Full 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review
What's New for 2006
A less expensive SLK280 model debuts, featuring a 3.0-liter V6 with 228 horsepower.
Introduced in 1998 as an answer to the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster in the premium small roadster segment, the SLK's most unique feature was its retractable hardtop roof, which offered more security as well as a quieter ride than its competitors' soft tops. In less than 30 seconds, with the touch of a button, one could convert the Mercedes SLK from a closed coupe to a cool convertible without leaving the driver seat. Improvements over the years kept the car competitive, but after seven years on the market, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was ready for a redesign.
With a dramatic new design for 2005 inspired by Mercedes' Formula One racecars, the second-generation SLK is every bit as eye-catching as the original. It's also slightly larger and more powerful than its predecessor, and still has the fun-to-drive character that made it so likable in the first place. While the previous version had the feel of a leather-lined bobsled, the larger cabin of the new version gives you plenty of room to move about. Even more impressive than the added room is the redesigned dashboard with its more cohesive layout, cleaner gauge cluster and higher-quality materials. Overall, the improvements create a more upscale, tasteful-looking cabin that far exceeds the previous model's.
An innovative Airscarf system channels warm air to your neck and shoulders via dedicated registers in the headrests, making the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class even more comfortable with the top down in chilly weather. Improvements continue under the hood with 268 horsepower on tap, courtesy of a 3.5-liter V6. The SLK can sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz. Complementing the impressive power plant is a pair of transmissions that offers excellent flexibility and performance whether you go with the standard six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic.
Other notable improvements under the skin include a new rack and pinion steering system and more powerful brakes. The recirculating-ball steering system used in the previous model was often chastised for its heavy feel and inconsistent feedback, but the new setup is both lighter and more communicative. The SLK now has the power to go head-to-head with a Porsche Boxster and the handling to keep pace with a BMW Z4, and its revamped interior is arguably better than both. Overall, the 20060 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class offers one of the most compelling combinations of style, performance and comfort available anywhere.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Mercedes-Benz SLK comes in one body style: a two-seat roadster with a power-retractable hardtop, in two versions: SLK280 and SLK350. Standard equipment on the SLK280 includes 16-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, sport seats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and a nine-speaker CD audio system. In addition to a larger engine, the SLK350 adds 17-inch wheels. Should this not be enough, there are many options to consider, such as a sport package with a lowered suspension, bi-xenon headlamps, a navigation system, a 380-watt surround-sound audio system, a glovebox-mounted CD changer, satellite radio, power-adjustable memory seats, seat heaters and an Airscarf system that directs heat through vents in the head restraints.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mercedes SLK280 features a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 228 horsepower. The SLK350 offers a 3.5-liter V6 good for 268 hp. The SLK350 can sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 5.6 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz. A six-speed manual is standard, and a seven-speed automatic (with automanual shift capability) is optional.
Seat-mounted side airbags are standard equipment, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control (called ESP) and the TeleAid 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 Mercedes SLK also has reinforced A-pillars, integrated roll bars behind each seat and emergency tensioning seatbelt retractors for enhanced rollover protection. BrakeAssist automatically applies full braking force when a panic stop is initiated.
Interior Design and Special Features
Good-looking soft-touch material covers the top of the dash, glovebox and doors, while plastics of similar quality fill in the rest. The climate control layout varies depending on whether you add a navigation system, but both arrangements use easy-to-decipher dials. The soft and supportive seats remain comfortable even after several hours of continuous driving. Keep the windows up while the top is down and there's minimal wind buffeting. If that's not enough, consider the Airscarf system that channels warm air to your neck and shoulders via dedicated registers in the headrests. It actually works quite well, and when combined with traditional seat heaters, the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class becomes one of the most useful all-weather convertibles on the market.
Power kicks in early with either V6 and remains solid throughout thanks to variable camshafts and a two-stage intake manifold. As an added bonus, the stout 3.5-liter V6 pours out a satisfying wail that inspires flat-footed runs to redline at every opportunity. Top up or down, the Mercedes SLK feels remarkably composed and solid. Ride quality is a bit firm with the optional sport suspension, but the resulting handling is worth the trade-off. The steering is light to the touch yet returns enough road feel to maintain the car's sporting demeanor during aggressive driving. The brakes are a tad touchy, but stopping distances are impressive.