Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: The History of the SLK-Class - PART III


Stuttgart, Germany, Sep 14, 2006

Ten years of the SLK-Class: Cult car celebrates birthday

* Model established a new high-growth market segment

* World's first sports car with vario-roof and AIRSCARF

* Unique combination of roadster driving pleasure and coupé comfort

* Market share of around 50 per cent in Germany and Western Europe

When the SLK-Class roadster appeared in Mercedes showrooms in autumn 1996, it represented nothing less than a revolution in the automotive world. Never before had the Stuttgart-based auto maker presented itself in such youthful, dy-namic and attractive form. The SLK's looks instantly announced the new brand image - and a few minutes at the wheel made it clear that the new style was un-derpinned by impressive dynamic qualities.

Few, if any, cars before it were able to capture people's hearts the way the SLK did. It showed that driving could also engage the emotions and create a sense of joie de vivre. For many people, it was a case of "love at first sight" that drove them to own this vehicle – a phenomenon which was reflected in the order books: the SLK sold out shortly after the market launch. Following a major increase in production capacity, over 48,000 SLK models rolled off the assembly line in the first full sales year -- some 50 per cent more than originally planned.

There was no looking back after this sensational start. In fact, the benefits which the compact roadster brought Mercedes-Benz were threefold: as well as being a fifth successful model series it became a symbol of the brand image with a powerful halo effect and - not least - it brought in new customers. Indeed, some 42 per cent of the drivers in Western Europe who chose the roadster were new Mercedes customers.
At the same time, the SLK-Class established a new market segment, whose volume has more than trebled over the last ten years and which now accounts for sales of some 161,000 vehicles worldwide. In 1996, only two other car brands (apart from Mercedes-Benz) offered open sports cars in the SLK mould. Today, there are already nine vendors in this vehicle class. There can be no doubt about it: the launch of the SLK-Class exactly ten years ago was the spark that triggered the explosive growth in the market for compact roadsters.

Concept cars: two design studies pave the way for the production version

Mercedes-Benz had prepared the market launch of the SLK – its fifth passenger-car model series – with great care. Two whole years before, in April 1994, the Stuttgart product planners had caused a stir at the Turin motor show with a roadster study which they had created to test out their ideas for a compact sports car and to gauge the response of the public. "We are showing a forward-looking study for a roadster offering a unique combination of driving pleasure in its purest form with characteristic Mercedes safety features", as the company's press release an-nounced at the time.

The expectations aroused by this show car were surpassed comprehensively in autumn 1994 by the second SLK study. This now featured the vario-roof and had an exclusive customised look and feel with a blue paint finish and harmonising blue-tone leather as well as comfort and convenience features which included automatic transmission, air conditioning, power windows and a stereo system. In this way, Mercedes-Benz was able to provide a convincing demonstration of the breadth of appeal and potential which can be offered by a compact roadster.

Mercedes-Benz had done the unexpected and had demonstrated to great effect that a compact roadster could offer a high degree of driving pleasure yet still be an absolutely serious and down-to-earth car in terms of safety and everyday practicality. This meant that the two roadster studies had already opened up a new market niche and the SLK had already assumed the status of a trendsetter even before it went into production. By 1996 everything was in place: the world premiere of the SLK-Class was held at the Turin motor show in the spring with the European market launch following on September 14, 1996.

Vario-roof: roadster and coupé in one

The Mercedes two-seater was the right car at the right moment. It met contempo-rary customers' needs for individuality and driving pleasure without compromise. Furthermore, it did so with the help of a whole raft of innovative technical solutions which also guaranteed characteristically high Mercedes standards of safety and comfort.

A notable example is the vario-roof: thanks to this newly developed feature, the roadster not only caused a stir, but also became a trendsetter and a model for a new generation of open-top cars. This is borne out by the fact that recent years have seen an increasing number of cabriolets and roadsters whose manufacturers have adopted this intelligent roof technology in order to offer their customers the same characteristics which set the SLK-Class apart back in 1996: open-top driving pleasure and the comfort of a coupé. Thanks to the vario-roof, both can be provided effortlessly at any time in response to the vagaries of the weather or simply on a whim of the driver.

The roof design developed by Mercedes-Benz consists of a folding steel hard top which is divided in half along an axis at right angles to the direction of travel. Both halves are linked by a kinematic mechanism which is locked securely when the roof is closed. At the touch of a button on the centre console, a hydraulic system with five cylinders controls the fully automatic folding process in which the boot lid is also integrated. It opens by tipping to the rear so that the two roof halves have sufficient freedom of movement to pivot backwards as the vario-roof opens; the roof sections then position themselves one on top of the other, and disappear into the boot. If the roof is to be closed, the same sequence of movements is performed in reverse order.

The hydraulic system stows the vario-roof in the upper section of the boot. A plastic roller blind separates it from the luggage space below, an area with a capacity of 145 litres in the first-generation SLK. With the vario-roof closed, the load volume increased to a substantial 348 litres.

