This was the week that I felt like a celebrity. Maybe it's because the car and the weather were perfectly mated: cloudless skies, mild temperatures and a Mercedes-Benz SLK S55 in a shade dubbed ''Orion Blue.''
Everyone did double takes when this four-wheeled hunk of love rolled down the road. ''Nice car,'' shouted the brothers from Fifth Street. ''Do you like your car?'' asked a woman at the filling station. ''Of course you do,'' she answered, ''what a stupid question.''
Is it any wonder that people want to buy Mercedes-Benz two-seaters, no matter what the price?
Ah yes, price.
Most onlookers pegged this car's price about 25 grand higher than it actually was, leading a few to respond that the car's actual price -- $68,075 -- wasn't that bad.
How could I argue?
I've spent the last week plastering this car's accelerator pedal floorward, listening to its superbly nuanced snarl, feeling its meaty 245/35 ZR 18 Pirelli P-Zero tires clutch and paw for grip. I've felt the retina-flattening power of 355 horsepower unwind in a car weighing in at just under 3,400 pounds. I've felt the wind howl by as the car thrusts forward with a ferociousness that only a sports car can deliver.
My hair hasn't been combed all week.
Fun? You bet.
Introduced for 2004, the second-generation SLK is indeed the sports car Mercedes-Benz always wanted it to be. This latest version, massaged by Mercedes-Benz performance division AMG, is the real deal. Need proof? How about 0-60 mph in under 5 seconds?
The 2005 SLK S55 differs from the regular SLK with two-tone Nappa leather upholstery, two-tone leather door panels, steering wheel and gear shift, and AMG-spec instruments, including a 200-mph speedometer.
Outside, massive tires, unique sheetmetal and performance brakes enhance this car's visual and street performance.
AMG also has stiffened the suspension, and the result should please sports-car fans. But the ride is extremely firm, turning jittery and harsh on PennDOT's sorry excuse for road surfaces. The flip side is awesome handling, especially in quick lane change maneuvers. Given this car's quick steering, outstanding grip and prodigious power, it's very much the road warrior, outpacing large, lumbering SUVs.
All this performance comes in a tautly drawn two-seater that's simply lovely to look at or be seen in.
The car's retractable hardtop drops into the trunk in just 22 seconds, although the driver must hold down the button to accomplish the task.
Inside, the cabin is well-assembled and material quality is substantially better than the first-generation SLK (now dressed in new sheetmetal and known as the Chrysler Crossfire.) The seats hold both driver and passenger firmly in place, although lower back support was a little weak.
While the tilt/telescopic steering wheel made it easy to find a comfortable driving position, longer-legged drivers might find it cramped.
Interior controls are easy to understand and handle, and Mercedes-Benz has done a good job of making its combination audio-navigation system easy to operate. The optional Harmon-Kardon audio system supplied blisteringly-good sound quality.
Interior storage space is rather meager. The center console holds a few CD cases, while the glovebox was filled with the optional 6-CD changer. Door pockets don't hold as much as they should, while the vertical compartment mounted between the seats holds little. The cupholders, mounted in front of the A/C vents, are practically useless. The trunk holds more than you might expect, but you still will want to pack lightly.
The SLK S55 isn't everyone's idea of practical transportation -- unless the road you drive is a twisty back-country one and your destination is a cute bed and breakfast with the love of your life riding shotgun.