Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Introduction
Mercedes-Benz has arguably invented the car itself, so if I were to tell you that the convertible hardtop/coupe concept is also a Mercedes original, you shouldn’t be too surprised. Here, we put the car which invented this genre, the Mercedes SLK, through its paces. This is the third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK, internally designated as the R172, which was launched a little over a year ago. The SLK is available with three petrol engine options and a diesel powertrain as well, while there’s also a fire-breathing SLK55 AMG variant for those who’d like to make planet earth wobble. We’ve driven the SLK 350, which is the only option Mercedes-Benz offers in India, powered by a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Design & Engineering
If you’re one who’s easily confused with a collection of consonants forming a name, in this case don’t be. SLK stands for ‘Sportlich’ , ‘Leicht’ and ‘Kurz’, which are German for ‘sporty’ , ‘lightweight’ and ‘short’ respectively. At 1,540 kilos I wouldn’t call the SLK particularly lightweight, but to be fair it isn’t much heavier than its main competition, viz the BMW Z4 and the Nissan 370Z.
However, just look at it. This is a pretty car, and elegant too. It isn’t very often than you can call a car pretty and elegant, but to my eyes, that’s what the SLK is. Mercedes has refrained from a surfeit of surface detailing, something whoever designed the BMW Z4 should make a mental note of. Of course, with the bold grille and the Mercedes three-pointed star proudly in the middle, it evokes the styling of the full-fat SLS AMG, which is no bad thing.
Mercedes has let the classic roadster shape do the talking, with the right proportions. I particularly like the SLK’s taut bum, and from rear three quarters it looks especially appealing. It manages to look nice top up or top down (you couldn’t say that about most women), so full marks there.
Of course, engineering the calisthenics of the folding hard top couldn’t have been an easy task, but Mercedes’ engineers have pulled it off very well, without compromising the limited boot space too much either. Again, full marks. Further, the SLK’s glass-top roof has what Mercedes calls Magic Sky Control, which is basically a photochromic glass panel which can be darkened on hot days or you can have it clear for a brighter, more cheery cabin ambience in good weather. Nice, but I suspect in good weather most will drive with the top down anyway.
Mercedes has used a multi-link suspension layout at all four corners, with twin gas-filled dampers at the front and single gas-filled dampers at the rear. These have been programmed to work differently depending on the setting you select while driving, to give different response rates under compression and rebound.
The engine sits at the front, but has been well pushed back in the engine bay to ensure the mass is concentrated as much within the wheels as possible. The SLK is rear-wheel drive, which is the only ‘correct’ way power should be sent to a roadster’s wheels. (Are you listening, Audi?) Power is sent through Mercedes’ ubiquitous 7G-Tronic gearbox, which also has notional paddles so you can shift gears manually. Why do I call the shift paddles notional? Read on to find out.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Interiors & Comfort
Open the long, low door and slide into the SLK with as much grace as you can manage. Girls, if you’re planning to go commando, then this is NOT the car to be adventurous in. Once you’re in it however, you’re extremely comfortable. The seats are generous and supportive and the high quality leather on every tactile surface feels lovely. Is it trying to be a GT or grand tourer rather than an outright sportscar? Probably, but then this IS a Mercedes, and so concessions to luxury can and will be made. There are only two seats, and married to the 335-litre boot (220 litres with the top down), you need to stow things either in the shallow glovebox or in a storage binnacle between the seats.
The switch to fold the roof is located within a leather-covered pod. The roof stows in the boot area. The luggage cover has to be in place to do so.
Flat-bottomed steering wheels not only look fancy, they serve a purpose too, as any paunchy man passing through a middle age crisis will attest to, and in the Mercedes SLK, it certainly helps.
Believe it or not, Mercedes has refrained from offering push button start. Do you think push button start is gimmicky, or are you going to feel bad that even your neighbour’s cheap little hatchback has it? Whichever way, in the SLK, you need to twist the key conventionally to start.
Do that, and you’re ready to experience the next level of the SLK.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Performance & Handling
The SLK comes to life with an authoritative rumble. It isn’t a growl, it isn’t a bark, it isn’t an angry howl, and it isn’t sissy-sounding either, which is nice. Vibrations are very well damped (it is after all, a Mercedes), but there’s enough going on to tell you this car has ‘character’. Let’s debunk some automotive clichés here: it isn’t E-Class smooth, and is the better for it.
The cabin is snug, and slotting the conventional gear lever to D lets you drive off smoothly. Almost. The SLK has a fly-by-wire throttle, and the artificial resistance under your right foot isn’t the most pleasing aspect of this car, which is something you notice immediately. Of course, when you have more than 300 horsepower you want to ensure you use it judiciously, but could Mercedes have engineered variable resistance for the throttle pedal? Something for the next-gen SLK maybe?
This mild grouse aside, the first 50 kilometres or so in the Mercedes SLK were spent exiting city limits. Rain slicked roads, perennial construction diversions, and expansion joints on flyovers you could slice onions on isn’t the terrain you want to experience the SLK in, but this is where this little sports car first charmed me. Despite the low seating position, the limited ground clearance, the long nose, not to forget the scary price tag, this is a very easy car to drive. You’re very spatially aware, and that’s very important in Indian traffic. As we exited Mumbai city and took the ramp onto the Mumbai-Pune expressway, the SLK began to come into its own.
There is some rumbling from the tyres on concrete roads, and the engine is a little audible at cruising speeds, but not so much as to make you uncomfortable.
