What's New for 2012
The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is all-new for 2012. Highlights include a new turbocharged four-cylinder base engine, a "Magic" dimming glass sunroof and an overall design inspired by the new SLS AMG sports car.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class has long been known for one thing: its nifty retractable hardtop that still makes people "ooh" and "aah" as it neatly folds away into the trunk. Alas, this feature is no longer unique among roadsters, which means this former pioneer must now rely on its other attributes. In the past that wouldn't necessarily be a good thing, but the completely redesigned 2012 SLK re-enters the fray with bold new styling, a fuel-efficient new base engine and most importantly, a lot more fun behind the wheel.
The most noticeable styling change occurs up front, where a large grille inspired by the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG makes the SLK looks a bit angry now. The car's overall size and shape are generally the same as before, and underneath the new skin is an updated platform shared with the current (and excellent) C-Class. The suspension is still tuned to have a comfortable ride, but with adaptive dampers and sportier tuning, the SLK handles significantly better for 2012. Like no previous SLK, the 2012 car is now an awful lot of fun to drive.
Another notable change concerns the new base model. Dubbed the SLK250, it features a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that produces 201 horsepower. That's less power than the base V6 found in last year's SLK300, but the torque output is a bit higher, and overall drivability won't significantly suffer. Most important, fuel economy has improved by about 4 mpg.
This is a sports car, however, and rest assured that more power is available. The SLK350 still has a 3.5-liter V6 and about 300 hp, but the addition of direct fuel injection results in more torque and yes, better fuel economy. Then there's the SLK55 AMG, which ditches Mercedes' recent switch to turbocharging in favor of a naturally aspirated 5.5-liter V8 good for 415 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque. That's considerably more than the last SLK55, and with direct injection, it, too, should be friendlier at the pump.
In total, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK takes the strengths of its predecessor and augments them with the same sort of improvements that we've seen elsewhere in other refreshed Mercedes models. Build and materials quality have improved, feature content has increased and the interior controls (especially those for more complicated functions) are easier to use. The engines are more efficient, handling is better and that impenetrable feeling of a proper Mercedes-Benz carries on. Unfortunately, its price hasn't dropped like those of its other recently redesigned siblings.
So is the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK good enough to stay relevant against its arch-rivals from BMW and Porsche? Absolutely. More enthusiastic drivers (say, those who want to shift their own gears), will still probably prefer the Porsche Boxster, but the SLK is no longer a slouch around corners, and it still has that retractable hardtop the Boxster lacks. The BMW Z4 does have a hardtop along with more interior space and more energetic four- and six-cylinder engines, but it no longer feels substantially more fun to drive than the SLK. There's no way to go wrong here, but overall the rejuvenated 2012 SLK stands as an excellent choice in this impressive company.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a two-seat convertible with a retractable hardtop roof. There are SLK250 and SLK350 trim levels, which are primarily differentiated by engine.
Standard equipment on the SLK250 includes 17-inch wheels, automatic wipers, LED running lights, auto-dimming rearview and driver mirrors, cruise control, automatic climate control, eight-way power front seats and four-way lumbar adjustment, driver memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio and a USB audio jack. The SLK350 gets 18-inch wheels and sun-reflective leather upholstery (optional on the SLK250).
The Premium 1 package adds remote roof activation, heated seats, the "AirScarf" neck-level heating system, and a Harman Kardon sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface. The Lighting package adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers. Opting for the Multimedia package nets you a larger central screen, a navigation system, voice controls, a six-CD/DVD changer and 10GB of digital music storage. The Distronic Plus package adds adaptive cruise control and Mercedes' PreSafe crash readiness technology. The Sport package includes 18-inch AMG wheels, styling adjustments and interior ambient lighting. The Dynamic Handling package gets a two-mode adjustable suspension and enhanced brakes.
Stand-alone options include parking sensors, a glass roof panel, a dimming glass roof panel, a wind deflector, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control and upgraded leather upholstery.
The SLK55 AMG starts with the SLK350's equipment and adds a V8 engine and AMG-specific wheels, sportier suspension and steering tuning, stronger brakes, unique styling elements and sport seats. The Premium 1 package is standard. The Lighting and Multimedia packages are available along with the above stand-alone options. The AMG Handling package adds a higher top speed, a limited-slip differential, an upgraded suspension, different 18-inch wheels (silver or matte black) and an upgraded steering wheel with faux-suede grip inserts.
Powertrains and Performance
The rear-wheel-drive 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK250 is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produces 201 hp and 229 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a seven-speed automatic is optional. Mercedes estimates this car will accelerate to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. Estimated fuel economy with the automatic transmission is 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 gets a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed auto is standard. In Edmunds performance testing, it went from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds -- a few tenths slower than the Z4 sDrive35i. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.
The SLK55 AMG gets a 5.5-liter V8 that produces 415 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque. An AMG-tuned seven-speed automatic is standard. Mercedes estimates it will go from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, which would make it the fastest of the German luxury roadsters. Surprisingly, fuel economy is quite good, with estimates of 19/28/22.
Every Mercedes SLK comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, knee airbags and side airbags that cover the abdomen and head. Also standard are rollbars and the Attention Assist system, which monitors the driver for signs of inattention or drowsiness. The optional PreSafe system anticipates an imminent crash and automatically takes measures to better secure occupants.
In Edmunds brake testing, an SLK350 came to a stop from 60 mph in a short 113 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
As the new SLK's interior design closely mimics that of the Mercedes SLS, owners of the range-topping supercar may be a little miffed that their car essentially shares the same cabin with Benz's cheapest sports car. Too bad for them, but SLK owners will enjoy the same restrained dash styling and top-notch materials and construction. Controls are virtually identical to those found throughout the Mercedes lineup, meaning you're not missing out on functionality or features just because you've bought a two-seater.
Retract the roof into the trunk (which retains a useful 6.4 cubic feet from a top-up 10.1), and you'll find a cabin that's well insulated from wind thanks to its standard fixed-glass deflector as well as the optional pivoting wind-blocker panels. Heated seats and Mercedes' clever AirScarf system that blows warm air at your neck will keep you toasty during a crisp autumn drive, while available sun-reflective leather should reduce the always unfortunate summertime butt scorch. In terms of space, however, the SLK's cabin is quite snug, even among two-seaters. The Z4 is notably more spacious for the driver. At least the Mercedes provides a relatively large trunk whether the roof is up or down.
The 2012 SLK also offers an optional glass roof panel dubbed "Magic Sky Control Roof" -- think of it as the sunroof version of Transitions eyeglass lenses, though the glass darkens at the touch of a button rather than automatically. You can get a glass panel without the Magic Sky functionality, but it lacks any sort of sunshade (besides a light tint) so we'd skip it.
The SLK has always been more about touring than outright sport, but thanks to its new suspension tuning and well-sorted steering, this is the best-handling SLK to date and delivers quite a few grins around the corners. Of course, the pinnacle of classic, razor-sharp roadster handling remains the Porsche Boxster, but falling short of that standard isn't something to be ashamed of.
In terms of power, the SLK350's powerful V6 provides the sort of satisfying grunt we've come to expect from luxury roadsters, and its exhaust note is surprisingly intoxicating. If the extra cost and mandatory automatic transmission aren't big deals, it's certainly the engine to get. However, the SLK250's turbocharged four-cylinder should be perfectly adequate for many buyers.
Then there's the SLK55 AMG, which is the only compact roadster on the market with a V8 engine. With 415 hp on tap, it should provide a uniquely thrilling top-down experience. It still won't take corners as well as a Boxster, but this year's model should be closer than ever.