Review from TheCarEnthusiast:Mercedes-Benz SLK-Klasse

Small improvements, big changes

SLK, that's a girl's car right? Absolutely, Mercedes itself admits that its baby roadster is bought predominantly by those in possession of two X chromosomes. Around 62% in fact. That's no bad thing, but there's no denying that the SLK's facelift might sway that percentage figure slightly more to an equal split. The changes to the SLK's style, however minor-looking in the photographs, are far more convincing in the metal. And they give the SLK some much needed menace.

In the Metal

That raised snout, with its prominent three-pointed star badge in the vein of the SLR, is remarkably effective. Combined with the cut out under the bumper that apes the style of the Mercedes McLaren F1 race cars the SLK is a far bolder looking car. Around the back the changes are less obvious; there's a diffuser-style lower portion added under the rear bumper, darker rear lights and trapezoidal tailpipes. Inside, a neat new instrument cluster and steering wheel feature, while an enhanced telematics system containing Bluetooth hands-free telephony and the ability to plug in iPods and other MP3 players is standard across the range.

Other changes include an engine line up that now delivers more power and torque and the option of sharper Direct Steering.

What you get for your Money

It's more a case of what you don't get with the new SLK. Mercedes is right to bang on about the SLK's improved Direct Steer variable ratio steering, but it's only standard on the range-topping SLK 55 AMG. If you want it - and you will - it's an extra £220. Otherwise the spec has improved across the range, every model benefiting from additional standard equipment. Meanwhile, the engines not only produce more power and performance, but do so with reduced emissions and fuel consumption. Some 93% of SLKs sold in the UK will be automatic, the self-shifter being a cost option in all but the AMG model. Opt for the SLK 200 Kompressor, as the majority will, and the optional automatic is a five-speed unit; the 280 and 350 auto option being a seven-speeder. As standard, all but the AMG model come with a six-speed manual transmission.

It's impossible to ignore the folding hardtop on the SLK, Mercedes the only manufacturer offering its premium roadster with a metal, rather than canvas, folding roof. And it looks great up or down, taking only 22 seconds to transform from open to closed.

Driving it

Fire up the SLK 350's V6 and you'll wonder why anyone would opt for the SLK 55, so rich is the V6's exhaust and engine note. It's one of the most rousing engine notes on any roadster, and not just in its class either. It's backed with some pretty serious performance too, the 350 managing the 0-62mph sprint in only 5.4 seconds. The 280 isn't too far behind either, it managing the benchmark sprint in 6.2 seconds - the 200 Kompressor around a second slower than that. The driving position is good, the ride composed - particularly on the smaller wheel and tyre combinations of the lesser engined cars. Optional sports suspension adds tightness, at the expense of some ride comfort, meaning we'd probably leave it off the spec list and enjoy the more cosseting ride - the SLK doing a nice balanced GT impression in standard guise rather than trying to be something it's not.

That Direct Steering system does as it says; there's more precision from the front end, though communication through the new three-spoke steering wheel still isn't quite as clear as it could be. The 350 feels quick, though there's also fun to be had from the smaller engines too. Despite Mercedes not being noted for its manual transmissions the six-speeder is decent enough in its shift quality. It's actually preferable to the seven-speed auto of the bigger engined cars, as even when switched to manual mode it'll happily ignore your requests for up or downshifts.

Worth Noting

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the changes made to the SLK is the fact that the boosted power doesn't come at the expense of increased fuel consumption and emissions. Quite the opposite. The 350 delivers 32bhp more - now boasting a maximum of 300bhp - yet it consumes 2.7mpg less than its predecessor. More importantly, particularly for SLK 350 buyers in London, the CO2 emissions have reduced from 242g/km to 219g/km - when fitted with the seven-speed auto. That means it avoids the £25 Congestion Charge, just. However, if you opt for the manual you'll have to pay the higher charge, as the SLK 350 with the manual 'box comes in at 227g/km. It's not just the SLK 350 that's improved either, the SLK 200 and SLK 280 seeing significant enhancements in economy, emissions and performance.


Small improvements add up to a surprisingly effective mid-life overhaul of the SLK. In 350 guise it's particularly appealing; the glorious noise it makes being better than anything in its price bracket. It performs well too, as do the smaller engines in the range. The 350 really is good enough to consider the rather bonkers SLK 55 AMG an irrelevance. Unless, that is, you need to convince everyone that you're not driving a girl's car.

Link to the review

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