Used 1998 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1998

Mercedes-Benz releases an all-new retractable-hardtop roadster. Powered by a supercharged 2.3-liter engine, which is hooked to a five-speed automatic transmission, the SLK-Class races to 60 mph in just over seven seconds.

Vehicle overview

When Mercedes-Benz sets its sights on something, it is not usually denied. A few years ago, the gang at the three-pointed star decided that it was time to ditch their dowdy image and begin attracting younger buyers. The result of that decision brought us the fabulous C- and E-Class cars, which made the company and its offerings feel less stuffy. Nevertheless, Mercedes-Benz was still not the marque that young professionals looking for a good time were likely to think of first.

All of that changes with the introduction of the SLK-Class this year. While it is a Mercedes-Benz through and through, the SLK-Class has a decidedly playful countenance that will undoubtedly charm some buyers out of the BMW showrooms that those looking for a fun, sporty car have been frequenting for so long. The SLK-Class is a roadster, and that means that it has two seats and a top that folds down. Unlike its competitors from BMW, Porsche and Mazda, however, the little Mercedes has a retractable steel roof that, when up, makes the car seem as tight as an E-Class sedan. Raising and lowering consists of pressing one button on the center console.

Let's face it, though, there is more to a roadster than the top. Fortunately, Mercedes seems to have gotten the recipe right with the steering, engine and suspension. The steering is precise, the suspension is wonderfully damped, and the engine is eager and willing. Our main complaint stems from the fact that the SLK-Class is not available with a manual transmission; all of its competitors are. Mercedes argues that most of their buyers would have selected the automatic transmission anyway, and that it would have been prohibitively expensive to develop two transmissions for the SLK-Class. Nonetheless, the SLK-Class is a hoot to drive and its 200 pound-feet of torque, available across an incredibly wide rpm range, make it a choice vehicle for carving through traffic or up a spiraling mountain road.

One thing that most roadsters are not noted for is their safety features. Mercedes broke the mold in this regard and laid all of their current safety technology on this relatively inexpensive car. Dual airbags are standard, as are side-impact airbags. The SLK-Class features standard antilock brakes and automatic slip control as well. Since roadsters are more likely to be involved in a rollover accident, the SLK-Class also has a super-reinforced A-pillar and integrated roll bars behind each seat. We think the most interesting feature, however, is the SLK-Class’s BabySmart system. The BabySmart system allows drivers to use a Mercedes-Benz BabySmart car seat which will keep the passenger airbag from deploying while it is occupying that seat. (Thus allowing parents to introduce their toddlers to the thrills of open air driving safely.)

The SLK-Class has been in short supply, but you may be able to find a dealer who is willing to let one go for a special price. Although Mercedes-Benz is discouraging dealers from price gouging, don't expect to get five percent over invoice deal on this car.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.