Safety: at luxury-class level

The 1996 SLK-Class also impressed with other qualities, such as safety. Two fixed roll-over bars behind the seats worked with the particularly strong A-pillars to form an integrated system offering a high degree of roll-over protection. And with airbags, sidebags, belt tensioners, belt force limiters and automatic child-seat recognition, the compact roadster offered the same safety technology as the E-Class - and that was quite simply the best that was available at the time.

A look under the bonnet of the first SLK ten years ago would have revealed one or other of the proven four-cylinder engines from the C-Class. Customers could choose between a 2.3-litre supercharged engine with an output of 142 kW/193 hp and a mighty 280 Newton metres of torque or a 2-litre four-cylinder unit with 100 kW/136 hp and maximum torque of 190 Newton metres. With an NEDC com-bined fuel consumption figure of just 8.8 litres, the supercharged SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR had a maximum speed of 231 km/h and could accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 7.6 seconds. In the year 2000, as part of the model update measures, a supercharger was added to the 2.0-litre engine, too, thereby increasing its output to 120 kW/163 hp. Furthermore, the range was expanded with two six-cylinder power plants: the SLK 320 with 160 kW/218 hp and the 260-kW/354-hp SLK 32 AMG.

Model range: the first generation of the SLK-Class

SLK 200: 4-cyl., in-line, 100 kW/136 hp
SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR: 4-cyl., in-line, 142 kW/193 hp

SLK 200 KOMPRESSOR: 4-cyl., in-line, 120 kW/163 hp
SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR: 4-cyl., in-line, 145 kW/197 hp
SLK 320: V6, 160 kW/218 hp

SLK 32 AMG: V6, 260 kW/354 hp

"Sporty", "Light", "[K]compact" - the auto industry soon appreciated the significance of the model designation of the compact Mercedes roadster, a vehicle which has been regarded as synonymous with open-top driving enjoyment, superbly attractive styling, the highest standards of safety and technical perfection for ten years now.

It is thanks to these qualities that the SLK captured people's hearts and acquired the image of a contemporary cult car. Between 1996 and 2004, over 311,000 customers around the world chose the compelling Mercedes roadster.

The new-generation roadster: sporty design and more technological highlights
Eight years after the premiere of the first SLK, February 2004 saw the debut of the successor model which displays its sporting prowess even more distinctly than the first generation. Underpinned by more powerful engines and a sporty suspension set-up, the stronger sporting character of the new SLK-Class is also reflected by the design which picks up styling cues from contemporary racing cars and positions the two-seater even more decisively as a fully-fledged member of the Mercedes-Benz sports-car family.

The new sports roadster takes up its predecessor's role as a model and trendsetter for open-top cars with additional innovative features developed by Mercedes. Chief among these is the AIRSCARF neck-level heating system which cannot be found in any other open-top car on the market.

Available as an optional extra, the AIRSCARF system is integrated in the back-rests of the SLK's seats. A blower sucks in air from the interior of the sports car and passes it through an electric heating element rated at about 200 watts. A plastic duct then feeds the heated air to the head restraint where it is emitted by means of a special vent oriented towards the centre of the vehicle. Developed by Mercedes specialists, this system delivers warmth directly to the point of need and ensures that the driver and passenger can continue to enjoy a comfortable temperature at neck level even in winter when the cold airflow over the roadster has a significant chill factor.

Images taken with a thermographic camera show how effectively the patented AIRSCARF heating system operates when outside temperatures are low. The highly-sensitive camera makes it possible to see the different temperature zones on and around the driver, the seat backrest and parts of the interior of the SLK: the zones emitting the greatest heat radiation appear red, violet and white while the cooler ones are green or yellow. The lowest temperatures are to be found in the dark blue and black zones.

The thermogram shows clearly how effectively the heated air from the head re-straint wraps round the neck as well as the back of the head and how the warmth spreads out from these areas. Even after driving only a short distance, a pleasant temperature zone forms around the shoulders, neck and head - like a scarf of warm air. The heating element in the backrest is based on PTC (positive temperature coefficient) technology: an electric current is passed through ceramic particles which heat up in a matter of seconds and then continue to emit heat. AIRSCARF is activated at the touch of a button and adjusts itself automatically on the basis of the ambient temperature and road speed (up to 120 km/h) in order to achieve optimal distribution of the warm air in all situations. At higher speeds, the system operates at a constant setting. Three different heating settings can be set individually by means of a pushbutton control on the centre console.

Driving comfort: lowest interior noise level in a roadster thanks to vario-roof
The Mercedes engineers have also continued to develop and enhance the vario-roof for the second-generation SLK so that it now not only opens and closes even more quickly (22 seconds) but also occupies even less space in the boot of the sports car.

