When the Mercedes-Benz SLK first hit the market in 1997, its featured a sporty exterior that was at odds with its more luxury-oriented character. Now in its third generation, the latest SLK provides a much better balance between handling and comfort while continuing to offer the versatile hardtop convertible configuration that made the original a hit.
The SLK -- which means Sportlich (sporty), Leicht (light) and Kurz (short) -- is positioned below the considerably more expensive SL-Class roadster. The SLK was actually Mercedes' first hardtop convertible, predating the SL hardtop.
For the latest generation, Mercedes-Benz opted for us of aluminum for the hood and fenders, helping to reduce weight. Other performance enhancer include Torque Vectoring Brakes, which apply braking to the inside wheel in order to stabilize the car when cornering.
Under that aluminum hood can be found one of a pair of new powertrains that offer an improved blend of power and fuel efficiency. The base motor, found in the SLK250, is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 201 horsepower and 229 lb-ft. The SLK250 is notable for being the sole model in Mercedes' entire U.S. lineup available with a manual transmission - a six-speed unit that enhances the sporty feel of the little roadster and helps the car spring from zero-to-60 mph in around 6.5 seconds. For those looking for a bit more convenience, a seven-speed automatic is also available. Fuel economy with the turbo four is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway for the automatic and 22/32 mpg for the manual.
The more powerful SLK350 gets Mercedes' 3.5-liter V6, which makes 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of twist and helps the car reach 60 mpg from a standstill in a claimed 5.4 seconds. For the latest model year, the SLK350 gained a stop/start system that shuts down the engine when the car comes to a rest to save fuel, then automatically starts the motor once the driver hits the gas pedal. Fuel economy checks in at 20/29 mpg. The seven-speed automatic is the sole gearbox available with the V6.
Styling and Luxury Features
There are several new features that are likely to excite past and future SLK owners, first among them being the Magic Sky Control option. Magic Sky Control is an option that adds a glass roof that can switch to light or dark with the press of a button. In light mode it is virtually transparent, offering an open-air experience even in cold weather.
In its dark state the roof provides welcome shade and prevents the interior from heating up from the sun's rays.
The other two first-time roof oriented options include a standard roof painted in vehicle color, and optional panorama vario-roof with dark-tinted glass.
Moving on to the interior, the SLK is styled in a way meant to convey sportiness and luxury - achieved with brushed aluminum trim for the center console, and optional high-gloss dark brown walnut trim. The air vents are round and resemble those found on Mercedes-Benz's most sporty models.
Other unique or luxurious interior pieces include a multifunction sports steering wheel with a flattened bottom section and a thick leather crown, plus available sun-reflecting leather that noticeably reduces seat temperature, as well as ambient lighting.
The latest SLK also sets benchmarks in terms of safety. The third-generation of this iconic roadster makes use several driver assistance systems, including the drowsiness detection system Attention Assist, developed by Mercedes-Benz and fitted as standard equipment.
The little roadster includes an impressive eight airbags as standard equipment - dual front, side, side head and knee airbags.
Available through special order is Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake, which can autonomously apply the brakes in the event of an impending safety requirements.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is up against other small roadsters such as the BMW Z4, Audi TT, and Infiniti G37.