Make / Model Search

Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - SLK-class - convertible range

Our Opinion

We like
Superb retractable roof, great styling, calmness of open-top cockpit
Room for improvement
Numb steering, soul-less V6 exhaust noise

7 Sep 2004

MAYBE it’s because the SLK 350 makes such a positive impact when you first see it that the driving experience seems a little dull by comparison.

Gee, it’s a good looking thing, wedgey body sitting on those 17-inch alloys. Top-on it looks mean and aggro, as a roadster it’s so sexy that Elle herself wouldn’t outshine it. Well… anyway you get the drift.

And the nose? Hmmm. As you acclimatise you get less picky (so to speak!).

Snuggle down in the larger, yet still cosy cockpit and you enjoy the sporty design, the touch of the materials and fabrics and even the lovely weighting of the various switches, dials and stalks.

So far, so very good.

Fire it up, give the throttle a blip and the first touch of – not disappointment – doubt crosses your mind as the V6’s rather flat exhaust note warbles its way into your eardrums. It’s just not as charismatic as it could be.

And why couldn’t the stylist at Benz who did such a good and/or interesting job with the rest of the car do something a bit more assertive with those two exhaust pipes that poke obscurely out either side at the rear?

And not only aren’t they sexy, they drag on sloping driveways, as does the front bumper. Doh!

It might not make the greatest noise but activate the heavy throttle pedal and there’s no doubt the new engine has plenty of go, really ripping up through the rev range in linear fashion with no sign of any harshness or breathlessness.

It melds wonderfully well with the seven-speed auto, so much so that except for the tightest of twisties there’s no use to activate the tipshift or steering wheel buttons for manual control.

When you do, however, it’s noticeable that third gear in this ’box is very much at the low end of the scale where tradition has taught us in five and six-speed gearboxes that it tends to be the best compromise when the bends arrive. Not in this case, third for the tight stuff and fourth when it opens out a little.

While your enjoying the 350’s go and transmission’s elasticity in the corners, at the same time there’s not the same degree of enjoyment being transferred from the chassis.

The steering feel isn’t all that it could be and it’s pretty heavy too, although accurate enough and certainly an improvement over the old recirculating ball system. And yet, there is still a feeling of an invisible barrier between the driver and the road, a sensation not uncommon in Benzes.

But it’s a feeling that isn’t known in the Porsche Boxster, the BMW Z4 or even – dare we say it – the Crossfire Roadster (wash my mouth out with soap!).

Maybe it’s because the set-up of the forward mounted steering rack favours understeer, or that in isolating the steering so well from road shock there’s also been a quelling of the sort of feedback sporting drivers would appreciate.

There’s also a tad more bodyroll than expected. Again nothing to get alarmed about, just dulling the edge of the experience. The good news is the body is immensely strong, even with the roof down there is no suggestion of scuttle shake or weakness.

And it’s also the most amazingly calm place sans roof as well. That’s as long as you have the fabric draught stopper in place between the headrests/roll-over hoops. Without it, there’s still not a lot of turbulence, but it does become noticeable.

So transfer to the SLK 200 really expecting 350 ‘Lite’ and a couple of things immediately become apparent. Most noticeably the lighter overall weight and the smaller engine mass deliver a keener, more alert driving experience,

The barrier to the road has been disassembled at least partially and the steering is more alive and more communicative.

Add in a manual gearchange that is crisp and positive, allied to an engine that does its best work above 3500rpm and you suddenly have an urgent little hunter of a car that likes getting pushed along on the open road. Nimble is the word that springs to mind.

And that applies in town to where the tight turning circle and small size makes it an easy parking proposition. Having said that the added squirt of the 350 makes it a pretty decent weapon in traffic grands prix, so the argument goes both ways.

The differences in the two SLKs make them an interesting contrast and one that means buying the cheaper car isn’t necessarily a dud choice in this case. Somewhere betwixt and between lies a great car we fancy.

It’s easy to suspect that buyers of either will be happy anyway. No, SLK doesn’t eclipse the finest of its rivals as a scalpel sharp sports car but it is a significant improvement over its predecessor and its looks are stunning.

Now if we could just organise Elle as part of the options list…

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

GoAuto can help you buy a new SLK-class

Customer Terms and Conditions – New Car Lead enquires


This is an agreement between GoAutoMedia Pty Limited ACN 094 732 457 of PO Box 18, Beach Road, Sandringham, VIC, 3191 (“we/us”), the owner and operator of the GoAuto.com.au website (“the website”) and the person wanting GoAuto.com.au to provide them with a lead for the purchase of a new car (“you”).

By completing a New Car Lead Enquiry, you agree to the terms and conditions and disclaimers and acknowledge the policies set out below.

Terms and Conditions

  • In order for us to effect a lead you must you must complete a New Car Lead Enquiry (“Enquiry”).
  • We will call you as soon as possible after you complete the Enquiry and certainly no later than the next business day. When we call, we will discuss with you your new car requirements.
  • You consent to our passing on the Enquiry and your requirements to an appropriate authorised motor car dealer as a lead.
  • We will contact you again in approximately eight days following your initial enquiry to check on the progress of the Enquiry.
  • While we will provide the dealer with the Enquiry and details of your new car requirements, we take no responsibility for what happens after passing on that material as a lead.
  • You acknowledge that we are a new car information service providing new car editorial information, pictures and prices to our customers as a guide only. Any new car prices published on the website are the manufacturers’ recommended retail prices and do not include delivery charges and on-road costs. Any authorized motor car dealer to which we pass on your Enquiry as a lead will provide you with full details of the price at which the vehicle will be sold to you.
  • You acknowledge that we do not sell motor vehicles. Any sale of a new car to you by a dealer after we have passed on your Enquiry to that dealer as a lead, is a sale by that dealer not by us.

Privacy Policy– New Car Lead Enquires

  • We take privacy very seriously. We understand that you will only complete an Enquiry if you can trust us to protect your personal information and use it appropriately. Our policy is to ensure that the personal information collected when you make an Enquiry is only used for the purposes of connecting you with an authorised motor car dealer.
  • We do not on-sell information collected from you or any other customer.
  • From time to time, we may email you with information or promotions that may be relevant for car buyers. You will continue to receive communications from us unless you tell us that you do not want to receive any advertising or promotional information in the future by unsubscribing from these communications.
* Denotes required field
** Australian inquiries only

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here