The arrival of the new SLK prompted a mixed reaction. Many people, it has to be said, thought the SLS-inspired front end made the little Mercedes-Benz roadster look gawky. For what it’s worth I don’t share that view. Sure, looking towards the bulbous grille from level with the front wheels makes it look somewhat blunt and nose-heavy, but otherwise Merc has done a fine job bringing a hint of the SLS’ brutality to what is, let’s face it, the girliest car in the Mercedes sports car range.
Consider the look of the car for a moment, and while doing so think of the bubble-like original R170 model and the slightly pointier R171. The R172 has lines and a presence unmistakably taken from the SLS and at a glance, the uninitiated could be forgiven for identifying the flagship AMG machine. The haunches are raised tight and there’s a taut eagerness to its stance. It ain’t girly no more.
That said, it remains the softest model in the range still, but now it’s got a little more edge to it than before. Historically the SLK has been about the looks, the pose, and the badge rather than the driving experience. This new SLK, and specifically the V6-power SLK 350 we have here, is the most enjoyable non-AMG SLK yet. Hop in, and the SLS theme continues, most notably with the propellor-like air vents. Nice. The red LED pinstriping on the doors and transmission tunnel is also a welcome new arrival and accentuates the thoroughly modern, familiar cabin.
The 3.5-litre V6 is the same found in the C350, and as in the larger car it means an effortless 302bhp sent to the rear wheels and reduced fuel economy compared to the previous version. We’ve no complaints about the engine, but the seven-speed automatic gearbox is a disappointment. In auto it’s fine, but flick it into manual and it’s too ponderous in reacting to tugs of the wheel-mounted paddles to really cut it, especially when held up to Porsche’s PDK benchmark.
Still, the handling is a big improvement on the car of old, with a quick and responsive steering system, although it still suffers from a slight feeling of disconnection from the front wheels. Our test car had the AMG sports package specified – a $3069 option – which includes the dynamic handling package, a suspension upgrade that lowers the car 10mm over standard and features continuously adapting dampers. The result is a car that remains stable through bends with minimal impact on the ride quality, which is excellent even over broken surfaces.
The SLK isn’t as sharp or as pointy as an SL, but it’s considerably more entertaining than any of its forebears and more than capable of raising a smile on the right road, with the folding hard-top roof stowed away and the wind whistling through your hair. >>>