The fun started after we exited the expressway and got on to the road to Lavassa. The Paud road isn’t the most auspicious start, and you will have to contend with vicious speed-breakers, uncovered drains, ruts, potholes and over-inquisitive rowdy youths on motorcycles, but it’s all worth it once you get on to the road which leads to Lavassa township. Now, you’ve got smooth tarmac, fast switchbacks and some hairpin bends to contend with. The rain stayed away too, with the sun playing peekaboo from behind the clouds.
It was time to drop the roof, select ‘S’ for sport mode, and have some fun.
The Mercedes SLK has three modes. ‘E’ for efficiency or economy is the default setting. The dampers are soft and cushy, throttle responses are restrained and the gearbox upshifts at the earliest available opportunity. ‘M’ or manual mode allows you to select gears using the small paddles behind the steering wheel, but ‘S’ is what you want on twisty hilly sections. The pneumatic dampers become stiffer, the engine revs more eagerly, and the car holds on to gears longer, resisting upshifts even as you trail into corners on the throttle. With the top down the accelerative noises this car makes are just lovely, the intake growl matching the rumble from the exhaust almost note for note.
The steering does feel a little anaesthetised, which is the only critique one can make of the SLK’s handling, and I wish it was more communicative. The brakes are expectedly strong, with big ventilated discs up front and solid discs at the rear. Mercedes’ electronic systems are pretty fail-safe and idiot proof for the most part, so unless you’re trying to be an absolute yahoo, the SLK responds in a fun way while still feeling totally safe.
The ‘notional’ paddles I was referring to earlier turn with the steering wheel. They’re small, difficult to locate and the gearbox response when you pull one is slow. Paddle shifters are supposed to increase the level of driver involvement, while allowing the driver to keep both hands firmly on the steering wheel. In this aspect, the Mercedes SLK comes up short. Agreed, Mercedes understands that paddle shifters are a talking point for customers; I just wish the company made them more usable. The saving grace is the quick steering rack which means that very rarely do you use 180 degrees or more of lock.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Fuel Efficiency
You do understand that a roadster with a big engine and 306 PS isn’t going to be expected to be too fuel efficient, but the Mercedes SLK is surprisingly not a big drinker. Over the period of the test, which was close to 600 kilometres, and included city traffic, highway driving, hilly terrain and bad roads, the SLK managed a respectable 9.7 km/l. These are real world figures, and iwas pleasantly surprised. Great going here, Mercedes.
Big V6 isn't especially thirsty, which is nice.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Safety
Mercedes-Benz builds some of the safest cars in the world, and the SLK is no different. It has every conceivable safety feature, including Attention Assist (which sets off a buzzer and shows the driver a coffee cup icon when it detects drowsiness) and Pre Safe (which tightens seat belts, primes the airbags and activates the ESP to its most severe setting) in addition to airbags, crumple zones and a full-suite electronic stability programme which includes ABS, brake assist, traction control and stability control. The silver-coloured hoops behind the driver and passenger provide protection in the worst event of the car flipping over, and the A-pillars have also been engineered out of ultra-high strength steel.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Verdict
Should you buy an SLK? If you have that kind of money to spare, then why not. This car is a Mercedes, and as everybody knows, the three-pointed star is true automotive royalty. Plus, it’s beautifully made and actually quite practical. You could use it as a daily driver if you wanted, and the surprisingly good fuel efficiency won’t hurt you too much either. Of course having only two seats means trips to the airport or school runs will not be possible.
Inevitably, some comparisons will have to be made now. I think the Nissan 370Z is more combative a car, with more aggression in everything it does. The Nissan may not make much more power, and actually has a little less torque, but its rev hungry nature and direct steering, not to forget its excellent flappy-paddle gearbox are a delight. The BMW Z4 has a purity to its balance and handling, but does come across as a one-trick pony on maximum attack all the time, while having nowhere near the Merc’s flexibility or duality of character, and you can never shake the feeling that the SLK came first.
Therein lays the biggest contradiction. While I do enjoy the comfortable cabin and the sprightly performance of this Mercedes, I also find myself wishing the SLK also displayed maybe just a little more aggression at times.
Man is never satisfied and always wants more, but to be fair, in the overall context, the Mercedes SLK is a lovely automobile. That it is so much more rounded than its competition, makes it arguably the best roadster on sale in the Indian market today.
Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - Competition Check
|Length x Width x Height (mm)||4134X1810X1301|
|Turning circle dia (m)||10.52|
|Kerb weight (kg)||1540|
|Fuel tank capacity (lt)||60|
|Boot space (lt)||335|
Mercedes-Benz has arguably invented the car itself, so if I were to tell you that the convertible hardtop/coupe concept is also a Mercedes original, you shouldn’t be too surprised. Here, we put the car which invented this genre, the Mercedes SLK, through its paces. This is the third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK, internally designated as the R172, which was launched internationally a little over a year ago.
Mercedes has made a commitment to India; a commitment to offer as many models as possible from its vast repertoire. While the locally-built sedans are obviously the bread-and-butter models for Mercedes, it does offer most of its range as completely built-up units, or CBUs, in our market. We get behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet, which is fully-imported. In India, the E-Class Cabriolet is available with a single engine option – a 3.5-litre petrol V6, christened the E350.
Globally, Mercedes-Benz wants to increase its product offerings beyond the traditional Luxury segments it operates in. The new A-Class hatchback is Mercedespremium offering for customers in this class. In India, the new A-Class is offered in both petrol and diesel versions, and we get behind the wheel of both to bring you this detailed road test of the Mercedes-Benz India A180 Sport and A180 CDI Style.
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