These days, Mercedes-AMG offers more variants than those fancy Pininfarina-designed Coke machines you find in your classier fast food establishments. Here in the United States in 2021, for example, you can choose from (deep breath):
- The A 35, the CLA 35, the CLA 45, the GLA 35, the GLA 45, the GLB 35, the C 43 sedan, the C 63 sedan, the C 63 S sedan, the C 43 coupe, the C 63 coupe, the C 63 S coupe, the C 43 cabriolet, the C 63 cabriolet, the C 63 S cabriolet, the GLC 43, the GLC 63, the GLC 43 coupe, the GLC 63 coupe, the GLC 63 S coupe, the E 53 sedan, the E 63 S sedan, the E63 S wagon, the E 53 coupe, the E 53 cabriolet, the CLS 53, the GLE 53, the GLE 63 S, the GLE 53 coupe, the GLE 63 S coupe, the AMG GT coupe, the AMG GT C coupe, the AMG GT R coupe, the AMG GT Black Series coupe, the AMG GT roadster, the AMG GT C roadster, the GT 43, the GT 53, the GT 63, the GT 63 S, the GLS 63, and the G63.
(And that's not including any S63 coupes or convertibles or SLC 43 roadsters you might still find sitting around dealerships.)
Back in the mid-Aughts, though, Mercedes-Benz was a tad more cautious with their AMG sub-brand. Here in the States, AMG models usually came in just one model range-topping flavor — usually powered by some form of V8 that, depending on era, was either turbocharged, supercharged or naturally aspirated.So it was a bit intriguing when Mercedes whipped out the CLK63 Black Series — the AMG's AMG, if you will. The second Black Series ever made and the first to reach American shores, it showed just how far the in-house tuner was willing to go when give the opportunity, taking the regular CLK63 AMG and yanking out the rear seat, outfitting it with a more aggressive suspension, beefing it up with aerodynamic add-ons and bigger tires, squeezing a few more horses out of its engine...and, of course, charging more for it.
Since then, the Black Series name has gone on to grace just a handful of AMGs, all of which have represented the pointiest spears in the — but all of them have followed in the footsteps set by the CLK63 Black Series. So when Mercedes-Benz USA offered me a chance to try out the O.G. Black Series when I was down in Miami to sample the GT Black Series...who was I to say no?
The quad-oval headlamp look may have passed at Mercedes-Benz (may it rest in peace), but the car still grabs plenty of attention, even in the nicer areas of Miami where I drove it. Admittedly, that bloody red paint helps, but even in less vivid colors, there's no mistaking the aggression in the pumped-up wheel arches or thick chrome exhaust pipes. One driver in an Altima, cell phone in hand, excitedly shouted at me as he leaned out the window to record me going by — the sort of reaction usually received by Lamborghinis. (I would have been more excited to be on camera had my radio not been blasting Vanessa Carlton at the time.)
It only took about, oh, seven seconds inside the CLK63 Black Series to miss the conveniences of modern cars. That's how long it took for the clip-on cell phone mount that was holding the phone Mercedes had given me as a nav system to detach and fall — a process that would occur basically every time I accelerated, braked or turned. (I ultimately wound up tossing it in the passenger's seat and glancing occasionally.)
In hindsight, the luxury cars of the early 2000s fall into an awkward place in the evolution of in-car tech: lacking both the analog simplicity of 20th Century rides and the glossy, fast-acting deeply-integrated screens and computers of today's vehicles. The CLK63 uses an infotainment system that seems to pack one-fiftieth the pixels of an Apple Watch into a screen the size of an iPhone 12 Pro Max. It's also easy to forget just how far interior material quality has come in luxury cars in 14 years; the plastic trim feels Hyundai Elantra cheap by 2021 standards, for example.
There are certainly pleasures to the old-school interior, though. The old-fashioned phone keypad setup for the radio is still entertaining to use, and having physical buttons for every task is handy (once you learn where they all are). The sight lines are better than in many modern coupes. And while there may not be rear seats, there are scalloped depressions where they used to be that you can throw backpacks and handbags and jackets in. In a car this shape and size, I'll trade added storage space for rear seating any day of the week.
With its 6.2-liter V8 cranking out 500 horsepower and 567 lb-ft of torque sans turbochargers or superchargers and some very old-fashioned electronic controls to govern it, you might think the Black Series would be a beast to live with anywhere but the race track — but in fact, it's a sweetheart. Whether cruising along causeways or burbling along the boulevards of Miami Beach — regrettably, the only two environments I was able to drive it on — it felt way more tractable and easy-going that I would have expected given my recollections of reading those first breathless drive reports back when I was in college. This Black Series is still tame enough that you can putter around town comfortably.
Of course, uncork the engine and those tailpipes will roar with a sound sure to set any gearhead's soul ablaze with excitement. Mark my words: the M156 engine, as the AMG 6.2 was known, will go down in history as one of the pinnacles of naturally-aspirated internal combustion car engines. Torque-rich down low but revving high (for a giant V8) to make max power, it's an experience that makes acceleration something to be savored, rather than simply experienced.
Unlike most modern AMGs, the car is best experienced with the automatic gearbox in manual mode; seven speeds is ideal for paddle-shifting fun, and the Mercedes-Benz transmission programming of 2008 wasn't clever enough to know better than you most of the time. Drive modes? Not like today's cars, where you can toggle between different settings for everything from steering to brakes to stability control; the Black Series just lets you switch the gearbox between Comfort, Sport and Manual. Forget Sport; Comfort is for stop-and-go traffic, Manual is for everything else. Hell, leave it in second gear until you're on the highway just to hear it roar.
Granted, with CLK Black Series cars going for well over $100,000 these days, it's stacked up against an overwhelming of new and used cars competing for potential owners' dollars. I'd be more likely to buy, say, a Porsche 911 or a GT C from Mercedes-AMG's current lineup than this Black Series...but I certainly can understand why someone might be smitten with it.
2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series
Base Price (2008): ~$135,000
Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8; seven-speed automatic; rear-wheel-drive
Torque: 465 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 12 mpg city, 19 mpg highway
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