Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series (W209) Review & Buyers Guide
For decades, Mercedes-Benz has teamed up with AMG to create the performance version of their vehicles across the entire model line-up range. From the C-Class to the S-Class, all the subtle differences hinted aggression, power, luxury, and authority. If you know what an AMG was, you’ll almost always give it a second look. What also helps is the rarity of AMG models, which is far less common than BMW M Power cars.
Mercedes-Benz has always held a prominent spot in the sport of racing from the DTM series to F1 to even going beyond racing by providing support and pace cars. It was at this point that Mercedes and AMG decided to take their on-track engineering and experience to build the ultimate street car: the Black Series.
To date, there have been five Mercedes-Benz AMG vehicles to carry the honorary Black Series badge: the SLK55, CLK63, SL65, C63, and SLS. Although the SLK55 AMG Black Series was technically the first car to carry that badge, it wasn’t sold in the US. The CLK63 AMG Black Series came out in 2008 with such a radical departure from AMG DNA that it shocked the world.
AMG had always been ‘unique’ in its approach to performance meaning extra power without the necessary extras to support it, but the CLK63 AMG Black Series was the first of its kind to feature race inspired changes that included wider fender flares, even more power, extensive use of carbon fiber inside and out, and suspension changes that actually improved handling. Think along the lines of BMW M3 CSL, Viper ACR, Porsche GT3, etc.
Mercedes CLK63 AMG Black Series Features
The moment you lay eyes on a CLK63 AMG Black Series, you know theres something quite special about the car. Perhaps its the fact that seeing one will be a rare occurrence considering that only 367 were brought to the United States. This makes the CLK63 AMG Black Series even more rare than a Bugatti Veyron.
The first thing you will notice about the CLK63 AMG Black Series are the extremely wide front and rear fender flares, a first of its kind for AMG. Housed under those arches are 19 inch aluminum forged multi-spoke wheels that sport 265/30 and 285/30 tires. With 507 horsepower and 478 lb-ft of torque, you’re going to need as much rubber as possible to get traction. Behind the polished wheels are massive 6 piston front and 4 piston rear silver calipers that clamp down on larger composite rotors.
If the fender flares don’t catch your attention, then the generous offering of carbon fiber and cooling vents certainly will. Mercedes-Benz and AMG definitely did not skimp out on this area. From the front you will notice carbon fiber cooling ducts along the bumper and continuing back past the wheels showcasing a side vent with 6.3L AMG badging. The rear is one of the best angles of the CLK63 AMG Black Series as it is not just wide, but extremely aggressive looking with a carbon fiber rear lip spoiler and carbon fiber diffuser that channels air into a differential cooler. Of course, it has the signature quad tips in unison with the fins.
The noise that comes out of the CLK63 AMG Black Series is a glorious symphony of V8 music that is derived from a 6.2L V8 that couuld be found in all AMG models at the time. The Black Series was tuned differently to allow for a bump in horsepower past the 500 HP mark versus the typical 450-475 HP range. All this power is channeled through paddles or shift lever activated 7G-Tronic Speedshift transmission and a limited slip differential. Don’t let fancy name fool you as this is still a traditional automatic transmission. All this is good enough for 0-60 mph in under 4 seconds and a quarter mile time of under 12 seconds. But who takes a Black Series to a drag strip?
Where it matters most is where the CLK63 AMG Black Series shines brightest and that is the race track. The biggest surprise to most journalists and enthusiasts is the difference in handling compared to the base CLK63 AMG model. The use of carbon fiber did help shed weight by a mere 100 lbs but the difference is where you can’t see it. The stiffness and rigidity improvements come along with the tweaks to the chassis and suspension. Under the hood and trunk are two massive chassis braces that reduce flex. Suspension is all-new with adjustable coilovers that allow you to raise or lower the CLK63 AMG Black Series with the twist of a nut.
