Full 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 SLK comes standard with the formerly optional glass roof panel.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is the junior member of the SL family, but it's getting harder to tell these Mercedes-Benzes apart. In fact, the current SLK paved the way stylistically for the latest SL, adopting that squared-off front-end styling a year before its big brother. The SLK also offers many of the same luxuries and technology features as its bigger relative, and it's quite capable around turns. You can see a case developing that size, not substance, has become the chief difference between the hardtop Mercedes roadsters.
Certainly, there are still some major differentiators, though. Mercedes still reserves top-shelf features and crackling twin-turbo V8 and V12 power for the SL-Class. Still, the SL genes run deep in the 2014 SLK-Class, and that's apparent in its carefully constructed interior, beautifully engineered retractable hardtop and unflappable character at speed. There was a time when people questioned whether the SLK was a bona fide Mercedes, but the current model puts those doubts to rest. If you opt for the 415-horsepower SLK55 AMG, by the way, you'll actually be nipping at the heels of the bigger, heavier SL550.
Similarly priced rivals for the SLK are few but formidable. If enthusiastic driving is tops on your list, the soft-top 2014 Porsche Boxster is the best choice in this class, though it can't compete with the SLK's refined, unruffled demeanor during highway travel. The 2014 BMW Z4 more or less matches the Benz's refinement and hardtop convenience, lacking only an all-out performance model to rival the SLK55. And although some might dismiss the fashionable 2014 Audi TT Roadster, the TT's standard all-wheel-drive layout and peppy turbocharged performance keep it in the conversation.
But with its noble lineage and well-rounded nature, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class will always be a strong draw in this small segment. And for those who prefer not to pay SL money for a luxury convertible, the comparatively affordable Mercedes SLK just might be the next best thing.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a two-seat convertible with a retractable hardtop roof available in SLK250, SLK350 and SLK55 AMG trim levels.
Standard equipment on the SLK250 includes 17-inch wheels, a glass roof panel, automatic wipers, LED running lights, heated power-folding mirrors (driver-side auto-dimming), 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, "MB Tex" premium vinyl upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Mercedes' mbrace2 emergency communications system, the COMAND electronics interface and an eight-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, and auxiliary and USB audio jacks.
The optional Premium 1 package adds remote roof activation, heated seats, the AirScarf neck-level heating system and a Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system with satellite radio and an iPod interface.
Meanwhile, the SLK350 includes the Premium 1 features as standard and adds 18-inch wheels and sun-reflective leather upholstery (both are optional on the SLK250).
The Lighting package adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers, while the Multimedia package contributes a navigation system with voice controls, an SD card reader, digital music storage and a six-CD changer. The Distronic Plus package adds adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist and PreSafe collision mitigation technology (see Safety section). The Sport package includes 18-inch AMG wheels, unique styling and interior ambient lighting, while the Dynamic Handling package features electronic suspension dampers with two suspension modes and a torque-vectoring cornering system.
Stand-alone options include front and rear parking sensors, a Becker navigation app that integrates with COMAND (for cars without the Multimedia package), the Magic Sky Control roof-dimming system, a wind deflector, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, upgraded leather upholstery and Mercedes-Benz Apps (which outfits COMAND with Google, Yelp, Facebook and other online services for a monthly fee).
The SLK55 AMG starts with the SLK350's equipment and adds a V8 engine, a sport exhaust, AMG 18-inch wheels, sportier suspension and steering systems, stronger brakes, the torque-vectoring cornering system, 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
All versions of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class are rear-wheel drive. The 2014 SLK250 is powered by a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a seven-speed automatic is optional.
In Edmunds testing, the SLK250 with the automatic went from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, which is on the slow side for a base model luxury roadster. Fuel economy is solid, however, with an EPA-estimated 26 mpg combined (23 city/33 highway) for the automatic transmission. The manual also rates 26 mpg combined (with 22 city/32 highway figures).
The SLK350 upgrades to a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The seven-speed automatic transmission is standard, as is auto stop-start for reduced fuel consumption in traffic. In Edmunds testing, an SLK350 sprinted to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, a few tenths slower than the rival BMW Z4 sDrive35i. Fuel economy checks in at 24 mpg combined (21 city/29 highway).
The SLK55 AMG goes wild with a 5.5-liter V8 that pumps out 415 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is an AMG-tuned seven-speed automatic. Mercedes estimates a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, making it the quickest of the compact German luxury roadsters. Fuel economy is remarkably good at 22 mpg combined (19 city/28 highway).
Every 2014 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 rollbars, Attention Assist (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 Distronic Plus package brings an adaptive cruise control system that includes a frontal collision warning system, impact or rollover preparation (prepares the cabin by adjusting the seats, tightening the seatbelts and rolling up the windows) and automatic braking for frontal collision mitigation. The package also includes blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist systems. Front and rear parking sensors are optional on all 2014 SLK convertibles, but a rearview camera is not available.
In Edmunds brake testing, both the SLK250 and SLK350 stopped from 60 mph in about 112 feet. This is short, but its competitors stop a few feet sooner.
Interior Design and Special Features
The SLK interior bears a strong family resemblance to the layouts in both the SL luxury roadster and the more exotic SLS AMG GT. Although the SLK is by far the cheapest car of the three, you'll be hard-pressed to see where Mercedes cut costs. The buttons, switchgear and COMAND technology are virtually identical to what's offered throughout the Mercedes lineup, so SLK drivers will never feel like second-class Benz buyers.
Notably, the panoramic glass roof is standard on every SLK for 2014, and that's both a blessing and a curse. The view out is certainly nice, but there's no retractable sunshade, and the only protection you get is a light tint. For this reason, we strongly recommend the optional Magic Sky Control feature, which darkens the glass automatically at the press of a button. It seems silly to get a retractable-roof roadster if the roof isn't able to block the sun.
Retracting the roof into the trunk -- an entertaining sideshow in itself -- uncovers a cabin that remains pleasantly calm at speed, aided by the standard fixed-glass deflector and optional pivoting wind-blocker panels. The AirScarf system blows warm air at neck level from clever seat-mounted vents, while the heated seats help keep lower regions toasty year-round. In the summer, meanwhile, the available sun-reflective leather guards against scorched skin, and it also slows the leather's aging process.
The main issue inside the SLK is that it's quite snug, even by compact roadster standards. The Z4, for example, gives larger drivers more room. On the bright side, the trunk is surprisingly accommodating whether the roof is up (10.1 cubic feet) or down (a still useful 6.4 cubic feet).
Although early SLK-Class convertibles were reluctant dance partners on curvy back roads, the current third-generation model has much sharper handling and most drivers will find it quite enjoyable. Despite the extra agility, though, the SLK continues to provide the smooth, composed ride that Mercedes drivers expect. It's a deft two-step that most other roadsters can't pull off, though it's very much in keeping with SL family values.
The SLK350 trails the BMW Z4 sDrive35i's acceleration numbers, but in the real world the midrange SLK has plenty of get-up when you give it the spurs, and the exhaust note verges on thrilling. The SLK250's turbocharged four-cylinder engine is less appealing: Acceleration is adequate, but the base Z4 and Boxster are noticeably quicker and return the same fuel economy. Meanwhile, the SLK55 AMG remains the only V8-powered compact roadster on the market, and with 415 angry horses on tap, it's about as close as you'll get to a modern-day Shelby Cobra -- with German manners, of course.