What's New for 2011
For 2011, the Mercedes-Benz SLK300 and SLK350 models now feature as standard equipment the previously optional bodywork upgrades from the Sport package (front airdam, rocker-sill skirts and rear spoiler). Other changes for 2011 include standard black inlays around the headlights, an optional prepaid maintenance program and the deletion of the ultra-performance AMG trim level from the model mix.
When it debuted in 1997, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class offered something unique in its segment of small sporting cars: a retractable hardtop. With the ability to deliver the traditional fresh-air experience of a sports car and the security and all-weather comfort of a coupe, the SLK combined driving enjoyment and practicality in a way that its rivals couldn't match. In the beginning the SLK was more like a boutique cruiser than a driver's car, but Mercedes gave it more serious driving credentials with the model's makeover in 2005. The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class will be the final year of this current-generation car, yet it's still an alluring choice in its niche.
Without sacrificing a comfortable ride, the SLK provides an enjoyable drive thanks to its agile handling and a choice of spirited engines. Among its competition, the Mercedes SLK remains the most likable car on a daily basis. The Porsche Boxster is the choice for those seeking ultimate driving thrills, but its comfort quotient is low. The recently revised BMW Z4 hardtop convertible has become more like the SLK in its combination of daily comfort and weekend driving enjoyment, and offers quicker acceleration, a more spacious cockpit and slightly better visibility when the hardtop is up.
Though the specifications sheet might seem to relegate the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class to 3rd place behind the other two German thoroughbreds, the numbers don't tell the whole story. For those shopping in this segment, the performance of any of these three will be more than enough. The choice really comes down to what pushes your buttons in other areas, such as styling or perhaps the driving position. Though it's due for a redesign next year, the SLK-Class is certainly not outdated, and we have no qualms recommending it to anyone looking for a stylish two-seater for touring.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a two-passenger hardtop convertible offered in two versions: SLK300 and SLK350, each of which comes with a different engine.
Standard equipment for the SLK300 includes the 3.0-liter V6 engine, electronically actuated retractable hardtop, 17-inch wheels, sport body accents (front airdam, rocker-sill skirts and rear spoiler), front and rear foglamps, cruise control, manually adjusted dual-zone climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, manually adjusted eight-way front seats, leather upholstery, Bluetooth and a nine-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer. The SLK350 adds a 3.5-liter V6, 18-inch wheels and upgraded brakes.
The Premium I package adds remote operation for the roof, auto-dimming mirrors, automatic wipers, eight-way power front seats (including lumbar adjustment), driver memory functions, a power-adjustable steering column and an iPod interface. The Sport package adds 18-inch wheels (for the SLK300), a sport suspension, and on automatic-transmission SLKs, paddle shifters.
The Multimedia package includes the COMAND electronics interface, a hard-drive-based navigation system with real-time traffic updates, digital music storage, satellite radio and HD radio. The Lighting package adds bi-xenon headlamps, corner-illuminating foglights and headlamp washers. The Heating package adds a cloth wind deflector, the Airscarf neck-level heating system and heated seats.
Stand-alone options include dual-zone automatic climate control, an 11-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, upgraded beige leather upholstery, wood interior accents and a new prepaid maintenance option that covers maintenance requirements for 3 years or 30,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK300 is powered by a 3.0-liter V6 that produces 228 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a seven-speed automatic is optional. Mercedes estimates the SLK300 will accelerate from a standstill to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined with the automatic, and 18/26/20 with the manual.
The SLK350 gets a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 300 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. A seven-speed automatic is the only available transmission. Mercedes estimates the SLK350 will accelerate to 60 mph from a standstill in 5.4 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18/25/20 mpg.
Safety equipment includes antilock brakes, stability and traction control, knee airbags and side airbags that cover the head and thorax. The Mercedes-Benz "mbrace" emergency telematics system is also standard. In Edmunds brake testing, the SLK350 came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 115 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
With its retractable hardtop deployed, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is virtually indistinguishable from a conventional two-seat coupe. Leg- and headroom are acceptable, though the BMW Z4 is still roomier inside. The only notable drawback involves the SLK's inferior sight lines, as the intricately constructed roof 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.
Interior construction isn't quite up to the level of Benz's latest models, but still, you're unlikely to feel cheated by the SLK. The seats provide exemplary support and adequate long-distance comfort. We highly recommend the Airscarf system, which blows warm air on your neck -- it sounds weird but it works. Add to all this heated seats, a capable heating system and perhaps a warm hat, and all-season top-down motoring is easily accomplished.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK delivers respectable performance, as the SLK300's 3.0-liter V6 can be matched with a manual transmission and the SLK350's 3.5-liter V6 has a quick-shifting seven-speed automatic (unfortunately rev-matched downshifts aren't available, however). The SLK handles with enough responsiveness to satisfy an enthusiast, yet the ride remains compliant and comfortable enough for daily driving. Only in direct comparison with more focused sports cars like the Porsche Boxster will the SLK seem compromised in the communication from its controls and its willingness to follow the road.