Full 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review
What's New for 2009
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class receives a host of updates. The base model is now known as the SLK300, and the midlevel SLK350 receives a significant power bump. There are also mild exterior and interior revisions, quicker and more responsive steering and a newly optional iPod integration kit.
Mercedes-Benz's three-pointed star has long been synonymous with style and prestige, but it has historically taken a backseat to BMW's blue and white propeller as a symbol of driving excitement. This was certainly true of the first-generation SLK roadster, which offered decent straight-line speed and a then-novel folding hardtop but lost points due to its archaic recirculating-ball steering design and generally less-than-sporting demeanor. But when the folks at Mercedes set about redesigning the SLK a few years ago, they had evidently grown tired of playing second fiddle to their Bavarian rival in the minds of discerning drivers. That's the only way to explain the downright frisky performance of the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class roadster.
Now in its fourth year of production, the current-generation SLK continues to offer sports-carlike handling, broad-shouldered power and the all-weather convenience of a retractable hardtop. Blessed with numerous updates for 2009, this aging model remains one of the most capable and desirable cars in its class. While purists may be tempted by the standard manual transmission on base SLK300 models, speed lovers of all stripes will be intrigued by the midlevel SLK350's newly pumped-up engine. Boasting 300 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque -- increases of 32 hp and 7 lb-ft over last year -- the already quick SLK350 should be noticeably quicker. Also of note, all 2009 SLKs are endowed with what Mercedes calls a "Direct Steer System," which includes a 25 percent quicker steering ratio and a progressive-effort build-up based on steering angle. Other enhancements include a new 5-inch LCD screen, an in-dash six-CD changer, freshened exterior styling and optional iPod/MP3 connectivity.
None of this comes cheap, naturally, and the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK is one of the most expensive choices for a luxury convertible or roadster. As such, one could also consider the sublime Porsche Boxster as well as less desirable (but less expensive) models like the Audi TT, BMW Z4, Honda S2000 and Nissan 350Z. However, these ragtop models lack the Benz's retractable hardtop, and they would be hard-pressed to match the SLK's classy interior appointments. What really sets the SLK apart, though, is its complete package. In the premium roadster segment, at least, the three-pointed star is now synonymous with performance as well as other, more traditional Mercedes traits.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a luxury roadster equipped with a power-retractable hardtop. Three trim levels are offered: SLK300, SLK350 and SLK55 AMG. Standard equipment on the SLK300 includes 17-inch alloy wheels (up an inch from last year), leather upholstery, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control and a premium audio system with a 5-inch LCD screen and an in-dash six-CD changer. The SLK350 adds a larger V6 engine and upgraded brakes. The gonzo V8-powered SLK55 AMG affords rocket-like acceleration and includes 18-inch wheels, high-performance tires, even larger brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, power heated sport seats with driver-side memory, upgraded leather upholstery, a power tilt/telescoping steering wheel and unique interior and exterior trim details.
Some of the AMG model's standard features are available as options on lesser models. Also optional are bi-xenon headlamps, an iPod integration kit, satellite radio, a navigation system with an expanded 6.5-inch LCD screen, a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system and an Airscarf system that directs heat through vents in the head restraints. For non-AMG models, a "Sport Package" adds 18-inch AMG wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles and a few exterior styling enhancements.
Powertrains and Performance
Under the SLK300's hood is a 3.0-liter V6 that makes 228 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. The SLK350 packs a 3.5-liter V6 good for 300 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. The SLK300 can be had with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control, while the SLK350 is only available with the same seven-speed auto. The high-performance SLK55 AMG comes with a beastly 5.4-liter V8 that cranks out 355 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque; a seven-speed automatic is mandatory. While the AMG is a world-class performer, with a 0-60-mph time in the neighborhood of 5 seconds, even the base SLK300 provides sprightly acceleration, especially with the standard six-speed manual shifter. Thanks to its engine refinements for '09, the SLK350 should chop a few tenths off the 6.3-second time we measured for last year's SLK350.
Antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, knee airbags, side airbags and the TeleAid emergency call system are all standard on the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class.
Interior Design and Special Features
With retractable hardtop in place, the 2009 Mercedes-Bens SLK-Class is virtually indistinguishable from a conventional two-seat coupe. The only notable drawback involves the SLK's inferior sight lines, as the intricately constructed roof unavoidably creates significant blind spots. Press the button to lower the top, though, and all will be forgiven, as al fresco motoring is just 22 seconds away. When lowered, the folded top naturally eats up trunk space, but a modest 6.5 cubic feet is still available.
The SLK's interior design and materials are generally beyond reproach. Soft, high-quality plastics complement supportive yet nicely cushioned seats. Top-down wind buffeting is minimal if you keep the windows up, and the optional Airscarf system, which channels warm air to your neck and shoulders via dedicated ducts in the headrests, makes the SLK a true four-season convertible.
Forget those stolid Mercedes convertibles of decades past -- the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class will put a smile on any driving enthusiast's face, while remaining comfortable and compliant enough to appeal to the average driver. The purpose-built AMG model is harder-edged, of course, but the SLK300 and SLK350 offer an alluring combination of comfort and handling prowess. Only in direct comparison with pure performance cars like the Boxster do the SLK's relatively uncommunicative steering and less tossable nature become apparent.