Mercedes SLK so slick
Iain Dooley says that Mercedes-Benz's SLK roadster just gets more desirable.
With BMW and Mercedes-benz, buyers seeking a compact, premium-level roadster have been well catered for in recent years. The latter has historically approached the market from the comfort end of the scale, with BMW only recently choosing to tone down a previously more overtly sporting proposition.
The SLK has done a sterling job for Mercedes. First launched in 1996, the car debuted a folding metal roof, offering the best of both worlds – tin-top refinement and security when you wanted it and open-air convenience when it took your fancy.
By the second generation the car boasted sharper handling to please those seeking a sportier premium compact roadster experience. With this third-generation SLK, Mercedes has further refined the driving experience and added a few welcome extra bits of technology.
Style-wise the car offers buyers two choices. The basic SLK shape remains intact, albeit a little sharper and better defined than previously. Opting for the 'Sport' model results in the addition of a tastefully subtle but visually appealing AMG-branded bodykit and wheels plus a more focused sports suspension set-up.
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With the inclusion of an improved engine range, this SLK follows other recent Mercedes products in cutting fuel consumption and emissions, but, impressively, not at the expense of outright performance.
The SLK line-up consists of a turbo four-cylinder in 184 and 204hp guise in SLK 200 and 250 trim respectively. There's also a six-cylinder unit boasting 306hp. Four-cylinder models come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with the 350 getting a seven-speed auto – optional on the other cars.
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For those watching their pennies, the SLK 200 returns an impressive 43.5mpg in auto trim (41.5mpg manual) and CO2 emissions are 151 and 158g/km respectively. The 250 variant isn't far behind, while the 350 ducks under 40mpg and posts a creditable 167g/km CO2 figure. There's even and an engine stop-start function for good measure plus an eco driving mode that softens the throttle and auto gearbox response.
On the road the 200 is a keen and willing companion. Even in non Sport guise the car feels poised on challenging roads. The manual gearshift is slick and accurate, the steering direct and weights up in a predictable manner. Sport models take this a step further, but there's no real compromise in ride quality. You can switch between suspension and (where fitted) auto gearbox modes, and the car's tuned ride and 18in AMG wheels help, not hinder, the experience.
With each step up in engine output the experience takes another leap forward, with the 350 predictably offering the most thrills. However, in a testament to the rounded nature of the 200, it's a car-engine combination you dismiss at your peril.
No modern Mercedes would be complete without a raft of safety kit and this new SLK doesn't disappoint. Inheriting technology from more expensive cars such as the S-Class and CLS, the usual stability control systems have been enhanced with the (sometimes optional) inclusion of auto braking, lane departure warning, speed road sign detection and auto dipping headlights.
On the fun side there's a new infotainment system offering internet access, an active wind deflector plus changes to the car's trademark folding metal roof. The basic version remains, offering coupe-like refinement and security when raised. There's now the option of a glass panoramic roof plus a new 'Magic Sky Control' branded alternative. Fancy name aside, occupants can switch electronically between light and dark mode, thanks to the clever technology in the glass.
With this new SLK, Mercedes has hit the sweet spot when it comes to compact, premium convertibles. The styling strikes the right balance between elegance and a hint of performance, while mechanically it's economical, enjoyable and refined in equal measure.
Factor in the improved safety and comfort technology – not forgetting the car's trademark roof – and it's likely that prospective customers will need little persuasion to sign on the dotted line. But if that isn't enough for some, the promise of a diesel version soon should open the market to a whole new buyer profile.
Price: Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 BlueEfficiency, from �29,970 on the road (range from �29,970 to �44,115)
Engine: 1.8-litre petrol unit developing 184bhp
Transmission: Six-speed manual as standard, driving rear wheels
Performance: 0-62mph 7.3 seconds; top speed 149mph
CO2 Rating: 158g/km