What's New for 2002
No major changes.
With no less than five contenders vying for attention, the compact luxury roadster segment continues to flourish. Although the standard SLK enters 2002 relatively unchanged from last year, an all-new AMG model serves up serious doses of fun for those who crave more than just a little wind in their hair.The SLK's big selling point is its exclusive retractable steel roof that, when raised, makes the car seem as airtight as a Benz sedan. In less than 30 seconds, you can convert the SLK from a closed coupe to a cool convertible without leaving the driver's seat. The original SLK was available only with an automatic transmission and a supercharged, 185-horsepower, 2.3-liter I4 that had an anemic exhaust note. In 1999, Mercedes equipped the car with a five-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, making the automatic optional. Combined with the SLK's precise steering, rev-happy powerplant, and wonderfully damped suspension, the car was entertaining, though not particularly exhilarating. The standard four-cylinder engine (SLK230) now makes 192 horsepower, but for those who prefer the smooth torquey feel of a V6, the SLK 320 offers a 3.2-liter, 215 horsepower six-cylinder. A six-speed manual is standard on both models, with a five-speed TouchShift automanual optional. The 0-60 mph sprinting ability of either model is respectable, with the 230 running that dash in around 7.5 seconds and the 320 beating that time by around a second. SLK 230s count leather seating, aluminum accents and 16-inch alloy wheels among its standard features. An optional Sport package for the SLK230 doesn't cure the lame exhaust blat, but it does include an AMG-inspired body kit and meaty 17-inch treads mounted to AMG Monoblock wheels. Step up to the 320 and you'll get 17-inch, five-spoke wheels, a unique air dam, metal plate doorsills, power seats, a telescoping steering column and wood interior accents.
This year, the SLK family grows again, as the speedy SLK32 AMG joins the clan. Packing a whopping 349 horsepower, the AMG SLK can run with exotics in terms of gut-wrenching acceleration, as a sub-five second 0-to-60 mph blast attests. Enthusiasts may lament the lack of a manual gearbox, though the TouchShift five-speed automanual does allow manual-style shifting, albeit without a clutch. Handsome, double-spoke 17-inch wheels are a welcome departure from the "Monoblock" style that's been around forever. Other goodies for the top SLK include a massaged suspension, full ground effects, rear spoiler, 8-way power sport seats, a Bose sound system (though without CD player or changer) and aluminum and wood cockpit accents.
Costly Designo editions with special paint and leather trim are also available on all SLKs. All models get front and side airbags as standard equipment, along with ABS, stability control (called ESP) and the Tele Aid system (which alerts emergency personnel if an airbag goes off and can also put you in touch with a live operator to summon medical or police assistance).
The SLK also has extremely rigid A-pillars, integrated roll bars behind each seat and emergency tensioning seatbelt retractors for enhanced rollover protection. Brake Assist applies full braking force faster than is humanly possible when a panic stop is initiated. A "BabySmart" system allows owners to use a special car seat sold by Benz dealers that deactivates the passenger airbag. But we're curious as to why ultra-safety conscious Mercedes doesn't have a cut-off switch for the passenger bag (like Mazda and other carmakers do for their 2-seaters)...perhaps to foster the sale of those Benz baby seats?
All in all, the SLK is still a desirable drop-top for anyone looking for the fun of a convertible combined with the safety and all-weather security of a hardtop. The addition of the ultra-fast AMG model might give pause to those previously considering Porsche's Boxster S, but of course, true enthusiasts will be turned off by the SLK 32's lack of a manual gearbox. Then again, the SLK is not as much about those enthusiastic about driving as it is about those enthusiastic about driving a Mercedes.