brakes don't wilt under the pressure of rapid driving and the rigid body control is unremitting in Sport+ mode, which makes placing the car where you want it to go engaging and easy at the same time. It's just a shame you can't trust the grip of the rear axle implicitly, otherwise it would score higher for its chassis.
Like all the rapid SLKs that have gone before, the SLC remains a modern hot-rod. You don't exactly lean on every last ounce of its grip and ability in the corners, but instead use its prodigious power in a 'point-and-squirt' approach that still sees you covering ground at a grossly indecent rate. A Porsche 718 Boxster would be defter, a Nissan 370Z Roadster might be more willing to indulge in genial oversteer, a Lotus Exige would be much better damped... but none would be putting a mischievous grin on your chops like the hooligan SLC 43. The V8 might have gone, but the AMG devilment is alive and well in the roadster.
What you get for your money
Great performance and reasonable fuel economy (for the pace the SLC 43 can summon up) don't alter the fact that we don't buy roadsters here in Ireland, we certainly don't buy thirsty petrol models when there's a diesel alternative in the range (no matter how exciting said petrol might be), and we absolutely do not spend €86,960 on impractical two-seaters that will have to put up with some of the less praiseworthy historic preconceptions of SLK owners (think hairdresser). Thus, you're about as likely to see a Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 in Ireland as you are a horse with a horn coming out of its head. Perhaps such rarity value increases its appeal, though...
You might be reading all of the above and wondering why we've only given the SLC 43 four stars. Well, as a cohesive performance car, it's still lacking, because it never all quite comes together and gels in the way a Porsche or Lotus would do; the damping is too firm, the car's too heavy and it feels like a twitchy little so-and-so on occasion. It's also ludicrously expensive here in Ireland and likely to remain of extreme minority interest.
However, what the Mercedes-AMG has is bags and bags of character, courtesy of an extraordinary soundtrack, that belting biturbo V6 engine and a chassis that commands respect. Speaking with the head, there are better performance cars in this class than the SLC 43; speaking from the heart, we reckon we'd have it over anything else of its type right now, flaws and all. And if the Mercedes-AMG SLC is this good, then we're salivating at the thought of trying the forthcoming Mercedes-AMG C 43, GLC 43 et al. Sometimes, downsizing really can pay off handsomely.