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Introduced more than a decade ago as an answer to its European rivals in the luxury small roadster segment, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was the first modern vehicle to popularize the use of a power-retractable convertible top made out of steel panels rather than the more traditional fabric soft top. Though more complex and bulky, a convertible hardtop design provides a coupelike profile and superior wind and weather protection in the top-up position.
Though they suffered from uninspiring handling and questionable sporting credentials for hard-core driving enthusiasts, previous SLKs were popular with consumers. The current third-generation SLK is intended as a more serious sports car, featuring a dramatic design inspired by the SLS AMG, and a more capable suspension. As a convertible that provides good all-season performance along with luxury and prestige, we think a new or used Mercedes-Benz SLK is a solid choice.
Current Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
The latest Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class luxury roadster was fully redesigned for 2012. It's available in SLK250 and SLK350 variants. The SLK250 features a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 201 horsepower, while the SLK350's 3.5-liter V6 produces 302 hp. The SLK250 can be matched with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission, while the SLK350 gets only the auto.
Along with the standard retractable metal roof, a sun-reflecting panoramic glass roof option is also available, as is a "Magic Sky Control" roof that features glass that can be tinted dark with a flick of a switch. With either of these roofs deployed, the SLK's cabin is as quiet as you'll find in any convertible.
In reviews, we've noted that when retracted, the hardtop takes up space in the trunk, but there are still 6.4 cubic feet left for luggage. Inside, the cabin is attractive and features the expected soft-touch dash materials, as well as an updated version of Mercedes' COMAND interface that is much more intuitive than previous iterations. The sporty yet simple seats provide good support even after several hours of driving.
Keep the windows up while the top is down and there's minimal wind buffeting. If that's not enough, consider the optional AirScarf system that channels warm air to your neck and shoulders via dedicated registers in the headrests. It actually works quite well, teaming up with the seat heaters to make the SLK one of the most useful all-weather convertibles on the market.
The current SLK delivers solid all-around performance in acceleration, braking and handling. The SLK's slightly less communicative steering and slower handling responses only become apparent when comparing them directly against this segment's more single-minded sports cars.
Used Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Models
The second-generation SLK was produced from 2005-'11. Initially, Mercedes offered it in SLK350 and SLK55 AMG trims. The SLK350 had a 268-hp V6 with a standard six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed automatic, while the SLK55 AMG boasted a beefy 355-hp 5.4-liter V8 that came only with the seven-speed auto. The SLK55's final year was 2010, though it is likely to return later in 2012.
A less powerful SLK280 model joined the lineup for 2006 with a 3.0-liter V6 engine good for 228 hp. For 2008, the SLK350's manual transmission was dropped, while a year later it was upgraded to 300 hp. SLKs made for 2009 and up also had quicker steering.
The original Mercedes-Benz SLK debuted for the 1998 model year. Introduced as an answer to the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster in the premium small roadster segment, the SLK's distinguishing characteristic was its retractable hardtop roof, which offered more security as well as a quieter ride than its ragtop-roofed competitors. With the touch of a button, one could convert the SLK from a closed coupe to a cool convertible in less than 30 seconds without leaving the driver seat.
Initially, the SLK was available only with one drivetrain, a supercharged 2.3-liter inline-4 sending its 185 hp through a five-speed automatic transmission. But the SLK230's lack of a manual gearbox, along with its anemic exhaust note, made for little excitement among serious driving enthusiasts.
The SLK's second year brought a manual tranny as standard, moving the automatic to the options list. Ever conscious of its buyers' fashion leanings, Mercedes introduced Designo editions in 2000 that featured special colors (such as Copper and Electric Green) along with unique interior trim.
Those who liked the Mercedes-Benz SLK but wanted a more refined power plant had their wish granted for 2001, when the SLK320 bowed with a 215-horse 3.2-liter V6. Other good news that year included the replacement of the five-speed manual with a six-cog unit and more power for the 230's force-fed four, with output now rated at 192 ponies.
Perhaps in an effort to quash the SLK's reputation as a "boutique" roadster, Mercedes brought out the muscle-bound, AMG-tuned SLK32 for 2002. The SLK32 AMG brought 349 hp to the party by way of a supercharged 3.2-liter V6. Along with the power infusion, handsome double-spoke 17-inch wheels with performance tires were fitted, along with a massaged suspension, full ground effects and a discreet rear spoiler.
During the first SLK's run, we commented favorably about its distinctive retractable hardtop, its quiet composure on freeway drives and the impressive performance from the AMG variant. Noted downsides at the time included a lack of steering feel from the outdated recirculating-ball setup and big blind spots with the top up.
Read the most recent 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class page.