Measurements taken in accordance with the VDA method show that, with the roof open, the boot now has a luggage capacity of 208 litres - 63 litres more than the predecessor model. This improvement has been made possible by a new roof design in which the rear window pivots about its own axis. This allows the window to nestle next to the curved surface of the roof shell once the roof has been opened, thus restricting the capacity of the boot less than in the first-generation SLK.

As well as protecting the occupants of the SLK from the elements, the vario-roof offers significant benefits in terms of low noise levels and makes the sports car perfectly suited to long-distance motoring, too. This has been confirmed by tests carried out in the University of Stuttgart's aeroacoustics wind tunnel: the vario-roof's ability to absorb wind noise more effectively than a soft-top means that noise levels inside the SLK-Class are well below those of other roadsters.

A newly developed aeroacoustic measurement technique makes the wind noise visible on a computer display in the form of colours which vary depending on the volume (sound level) and frequency. It can be seen that the area at driver head height - a particularly critical zone as far as acoustics are concerned - appears in dark blue, indicating that it is especially quiet. The wind noise here at a road speed of 140 km/h is no more than 71 - 73 decibels (dB (A)). The sound level inside the car is just as low: 73.4 decibels was recorded at the driver's left ear and 71.2 decibels at the right ear.

There is a marked difference in the results for sports cars with a soft-top roof, with the concave-mirror measurement technique returning significantly higher wind noise readings of between 75 and 77 decibels in the aeroacoustics wind tunnel and interior noise levels of up to 79.6 dB (A) - a very noticeable increase of six decibels (compared with the SLK-Class) which effectively doubles the audible sound.
Technical highlights: a wider range of advanced features

Other technical innovations which are offered by the Mercedes roadster but are by no means universal in this vehicle class include ...

… powerful bi-xenon headlamps with cornering light function;
… LED tail lights;
… airbags which deploy in one or two stages, depending on the severity of the accident;
… large head/thorax side airbags in the seat backrests;
… paint finish with enhanced scratch resistance based on ceramic particles.
The range of engines is also unique in this market segment: in spring 2004, Mercedes-Benz became the first manufacturer to offer an eight-cylinder engine in the vehicle class. With an output of 265 kW/360 hp, the SLK 55 AMG accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in just 4.9 seconds.

Customers also have a choice of two advanced six-cylinder power plants: the SLK 280 has an output of 170 kW/231 hp and offers a maximum torque of 300 Newton metres; the peak power output of the SLK 350 is 200 kW/272 hp with maximum torque of 350 Newton metres. Mercedes-Benz continues to offer the proven 120 kW/163 hp four-cylinder engine in the SLK 200 KOMPRESSOR.

7G-TRONIC, the world's only seven-speed automatic transmission is standard in the SLK 55 AMG and available as an option for the SLK 280 and SLK 350. It is also possible to specify a sportier version of the 7G-TRONIC transmission for the V6 models.

Model range: the current SLK-Class

Since 2004
SLK 200 KOMPRESSOR: 4-cyl., in-line, 120 kW/163 hp
SLK 350: V6, 200 kW/272 hp
SLK 55 AMG: V8, 265 kW/360 hp

Additionally, since 2005
SLK 280: V6, 170 kW/231 hp

Sports package: technology and design extras for even more driving pleasure

Available for the four and six-cylinder models since September 2006, the sports package which Mercedes-Benz has created for the SLK-Class is intended for drivers who wish to add even greater emphasis to the sporty and dynamic character of the compact roadster. The package includes sports suspension with 18-inch light-alloy wheels, 225/40 R 18 tyres at the front, 245/35 R 18 tyres at the rear and powerful 17-inch brakes with perforated front discs. In addition, the body of SLK models equipped with the sports package is lowered by ten millimetres.

Externally, the SLK with the sports package can be identified by headlamps with dark surrounds and an AMG airflow breakaway edge on the boot lid. Inside, red seat belts and red topstitching on the door panels, seats, leather steering wheel and the gaiter of the leather-trimmed shift/selector lever add a distinctly sporty touch. The floor mats are also edged in red and the instrument cluster features red needles. A striking contrast is provided by the black roof lining and the carbon-look trim strip above the glove compartment.

A figure that tells a success story: 460,000 SLK models in ten years

The second-generation SLK-Class is continuing the successful tradition established by its predecessor. With 60,500 vehicles built in 2005, it attained the highest annual production volume to date for this model series. Overall, Mercedes-Benz has already produced some 148,000 units of the sporty roadster since spring 2004.
With an average market share of 30 per cent, the SLK-Class is the world leader in this market segment. In Germany, the average market share of the SLK-Class is 52 per cent and the average market share of 50 per cent which it enjoys in other countries in Western Europe makes it the best-selling car in its class.
In total, some 459,000 SLK models have rolled off the Mercedes-Benz assembly lines since autumn 1996.

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