Full 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review
What's New for 2013
After a full redesign last year, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is pretty much unchanged. The SLK350 receives engine stop-start capability and last year's Premium 1 package as standard equipment.
The cars of Mercedes-Benz have typically traded visceral thrills for a kind of velvet force, a refined solidity at triple-digit speeds. That is still largely true with the 2013 Mercedes SLK-Class, the company's most affordable convertible. But even while it's a bit too refined to be a hard-core sports car, the SLK is certainly one sporty Mercedes.
Although previous SLKs were not known for exemplary handling, Mercedes made the latest-generation car -- which debuted just last year -- more entertaining to drive on tight twisting roads. The choice of three engines -- from the adequate 1.8-liter four-cylinder in the SLK250 to the inspiring 5.5-liter V8 in the SLK55 -- also ensures that most drivers can find a model that suits them. As a bonus, this performance doesn't come at the expense of ride quality or fuel economy.
As expected from any vehicle with the three-pointed star, the SLK's comforts do not disappoint. Despite petite dimensions, this roadster is big on all-day comfort, everyday convenience and a features list that includes pivoting wind-blocker panels, a variable-transparency roof panel and sun-reflective leather upholstery.
The Baby Benz contends with only a few rivals, but they are formidable. The 2013 Porsche Boxster bests the SLK with sheer athleticism and performance, but lacks the SLK's convenient retractable-hardtop roof. The BMW Z4 splits the difference with its rigid roof and slightly dialed-back performance. The sure-footed all-wheel-drive 2013 Audi TTS is an outlier that may interest those who also experience a little weather among their sunny days.
These are all admirable choices, yet the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class stands out with its higher level of luxury. You may also save several thousand dollars compared to the competition in the process. If ever there was a sensible luxury roadster, the Mercedes-Benz SLK may be it.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a two-seat convertible with a retractable hardtop roof available in SLK250, SLK350 and SLK55 AMG trim levels. These are primarily differentiated by engine size.
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 with four-way lumbar adjustment, driver memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, premium vinyl upholstery, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Mercedes' mbrace2 telematics system and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio and an auxiliary audio jack.
The Premium 1 package adds remote roof activation, heated seats, the "AirScarf" neck-level heating system and an 11-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with satellite radio and an iPod interface. The SLK350 includes the Premium 1 features and adds 18-inch wheels and sun-reflective leather upholstery (optional on the SLK250).
The Lighting package adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers, while the Multimedia package offers a navigation system with a larger central screen, the COMAND electronics interface, voice controls and a six-CD changer. The Distronic Plus package adds adaptive cruise control and Mercedes' PreSafe technology (see Safety section). The Sport package includes 18-inch AMG wheels, unique styling and interior ambient lighting. The Dynamic Handling package gets an adjustable suspension and upgraded brakes.
Stand-alone options include parking sensors, a glass roof panel (also available with a dimming feature), 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, AMG-specific wheels, sportier suspension and steering systems, stronger brakes, unique styling elements and sport seats. The Lighting and Multimedia packages are available along with the stand-alone options listed above. 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 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK250 features a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a seven-speed automatic is optional. Mercedes claims the SLK250 will accelerate to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, while returning an EPA-estimated 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway/26 mpg combined with the automatic transmission. The manual is rated at 22/32/26 mpg.
The SLK350 uses a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is mpg-enhancing engine stop-start. In Edmunds testing, the SLK350 reached 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, a few tenths slower than the Z4 sDrive35i. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined.
A 5.5-liter V8 powers the SLK55 AMG, putting its 415 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque to the ground through an AMG-tuned seven-speed automatic. Mercedes estimates a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, making it the quickest of the German luxury roadsters. Fuel economy is surprisingly good, estimated at 19/28/22 mpg.
Every 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK comes standard with antilock brakes, traction and stability control, active front head restraints, knee airbags and side airbags that cover the abdomen and head. Also standard are roll bars, a driver drowsiness monitor and Mercedes' mbrace2 telematics system, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking and teen-driver geo-fencing and speed monitoring. The optional PreSafe system anticipates an imminent crash and can automatically tighten seatbelts, adjust head restraints and take other measures to better secure occupants.
In Edmunds brake testing, an SLK350 stopped from 60 mph in a short 113 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
In feel and design, the SLK interior closely mimics the Mercedes SLS supercar. Some SLS owners may fret that their car essentially shares its cabin with Benz's cheapest sports car, but that's too bad for them. SLK owners enjoy the same restrained dash styling with top-notch materials and construction. Controls are virtually identical to those throughout the Mercedes lineup, meaning you're not sacrificing functionality or features because you've bought a two-seater.
Retracting the roof into the trunk reveals a cabin that remains well insulated from wind turbulence thanks to a standard fixed-glass deflector and optional pivoting wind-blocker panels. The clever AirScarf system blows warm air around the neck and shoulders which, along with heated seats, keeps occupants toasty during crisp autumn drives. When the weather turns, available sun-reflective leather helps alleviate the scorching of bare skin on seats.
The SLK cabin is quite snug, however, even among two-seaters. The Z4, for example, gives the driver more room. But while the SLK feels a little tight inside, it provides a relatively large trunk whether the roof is up (10.1 cubic feet) or down (a still useful 6.4 cubic feet).
The SLK also offers an optional glass roof panel dubbed "Magic Sky Control Roof" -- not unlike the sunroof version of Transitions eyeglass lenses, though the glass darkens by button, not automatically. You can get a glass panel without Magic Sky, but it lacks any sunshade aside from a light tint. We'd avoid it.
he SLK has always emphasized touring over outright sport, but thanks to its new suspension tuning and improved steering, this is the best-handling SLK to date and delivers plenty of grins around the corners. The Porsche Boxster remains the pinnacle of classic, razor-sharp roadster handling, but falling short of that standard isn't cause for shame in the balanced SLK.
The SLK350's powerful V6 provides the satisfying grunt we expect from luxury roadsters, and the exhaust note is intoxicating. This is the engine to get if you can swing the extra cost and don't mind the automatic transmission. Most drivers, however, will find the SLK250's turbocharged four-cylinder an ideal middle ground between performance and fuel economy. Finally, there's the SLK55 AMG, the only compact roadster on the market with a V8. With 415 hp on tap, it provides a uniquely thrilling top-down experience.