Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class review

The Mercedes-Benz SLK gets a major redesign for model-year 2012 that further helps cast this still pert and perky rear-drive roadster in a more-aggressive light. About an inch longer and wider than the version it replaces, the new model features a freshened exterior look that borrows styling cues from the top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, including its forward-cast grille that’s divided by a thin blade with the Mercedes logo prominently at the center of it all. That grille is flanked by large headlamps that extend upward and into the fenders, with low and wide air scoops beneath it. Rounded rear fenders help give it a more muscular appearance, while LED tail lamps and daytime running lights add high-tech touches.

Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

A revised interior is nicely trimmed in aluminum accents and features a more horizontally shaped dashboard with a flat-bottomed steering wheel that’s intended for easier ingress and egress in and out of the snug two-person cabin. It’s upholstered in innovative sun-reflecting leather that’s crafted to be more amenable to bare legs after the car’s been sitting out on a summer’s day with the top down.

The SLK350 version comes powered by a new direct fuel-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces a peppy 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. A smooth shifting seven-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox available on this model, which Mercedes says will reach 60 mph from a standing start in 5.4 seconds. An entry-level SLK250 version will join the line in early calendar year 2012 with a new 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine that generates 201 horses and 229 pound feet. This version can be fitted with either the aforementioned automatic or an enthusiast-oriented six-speed manual transmission. Expect a 0-60 mph time here around 6.5 seconds.

Unlike previous versions the SLK will not – at least not initially – come in a souped-up high-performance AMG model.

Use of high-strength steel ensures maximum structural rigidity, which translates into a stable, coupe-like ride without the shakes and rattles that tend to plague many ragtops. Riding on 18-inch alloy wheels and performance tires (17-inchers on the SLK250), a four-wheel independent suspension with a double-wishbone array in the front and multi-link setup at the rear affords crisp handling. Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with Brake Assist, Electronic Slip Control and Mercedes’ Electronic Stability Program are included across the line to ensure maximum control over a wide variety of conditions and driving situations.

The SLK’s power-retractable metal roof allows it to go topless in about 20 seconds. The top can now be optionally fitted with a panoramic sunroof that can be further equipped with Mercedes’ new Magic Sky Control technology that enables it to switch from light to dark transparency at the push of a button.

The car’s interior is elegantly adorned, though it can be a tight squeeze, with claustrophobia setting in for some with the top up; ingress and egress is much easier, especially for taller riders, with the top down. A direct ambient lighting sys- tem is added for a classier look at night, along with newly standard features that include Bluetooth audio streaming, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding auto-dimming mirrors, power memory seats with lumbar support, a garage door opener, rearview mirror with integrated compass, an HD Radio receiver and the automaker’s “mbrace” telematics system with smartphone integration. Options include a voice-activated navigation system with real-time traffic and 10GB hard drive storage for digital media, keyless push-button start/entry, adaptive cruise control with pre-collision automatic braking and a new advanced parking guidance system.

No less than eight airbags are spread through the SLK’s diminutive quarters for safety’s sake, including head protecting airbags that extend upward and out of the doors in a side-impact crash. Whiplash-protecting headrests are onboard as is Mercedes’ Attention Assist system that monitors and interprets steering-wheel input and alerts the driver advise him or her to take a rest if it determines fatigue is setting in.

Roadster aficionados living in northern climates will appreciate the optional “AIRSCARF” feature that can help extend the convertible season. This neck-level heating system is designed to blow warm air from vents that are built into the driver and passenger’s headrests whenever cooler heads prevail.

As with most tiny two-seaters the SLK-Class is an impractical and expensive toy. It does have its appeal, particularly on a sunny summer’s day, with performance that ranges from adequate to entertaining.

Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Quick Facts

Engine: 1.8-liter Turbo I4, 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 201 @ 5,500 rpm, 302 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 229 @ 2,000 rpm, 273 @ 3,500 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 20/29-23/31
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 7-Spd Automatic
Drive: Rear
Wheelbase: 95.7 in
Overall Length: 162.8 in
Width: 71.5 in
Height: 51.2 in
Curb Weight: 3,308 lbs
MSRP: $45,000 (est) - $54,800

Did You Know?

The Mercedes-Benz SLK helped jump-start the convertible renaissance when it was first released back in 1997. This subcompact luxury two-seater drew a crowd with its retractable solid roof and angular good looks, and it spawned a slew of competitors, especially from its European rivals, along with a short-lived sibling at Chrysler, the Crossfire. Unfortunately the original SLK was never at or near the head of the pack in terms of performance, and its passive nature and “cute” styling tended to limit sales primarily to up-and-coming professional women. However, a number of subsequent alternations in subsequent generations have helped correct many of the original version’s deficiencies, most notably with regard to added power and refinement and much-bolder styling.