Amen to that.
The only reason I didn't buy the SLK55 was because it was automatic only. It was a major pain to find a black SLK with the 6-speed manual. I ended up buying an '05, simply because it was the only one I could find anywhere near Seattle in the 6-8 months that I was looking for one.
And I just can't fathom why Mercedes would discourage people from ordering the manual. On my test drive of the manual, it was an entirely different car from the auto, to the point that my girlfriend, who could really care less about cars in general, noticed and commented that it felt like an entirely different beast.
I am not impressed at all with the 7-speed auto, even when in Sport mode. It just doesn't have the pep and response of the manual, not even close. My manual can do burnouts all day long, I can easily drift corners, and it punches people back in their seats so hard that all my racing friends don't believe it is a naturally-aspirated V6. There is a hugely noticeable difference in torque curve and accelerator response between the auto and manual, and it definitely does not favor the auto.
Also, I have to say that the Mercedes 6-speed manual in my SLK is the finest manual transmission I have ever driven, hands-down. And I have owned a 911 Turbo with the tranny upgraded to a 996/X-50 6-speed. It simply didn't compare. I think it has something to do with the MBZ tranny being a direct-link.
One thing is for sure; when I was looking at the SLK, it was a toss-up for me whether I would go with a BMW 335i convertible, the Porsche Cayman S, or the Mercedes Benz SLK-350/55. One of the primary reasons I chose the SLK was because its manual transmission was hands-down better than either of the other cars, and that is a shocker considering how great Porsche's manuals have always been (IMHO, the best on the market outside of the MBZ 6-speed in my SLK).
Another big plus on the manual transmission with these cars is that it will make them HIGHLY collectible in 15-20 years. The rarity of the transmission combined with the noticeable boost in performance should be a huge bonus for us lucky manual owners down the road.
All that being said, it is remarkably fun to drive into a mountain tunnel with other traffic, drop it into neutral and gun the engine, and watch all the heads turn. These SLKs have the sexiest stock exhaust note I've heard outside of Porsche and Ferrari, and when you get em up to 6,000RPM... holy cow! It makes me smile every time. While you could do this in an auto, it would be rather silly. Real men drive manuals.