The cabin is sparse with even more abundance of carbon fiber to equally match the exterior. The race car theme continues inside with the removal of back seats to save weight. People can still sit in the back but we do not recommend that as there are no seatbelts. One of the most unique features of the CLK63 AMG Black Series is the polished push button start next to a stubby shift lever. The seats are phenomenal (Europe gets better race bucket seats) with all the bolster support you’d imagine, but lack electronic seat controls. To top of it off, the leather steering wheel is just the right thickness and weight with a flat bottom a la F1 influence.
Buying a CLK63 AMG Black Series is quite simple as there were no packages and only one option, an iPod connector. Your colors varied from Mars Red, Artic White, Iridium Silver, Black, and Obsidian Black (yes, there were two blacks).
How it Drives
Immediately after pressing the push button start and hearing the M156 V8 roar to life, you know something special is in your hands. Cold starts in the CLK63 AMG Black Series is one of the best noises it makes with pop, snaps, and cracks galore.
Mercedes kept the car pretty simple with three driving modes: Sport, Manual, and Comfort. The best transmission mode is Sport mode for reasons we will explain later but it worked decently knowing in advance what gear you should be in thus making it pointless to use the paddle shifters. Traction and stability control is simply on or off. There was no in between.
After a little bit of seat time in the CLK you will start to notice the weight of the car. At 3900 lbs, it is 500 lbs overweight in our opinion but what makes up for the weight is the driving dynamics of the car. Steering feels heavy at low speed but when moving, turn-in is razor sharp and perhaps one of the best we’ve ever experienced. With 80% of the torque available at 2000 RPM and sustained across the rev range, the 6.2L V8 moves the car with authority and maybe too much authority. Even with the limited slip differential, the car has trouble putting the power down.
Driving the car on local streets doesn’t do it justice and it really belongs on backroads with lots of twists and turns. The car always feels like its on edge and as you start to take turn after turn, the car inspires more confidence and lets you go deeper into corners after hard braking (doesn’t fade). But once you go past that limit, the Black Series can bite back if you’re not prepared for it.
The handling is good but not great and that’s actually ok in our book. Here’s why: The way Mercedes tuned the suspension calls for tremendous amounts of oversteer. It is actually quite hard to keep the CLK63 AMG Black Series planted on corners. Even with the wide 285 rear tires, the CLK can easily overpower them and induce the rear end to slide out. You might not be setting the fastest lap times but at least you’ll look cool doing it.
Common Problems and Maintenance Costs
The CLK63 AMG Black Series is a pretty bulletproof car with no real widespread issues to report. Remember that every AMG is hand built by one man. Rumor has it Mercedes AMG appoint their top engine builders and mechanics for the coveted Black Series models.
There are a few recalls on the car that you may want to ensure to have been completed prior to purchasing. But the most important thing to look for and remember is that this car was released in 2008 and many of them have sat for awhile with under 15,000 miles.
This results in dry rotting of bushings, tires that harden, or even severe mechanical failures if the engine and fluids don’t regularly cycle. Our own CLK63 AMG Black Series had an issue with the chassis braces and plate clicking when turning the steering wheel that was easily resolved by identifying the source and loosening the nuts and re-torquing them back.
Cost of ownership is not unreasonable either.There is no ‘Black Series tax’ when buying the car. Oil changes are no more expensive (about $150) than a C63 AMG since it is the same exact engine and uses the same exact oil. Most of the car is very simple to operate and the lack of fancy technology or features makes it less prone to expensive repair costs.
The most expensive maintenance cost aside from gas will probably be tires. 285 wide tires are not cheap and will likely last less than 10,000 miles. In addition to tire costs, the brakes will be the other major maintenance cost. Most cars you find should still be good if not used for track purposes but when the time comes to replace your pads and rotors, expect to pay upwards of $2,500 for all four corners.
What We Didn’t Like
There’s actually not much to dislike about the CLK63 AMG Black Series. You have to take the car for what it’s worth and its a great attempt at an everyday track car. You’re not going to get the creme de la creme of tech gadgets in this car. The satellite navigation and infotainment system is by far one of the worst we’ve ever used. But then again you have to remember all this technology is coming from a car that was released in 2003 aka over a decade ago.
