Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review
Introduced nearly two decades ago as an answer to its European rivals in the luxury small roadster segment, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was one of the first modern vehicles to popularize the use of a power-retractable convertible top made out of steel panels rather than the more traditional fabric soft top. Though more complex and bulky, the hardtop design provides a sleeker coupelike profile along with superior wind, weather and vandalism protection in the top-up position.
Though they suffered from uninspiring handling and questionable sporting credentials for hard-core driving enthusiasts, previous SLKs were popular with consumers. The latest, third-generation SLK was intended as a more serious sports car, featuring a dramatic design inspired by the SLS AMG and a more capable suspension. As of 2017, the SLK has since been replaced by an updated version called the SLC; still, as a convertible that provides good all-season performance along with luxury and prestige, we think a used Mercedes-Benz SLK is a solid choice.
Used Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Models
The third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class debuted in 2012, and changes over its five-year model run were largely limited to equipment shuffling and one new engine. SLK350 models added a host of standard equipment starting in the 2013 model year.
The third-gen SLK was offered in three trim levels: SLK250, SLK350 and SLK55AMG. The SLK250 featured a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder that produced 201 horsepower, while the SLK350 had a 3.5-liter V6 that produced 302 hp. The SLK55 AMG had V8 power: a 5.5-liter engine that put out 415 hp. The SLK250 could be matched with either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic transmission, while the SLK350 and SL55 AMG came with a seven-speed automatic. In 2016, the SLK250 got a new engine and a new name. With a 241-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four and a nine-speed automatic under the hood (the slow-selling manual was discontinued), it became known as the SLK300.
Optional on 2013 models and standard starting in 2014 was a sun-reflecting, retractable panoramic glass roof, which could be fitted with the option of Magic Sky Control that allowed the glass to be tinted dark with a flick of a switch. In 2015, a painted roof panel became a no-cost option. With the roof up, the SLK's cabin is as quiet as you'll find in any convertible.
In reviews, we've noted that when retracted, the hardtop takes up space in the trunk, but there are still 6.4 cubic feet left for luggage. Inside, the cabin is attractive and features the expected soft-touch dash materials, as well as the latest version of Mercedes' COMAND interface that is much more intuitive than previous iterations. The sporty yet simple seats provide good support even after several hours of driving.
Keep the windows up while the top is down and there's minimal wind buffeting. If that's not enough, the Airscarf system (optional on some variants; standard on others) is at the ready to channel warm air to your neck and shoulders via dedicated outlets in the headrests. It works quite well, teaming up with the seat heaters to make the SLK one of the most useful all-weather convertibles on the market.
The third-generation SLK delivers solid all-around performance in acceleration, braking and handling; the AMG versions are sharper-handling (but rougher-riding) and exceptionally quick. This Benz's slightly less communicative steering and slower handling responses only become apparent when comparing them directly against this segment's more single-minded sports cars.
The second-generation SLK was produced from 2005 to 2011. Initially, Mercedes offered it in SLK350 and SLK55 AMG trims. The SLK350 had a 268-hp V6 with a standard six-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed automatic, and the SLK55 AMG boasted a beefy 355-hp 5.4-liter V8 that came only with the seven-speed auto.
A less powerful SLK280 model joined the lineup for 2006 with a 3.0-liter V6 engine good for 228 hp. For 2008, the SLK350's manual transmission was dropped, while a year later it was upgraded to 300 hp. SLKs made for 2009 and up also had quicker steering.
The original Mercedes-Benz SLK debuted for the 1998 model year. Introduced as an answer to the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster in the premium small roadster segment, the SLK's distinguishing characteristic was its retractable hardtop roof, which offered more security as well as a quieter ride than its ragtop-roofed competitors. With the touch of a button, you could convert the SLK from a closed coupe to a cool convertible in less than 30 seconds without leaving the driver's seat.
Initially, the SLK was available only with one engine, a supercharged 2.3-liter inline-four sending its 185 hp through a five-speed automatic transmission. But the SLK230's lack of a manual gearbox, along with its anemic exhaust note, made for little excitement among serious driving enthusiasts.
The SLK's second year brought a manual transmission as standard, moving the automatic to the options list. Ever conscious of its buyers' fashion leanings, Mercedes introduced Designo editions in 2000 that featured special colors (such as Copper and Electric Green) along with unique interior trim.
Those who liked the Mercedes-Benz SLK but wanted a more refined powerplant had their wish granted for 2001, when the SLK320 bowed with a 215-horse 3.2-liter V6. Other good news that year included the replacement of the five-speed manual with a six-gear unit and more power for the 230's four-cylinder, with output now rated at 192 ponies.
Perhaps in an effort to quash the SLK's reputation as a "boutique" roadster, Mercedes brought out the muscle-bound, AMG-tuned SLK32 for 2002. The SLK32 AMG brought 349 hp to the party by way of a supercharged 3.2-liter V6. Along with the power infusion, handsome double-spoke 17-inch wheels with performance tires were fitted, along with a massaged suspension, full ground effects and a discreet rear spoiler.
During the first SLK's run, we commented favorably about its distinctive retractable hardtop, its quiet composure on freeway drives and the impressive performance from the AMG variant. Noted downsides at the time included a lack of steering feel from the outdated recirculating-ball setup and big blind spots with the top up.
Read the most recent 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class page.
For more on past Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class models, view our Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class history page.