Roadsters are arguably the ultimate sports car experience, giving a taste of an open-top race car, pouring sound, sun and wind into the cockpit, the song of tires against pavement the only soundtrack you need. Even if your preferences are of the hard-top variety, the visceral connection a roadster offers its driver is certainly something worth experiencing at least once. Mercedes is no stranger to either roadsters or racing, and the latest SLK 55 AMG seeks tocapture the experience of the sports-roadster in its purest form. Whether it succeeds or not is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder.

A new look and improved dynamics are the key components of Mercedes’ latest update to its long-lived SLK roadster. The SLK 55 AMG, the range-topping powerhouse of the SLK line, was no slouch to begin with. Its 360hp V8 carries over, providing ample power to its AMG Speedshift 7G-Tronic transmission, which has been tuned to shift even faster than before. Handling is improved by a new ‘direct steering’ system that Mercedes says improves feel and agility.

The direct steering system features a new steering rack at its core, which allows the steering ratio to vary from 15.8:1 to 11.5:1, meaning the steering becomes more responsive as the wheel moves further off-center. Variable servos also kick in to reduce the work and improve the feel when the road gets twisty, decreasing lock-to-lock distance to just 2.16 turns. Low-speed assistance is also greater to make parking easier.

The new look is most obvious from the front of the car, as the front fascia is now even more sloped and angular, with larger air dams and foglamps pushed further outboard. Slits in the side of the front apron vent hot air after it has passed through the integral oil cooler. A new rear end and spoiler lip complete the meaner, more agressive appearance of the new SLK 55 AMG.

Other new tweaks include new 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels painted titanium grey shod with 225/40 rubber up front and 245/35 rubber out back. Giant 345×30mm front discs mate with 300×22mm discs in the rear to provide ample stopping power.

Inside, a new AMG-styled instrument cluster goes to 320km/h (198mph), with silver/red needles and AMG lettering. New graphics make rpm and speed even easier to read. If you put the car into “M” mode, the AMG menu displays the current gear and an upshift light. Performance seats and nappa leather upholstery complete Mercedes’ marriage of speed and luxury.

If you’re really out to get the most from your SLK 55 AMG, you’ll want to opt for the AMG Performance package. Developed by the AMG PERFORMANCE STUDIO, the package increases brake size to 360×32mm with six pistons up front and 330×26mm four piston rears, replaces the wheels with lighter multi-piece 18-inch alloys, substitutes an AMG performance suspension for the stock option, and installs numerous interior modifications including a smaller diameter steering wheel, aluminum shift paddles and carbon-fiber trim.