The rest are just little things to nitpick about like the lack of electronic or memory seats in a $140k car. Or how about the useless clock in the gauge cluster that could have been used for more important metrics. I personally hated the design of the steering wheel.
However, by far our biggest pet peeve is how bad the transmission is. I’ll preface this and say that we do recognize that this car is over 10 years old and its not a fair apples to apples comparison with todays latest exotic cars. But to put it bluntly, the transmission is horrendous and the problem is three-fold.
First, the paddles are a nice touch (especially in Manual mode), but the there is such a responsive delay that it almost makes no sense to use them as racing requires instantaneous changes. It simply doesn’t work with the on-edge feeling of everything else including the raw power and razor sharp steering.
The second problem is that its an automatic transmission which means that its just slow plain slow to change gears up or down. Not only is there a delay from the moment you pull the paddle, but there is an additional delay for the gears to actually change. We’re not expecting dual clutch gear changes but we know Mercedes could have done better.
The third and final problem are the downshifts. When driving sports cars, slowing for a corner usually requires you to shift into a lower gear to bring the car back into its optimum powerband to exit the corner as quick as possible. When you downshift, the engine, ECU, and transmission all work together in unison to make sure its as seemless as possible. The CLK63 AMG Black Series does not do this. Downshifts in this car are jerky and exhibit hesitation which actually can throw off the balance. Why are we complaining if we acknowledge that this is an old car with antiquated technology? Because the exact same 7G-Tronic transmission in other cars like the 2008 C63 AMG have near perfect rev-matched (throttle blipped) downshifts.
There’s been debate if its a mechanical difference or simply a TCU tune, but tuning companies like Weistec and RennTech have both released modifications to add this functionality. Even though its such a minor imperfection, it really does impact the overall experience of the car.
Can You Daily Drive a CLK63 AMG Black Series?
One of the most common questions we get is if you can daily drive a car as ‘extreme’ as a CLK63 AMG Black Series. You really need to look at your location and situation and weigh the options for yourself. We daily drove a Black Series in literally the worst city for traffic (Los Angeles) with no real complaints. The car has a traditional automatic transmission so traffic should never deter you from driving a car of this nature. But of course stop and go traffic does impact fuel efficiency and with a small gas tank, expect to fill up weekly.
Power is more than ample with 80% of the torque available as just 2000 RPM. Truly everyday usable power for both stop light to stop light and highway passing.
The cabin is actually very comfortable with all the creature comforts you’d expect like satellite navigation (not very good), air conditioning or premium stereo (Harmon Kardon). The ride is stiff as expected with coilovers but not unbearable by any means. Don’t expect to be called upon for driving duties with the lack of rear seats but at least the trunk is large enough for storage.
The interior cabin noise is quiet enough to hear the chassis creak when flexed but not sound deadened enough to hear the amazing M156 engine. It is truly one of the best stock exhaust notes we’ve ever heard.
The car itself is also very low key which means most people don’t pay attention to the CLK63 AMG Black Series and that includes law enforcement. This makes the car fly under the radar to 99% of people until you take the car to a car meet. So yes, you can daily drive a CLK63 AMG Black Series if you had to and we would recommend doing so.
For under the $75,000 range (and as low as $50,000) the CLK63 AMG Black Series is arguably one of the best cars to acquire. Not only is it fun to drive with everyday usability, it doubles as a wicked weekend car. Even with all that we disliked about the CLK, especially the transmission, it just comes together and works with its own unique charm. You’re not going to set the fastest lap or win drag races like todays modern exotics, but I guarantee it will put more smiles on your face.
With the depreciation curve fully hit, the only direction for these cars to go is up. Find the right one based on mileage and service history and it may be worth holding on to. Silver and black are easier to find but white and red fetch hefty premiums. There’s a reason Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson bought himself one after driving it.