• Mercedes' recently redesigned SLK range now offers a V8-powered SLK55.
  • Power comes from a 5.5-liter V8 capable of 415 horses and 398 pound-feet of torque.
  • The SLK55's standard transmission is a 7-speed automatic that launches the convertible to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds.

While Mercedes showed off its new SLK55 AMG at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the automaker chose this year's Los Angeles Auto Show for the convertible's North American debut. Featuring subtly revised styling, more horsepower and a few new features, the new SLK55 is the third generation SLK model to wear the AMG badge.

Scheduled to go on sale early next year, the 2012 SLK55 AMG provides an upgraded appearance compared to its workaday SLK counterpart. In front, a larger air dam gives the convertible a more aggressive look, while sporty side skirts offer a lower profile. The high-performance SLK's look is also enhanced in back thanks to a chrome-tipped quad exhaust and a black rear diffuser.

Of course, the SLK55 also offers a host of upgrades to its cabin. In addition to carbon fiber trim throughout, the SLK55 includes an AMG performance steering wheel with flattened top and bottom sections, an AMG analog clock, a unique gauge cluster and full leather upholstery with colored stitching. The interior also features several aluminum accents, ranging from the center console to the steering wheel's shift paddles.

Under the hood, the SLK55 offers a powerful 5.5-liter direct-injected V8 engine rated at 415 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque. Mercedes says the only available transmission, its 7-speed AMG Speedshift Plus automatic, will propel the convertible to 60 miles per hour in just 4.5 seconds on the way to an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph.

Other upgrades to the SLK55 include AMG sports suspension, torque-vectoring brakes which improve cornering, and three-stage traction control that allows drivers the ability to completely shut the system off. Also standard are high-performance AMG brakes with four-piston front calipers and drilled rotors at each corner.

According to Mercedes, the 2012 SLK55 AMG will begin arriving in US showrooms early next year. While the automaker hasn't announced pricing for the SLK55, we expect the sporty convertible to start in the low-$70,000 range.

What it means to you: The "cute" Mercedes SLK just got a little more serious.

See more LA Auto Show news.

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Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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