Driven: Mercedes SLK
Can Merc's latest roadster add 'fun to drive' to its list of abilities?
Faced with a challenging series of mountain switchbacks to negotiate, an SLK would not traditionally be your sporty roadster of choice. It is therefore perhaps a measure of just how confident Mercedes is in the dynamic ability of its new car that it has chosen Tenerife, whose wiggly mountain passes must easily match anything the Alps has to offer in terms of corners per kilometre, to launch the third generation of its two-seat roadster.
That doesn't mean that Mercedes has forgotten the SLK's traditional MO of course. 'Refined sportiness' are the key words for this car, says Mercedes, so the SLK remains self-consciously softened-off at the edges to keep the boulevardiers and trundlers that make up its core audience happy.
Other new bells and whistles include Attention Assist and a new pedestrian-friendly 'active' bonnet as standard and, on four-cylinder models, a synthetic audio enhancement for the engine, which gives a more pronounced induction note. This last is generated mechanically rather than electronically (as is the case in the PH fleet Seat Leon Cupra R).
It's a deliberate move away from a slightly effete look, says Mercedes designer Michael Plessing. "We wanted to attract more male customers" he says, "so we held customer clinics with that in mind and this is the design that came out best. We just hope that it won't put off our female customers".
But if the exterior design is evolutionary, the interior is dramatically different - and quite possibly one of the finest cabins Mercedes has yet come up with. The overall effect, with bold horizontal surfaces and striking circular vents, is reminiscent of the SLS AMG, although somehow more approachable, less intimidating. It also seems darn well screwed together (although for the 44 grand it'll cost you to get into a top-spec SLK 350 you'd rather hope it would be).
Which brings us back to that twisty Tenerifan road. The 302bhp V6 is enough to propel the 1540kg roadster to 62mph in 5.6secs, and does so in such a linear, progressive manner that you either have to make concerted efforts to drive like a hooligan or find a wet road to make the ESP intervene in any meaningful way as you accelerate out of the corners.
It's not all good news, mind. The seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox isn't always keen to provide you with a gearchange precisely when you want it in manual mode, while accelerating hard out of the slowest, tightest corners will have you either in an over-frenetic first or a laboured second. Having said that, for the way this car will be driven most of the time (ie not at nine-tenths on a mountain road), the gearbox is ideal; smooth responsive and refined.
Curiously enough, this was not the case in the four-cylinder SLK 200 we also tried, its smaller tyres and lighter engine providing it with a more communicative helm. The 200 was actually a game old thing; despite it's power deficit, smaller tyres and no sports suspension as featured on the SLK 350 AMG Sport we drove it kept up with the faster cars of some fellow journos with reasonable ease - although the knobbly, ponderous six-speed manual 'box wasn't its strongest suit.
The SLK has now matured into more than just a cruiser with a roof - it can now do the twisty road thing with some conviction, too. We await the arrival of the AMG version with great anticipation...
|Number of cylinders/arrangement||6/V, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Bore x stroke||mm||92.9 x 86.0|
|Rated output||kW/hp||225/306 at 6500 rpm|
|Rated torque||Nm||370 at 3500 rpm|
|Mixture formation||Direct petrol injection|
|Transmission||Seven-speed automatic transmission|
|Front axle||Multi-link independent suspension, anti-dive, coil springs, gas-pressure shock absorbers, stabiliser|
|Rear axle||Multi-link independent suspension, anti-squat and
anti-lift, coil springs, gas-pressure shock absorbers, stabiliser
|Braking system||Disc brakes all round, internally ventilated at the front and solid at the rear, electric parking brake at the rear, ABS, Brake Assist, ESP®|
|Steering||Hydraulic rack-and-pinion power steering|
front 7.5 J x 17
rear 8.5 J x 17
front 225/45 R 17
rear 245/40 R 17
Dimensions and weights
|Boot capacity *||l||225-335|
|Kerb weight acc. to EC||kg||1540|
|Tank capacity/incl. reserve||l||60/8|
Performance and fuel consumption
|Acceleration 0 - 100 km/h||s||5.6|
|Fuel consumption comb.||l/100 km||7.1|
*acc. to VDA measuring method