by Brad Leach - 05/10/11
There’s romanticism about high-performance European coupe/roadsters and the Mercedes-Benz SLK can rightly claim to be the trend-setter – a position earned right from the vario-roof model’s spectacular debut back in 1996.
So with the first hint of warm weather approaching, Mercedes-Benz has launched the latest SLK with perfect timing.
Now in its third model generation, the Mercedes-Benz SLK is a true superstar for the German giant. The newest SLK looks the business with its latest-generation Benz’ front-end styling delivering real athleticism and muscle.
Car Showroom tested the entry-level SLK 200 which is priced at $82,900. Further up-scale is the SLK 350 with its 225kW/370Nm 3.5-litre V6 ($118,900) and of course the rip-snorting 310kW/540Nm 5.5-litreV8-powered SLK 55 AMG which goes on-sale locally in the first half of 2012.
Oozing hallmark Mercedes-Benz engineering, design-smarts, quality and technology, the SLK has instant street ‘cred’ – a two-door coupe which is refined with the roof closed, yet at the push of button, converts ingeniously into a delightful open top roadster.
And, in the form of the SLK 200 we tested, Mercedes-Benz – again – can justifiably claim a value-for-money position when compared to its most direct rival.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 employs Benz’ ‘BlueEFFICIENCY’ 1.8-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine which also sees duty in the C-Class sedan.
With 135kW/270Nm on tap, driving through the seven-speed 7G-TRONIC Plus automatic transmission, it’s lively enough and sounds like a true sports car with tell-tale turbocharger ‘crackles’ on downshifts when working hard.
Fuel consumption is rated at 6.9l/100kms and Mercedes-Benz says the exhaust emissions (169g/km) are the lowest in the segment.
Inside, the Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 exudes its pedigree with a stylish look and quality feel you expect from ‘Benz. Our SLK 200 was trimmed in brushed aluminium which combined perfectly with the classic-look instruments.
You sit low in the Mercedes-Benz SLK – for a true sports car feel. This is highlighted when you adjust the leather-trimmed (solar-reflecting leather in fact) drivers’ seat and beautiful leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with its flattened lower edge (rake and reach adjustment naturally).
The wheel itself has lots of functionality with buttons for audio etc and the paddle-shifters for manual gear-shifts are small, beautifully shaped and positioned perfectly for quick operation.
Audio is a six CD system with MP3, WMA and AAC compatibility and Bluetooth audio streaming.
Operation of the roof is controlled by an alloy-trimmed lever neatly housed in compact box on the centre console.
Luggage space is naturally restricted by the roof hardware, but ‘Benz cleverly fits a box device - which needs to be folded down when opening the roof- but then folds away to maximize cargo space when needed.
The latest Mercedes-Benz SLK looks much more athletic than its predecessor thanks mostly to adopting the current-style ‘Benz front-end with the cleaner, more upright front grille (cue the SLS Roadster and CLS). In fact the whole front-end is new and larger, giving the SLK a much more purposeful and high-performance look, highlighted by the chrome-trimmed front wing air vents.
The classic long bonnet/short tail remains and despite the extra dimensions, aerodynamics have been improved with the drag CD down from 0.32CD to 0.30.
And the rear-end is much cleaner and more contemporary, with a brilliant incorporation of the roof panels and their associated architecture in a very tidy design.
Superb 17-inch alloy wheels fill the wheel arches to complete a true sports car appearance.
Thanks to the great work of the Mercedes-Benz interior stylists you feel like you’re part of the SLK the millisecond you climb behind the wheel. Well maybe not exactly the same as Messrs Schumacher and Rosberg strapping into their Mercedes-Petronas F1 Grand Prix racers, but you certainly feel like you’re ready for a great drive even if it’s down to the High Street for newspapers and milk.
And that’s part of the SLK magic.
Turn the key and the 1.8-litre turbo growls to life with a purposeful exhaust note and you’re on your way.
A rare glimpse of spring sunshine in Melbourne enabled us to tackle our high-speed mountain roads loop in both roof-closed and open-top guise and either way the Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 delivered a memorable experience. The updated model was noticeably shaper than its predecessor – crisper turn-in, less body roll and more precision all-round.
Around town, we’ll admit to driving through trendy South Yarra with the top down (hey you have to capture the spirit in a convertible you know!) and the Mercedes-Benz SLK delivered nice responsiveness from that handy four-cylinder turbo and the clever draft stop system behind the nicely-crafted roll bars did a fantastic job of keeping the breeze out.
With the roof closed, the Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 delivered the noise insulation and refinement you expect from a Mercedes-Benz. The roof does restrict rear three-quarter visibility a tad but you soon get used to it and, with its compact overall dimensions, the SLK isn’t difficult to reverse park.
Challenges? With the Mercedes-Benz SLK? As tennis great John McEnroe once yelled at an umpire: “You cannot be serious!”
OK, if pushed we’d says noise intrusion from under the bonnet seemed louder than pervious SLKs…but we’re splitting hairs there.
And performance drivers would like a faster response from the 7G-TRONIC PLUS transmission when changing manually with the paddle shifters.
Sure, we know it’s impractical, totally unsuitable for families – we know all that OK? But we just love the Mercedes-Benz SLK – always have through its three generations.
Is the SLK a sports car or a boulevard cruiser? We reckon it can be both.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 was a delight over our mountain roads test loop – all precision and driver involvement as only the German know how – but was docile and easy to live with back in the city.
And very fuel-efficient.
We reckon the extra two cylinders of the SLK 350 would deliver that extra grunt which hard-core sports car enthusiasts are looking for, but does require significant extra coin…and the SLK 55 AMG version is no doubt a stunner.
BMW’s Z4 has a harder edge in looks and performance and realistically is a ‘Benz SLK 350 rival rather than the four cylinder SLK 200 we tested. Still that edge comes at a price – entry to the Z4 club is the $86,200 sDrive23i.
Volkswagen’s EOS and the beaut Peugeot 308CC aren’t really in this segment or price range.
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