A new engine, a new body and a new interior add up to a great looking car with the character of a sports car still combined with Mercedes-Benz luxury. The only part of the car that hasn’t been redesigned is the folding hardtop, and that feature makes the SLK fun to drive any time of the year.
The SLK350 is the first of the new SLK cars to hit the roads. Powered by a 3.5 litre V6 engine, hence the 350 moniker, it will be joined by the SLK250 and the SLK550 AMG models later this year. If you were thinking of waiting for the V8 powered SLK550 AMG model, don’t bother. The 3.5 litre engine in this car moves the small roadster out smartly, with 0 to 100 kph in just 5.6 seconds. This direct fuel injected, four valves per cylinder V6 produce less emissions than the previous V6, gets more power and still increases fuel economy by about 10%. The change in the engine is immediately noticeable as soon as you push the start button. A throaty but pleasant burble comes from the dual exhaust even at idle.
While I prefer sports cars with manual gearboxes, the 7-speed automatic transmission in the SLK works flawlessly. Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel instantly engage another gear even in normal Drive mode. You can also select Sport mode or Manual mode if you wish more performance. Shifts are crisp and quick – the way I like them.
The new body looks great too. The SLK350 gets the AMG styling package automatically, and the dynamic scoops, flares and body lines really add a sporty, powerful look to the car. The nose of the car sits upright and the large Mercedes Tri-star emblem in the centre shouts out loud and clear to anyone this is a Mercedes. The hood looks long from outside - surprisingly it doesn’t feel that way from the driver’s seat. Beneath the grille, large air intakes and LED marker lights stretch the visual width of the front end. How do you say "tastefully aggressive?"
The rear of the car also looks more muscular, with slightly bulged rear fenders, horizontal body lines across the rear deck lid to give it visual width and a rear air diffuser beneath the bumper with integrated dual exhaust tips. The car does catch your eye.
The Panoramic Vario Roof is part of the Premium package. This tinted glass-panel roof blocks 95 per cent of UV-A and UV-B sun rays without the use of any sunshade, so your upward view is "Panoramic" even with the top up. Lift the small cover on the console armrest and you can lift the lever to lower the roof in seconds. The trunk lid opens backwards, the roof unlatches into two panels and folds upon itself neatly in the trunk before the rear decklid lowers again. With the top lowered, visibility is superb in all directions, and there is still room in the trunk to bring home a load of groceries too.
With the top up, the interior is snug and comfortable. With the top down, the interior is also snug and comfortable. Heated seats, an AirScarf, which directs heated air through the seats to an exit that blows the air around your neck, and the Airguide, acrylic panels that rotate out from behind the roll bars to smooth turbulent air, enable the SLK to be driven with the top down on the coldest of days. Winter convertible driving anyone?
Inside, the interior is well designed but not as dynamic as the exterior. The gauge package is easy to read and the Nav screen is large. Steering wheel controls can be used for many functions and other important vehicle controls are at your fingertips. The interior is small. My large body fits but with the seat all the way back there is a very annoying creak from the leather seatback rubbing against the rear plastic cockpit trim.
The SLK350 is loaded with features, handles well although still better at cruising than on the race circuit, and has great looks. If you like top-down personal luxury that you can use year around, the SLK350 may be the one for you.
At a glance
Configuration: 2-passenger rear wheel drive sports convertible
Engine: 3.5L 4-valve per cylinder V6 producing 302 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 273 ft.lb torque at 3500 rpm
Transmission: 7 speed automatic
Suspension: Front: independent strut, coil springs, and stabilizer bar; Rear: independent multi-link, coil springs, and stabilizer bar
Brakes: Four wheel disc brakes, ABS, hill hold control
Special Features/Options: Parktronic parking guidance, traction control, stability control, analog clock, airscarf neck warmer in seat, panoramic glass roof, satellite radio, Navigation system, keyless entry and push button starting.
Price as tested: $73,525 including $700 destination charges