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Mercedes-Benz SLK review (2011 onwards)
Summary - Beefier styling underlines a more aggressive positioning for the third-generation SLK but it's just as friendly to drive and impressively safe and efficient too
We like - Amazing CO2 and mpg figures across the range, 7G-Tronic now on four cylinders, sporty yet unthreatening handling, tons of gadgetry available, coupé to cabrio versatility as useful as ever
We don't like - Heavy-handed styling, more re-skin than all-new model, awkward parking brake positioning, still a little bit safe and conservative, the uninformed writing it off as a girls' car
The first issue to address with this new third-generation SLK: is it actually a new car or just a re-skin of the previous one? No fashion-conscious roadster buyer wants last year's cast-offs after all. Prove us wrong Mercedes!
Bottom line, wheelbase and some of the structure come from the outgoing SLK. But there's more that doesn't, new direct-injection engines, greatly expanded safety and driver-assist technology and a nifty new feature for the folding hardtop among the new features.
Like many recent Mercedes there's a degree of heavy-handedness about the styling, the SLS-style nose, prominent shoulders and vent-heavy nose all contriving to create a more macho look that mellows with familiarity and with the right wheel and colour combinations.
The range comprises two new turbo four-cylinder petrols - SLK200 and 250 - and an all-new V6 SLK350. Prices start at £29,970 - actually cheaper than the previous SLK200 Kompressor - and range to £44,115 for the SLK350 Sport.
The Kompressor badges and supercharged engines characterised the first SLK, even if the reality was a range of adequately powerful but crushingly dull sounding motors. Second-gen Kompressors were better but for the new SLK superchargers are out and turbos in.
SLK200 and 250 use versions of the same 1.8-litre engine with, respectively, 184hp and 204hp. Direct injection and turbos are all very 'now', Mercedes learning from past mistakes and including a nifty sound generator to inject a bit of character.
They're both feisty little engines too, the noise gizmo successfully contriving to make the four-cylinder SLKs sound faster than they are. The 200 gets a six-speed manual as standard, 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto an option and standard on the 250 and V6 350.
With 306hp and a rorty exhaust the latter needs no help feeling or sounding quick, the all-new engine losing out to the turbo clout of the Z4 sDrive35i and a couple of tenths slower to 62mph than the previous SLK350 but plenty rapid and characterful enough.
Ride and handling
From disappointingly inert beginnings SLKs have become steadily more sporty and fun to drive over the years, though sadly Mercedes has always had a fight on its hands convincing people of the fact. First impressions count, it seems.
This new SLK gets a host of tech - optional variable rate steering and new adjustable dampers as part of a Dynamic Handling Package for instance - to underline the fact. There's even McLaren MP4-12C style understeer-cancelling torque vectoring braking.
This subtly brakes the inside wheel to keep the nose tucked in, this and the other tech thankfully working discreetly in the background and letting the fundamentally very sweet ride and handling balance shine through.
The standard suspension is brilliant, both poised and comfortable, while the 10mm lower and firmer set-up on AMG Sport spec cars (standard on the 350, +£4,000 on the 200 and 250) can judder on bumpy roads. The adjustable set-up offers the best of both.
An acknowledged SLK weak spot, Mercedes has worked hard to inject a bit of SLS style to raise quality and make the cabin feel wider, more spacious and sporty. The seats are also all-new and much more supportive.
The design still lags behind the Z4 but it's a lot better than before, a choice of painted, panoramic and new, push-button tinting Magic Sky Control options for the folding hardtop adding to the heady gadget and gimmick count available.
Economy and safety
Don't be fooled by the V6 engine's similar size and power to the outgoing one - it's all-new and the real difference shows with scarcely believable 39.7mpg and 167g/km figures. From a 3.5-litre, normally aspirated engine with 306hp - amazing.
If that's not good enough the SLK200 auto manages 43.5mpg and 151g/km, manuals and the 250 all in the same ballpark thanks to range-wide start-stop and other BlueEfficiency branded tech. A 250 CDI diesel that'll better 60mpg and emit less than 130g/km follows later in the year.
The MSN Cars verdict
We're not sold on the looks and it's a shame the new technology you can't see is overshadowed by the skin-deep similarities to the outgoing SLK. So it's a points draw for the style, the substance behind the SLK a lot more convincing.
Unlike BMW, Mercedes has managed to load the SLK with technology without losing sight of the need to make it feel natural and fun to drive. The eco numbers are astonishing and the performance across all models as brisk and entertaining as the ride and handling. A class act, in other words.
|Need to know|
|Engines, petrol||1.8-litre four-cyl turbo (two versions), 3.5-litre V6|
|Engines, diesel||Coming late 2011|
|Torque, lb ft||199-273|
|0-62 mph, secs||7.3-5.6|
|Top speed, mph||147-155|
|CO2, tax||167g/km, 22% - 151g/km, 19%|
|Ratings||Ford Grand C-Max 2.0 TDCi 140hp|
|Ride & handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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