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

Our Opinion

We like
Improved performance of four and six-cylinder engines, nice manual gearboxes, 200 Kompressor is good value for money
Room for improvement
Steering is a bit vague on centre, ride still on the harsh side, hard seats

26 Jun 2008

THE upgraded SLK is not largely different to the model it replaces, but the various improvements do add up to make the upgraded SLK an impressive vehicle.

A test drive at the Australian launch this week revealed that all three engine variants are fun to drive, but also showed you don’t necessarily need to buy the AMG version to have a lot of fun.

The two cars that are the most improved are the SLK200 Kompressor and SLK350, thanks to their upgraded engines, and both are impressive in different ways.

The 200 is actually a lot of fun and will have more than enough punch for many customers. It’s been a while since we drove the SLK Kompressor, so although it’s difficult to tell how much it has been improved it’s clear the newest version has a lot going for it.

The engine has quite a lot of punch down low and the boosted fun continues higher up the rev range, before petering out at around 5000rpm. The strong torque delivery makes it possible to leave the car in a higher gear and let it do its work.

The Kompressor’s strong power delivery is accompanied by a nice, sporty exhaust note that compliments a mild supercharger whine, and an excellent official fuel economy figure of eight litres per 100km is also a positive, except it does demand 98 RON premium fuel.

Before the SLK was upgraded Mercedes-Benz only brought in a handful of manual models. You could get one if you wanted, but you had to order the car specifically.

This time around, the 350 and 200 Kompressor both come standard with a six-speed manual, which in the latter’s case felt slick and crisp with a nice, light clutch action.

We didn’t drive a 200 Kompressor with the five-speed automatic, but we imagine the transmission would dull the performance slightly, which is another reason to choose the manual.

Then there’s the hefty $3120 fee to order the car with an automatic. For that money you can buy a Sport Pack kit that includes sports suspension, upgraded brakes, special alloy wheels and red interior trim stitching - and have $120 left.

After a drive in a manual SLK200 Kompressor with the Sport Pack, one thing that stood out was the sharper suspension that helps ensure the SLK sits nice and flat in bends during the turns.

While there was less bodyroll when compared to another model we drove without the Sport Pack, the downside is that the ride felt a little firmer and a little harsher. That said, the standard suspension is still on the firm side.

The V6 engine is a great unit - you can tell that before you even start it if you look at the figures. The SLK350 does the 0-100km/h sprint in just 5.4 seconds - only 0.5 seconds slower than the SLK 55 AMG, which is a brilliant but rather expensive vehicle.

The SLK350 engine is even better than the figures suggest. While the Kompressor engine is more than enough for most drivers, the V6 delivers V8-style performance and also sounds far more menacing than ever before.

The howl of exhaust gets meaner and meaner as you wind the engine out to 7200rpm and the cut-out. It sounds nice enough when you have the roof up, but simply sounds fantastic when you drop it. It’s a smooth engine and winding it out is a real treat.

While the Kompressor engine is strong down the bottom-end, the naturally-aspirated V6 is meaty all the way through the rev range.

We tested the SLK350 with the optional seven-speed automatic. At $3520, it isn’t cheap, but it does have a quality gearbox. When left in automatic, it changes quickly and relatively intuitively.

Flick it into manual and you can change gears yourself with the paddles on the steering wheel or the gearshifter. The changes in manual mode are fairly quick, although not quite as fast as the double-clutch change in a car like the new M3 automatic.

It also can hesitate while changing down. And the 7GTronic auto will also change up by itself when it gets close to redline, even in manual mode, rather than hitting the engine cut-out.

All is forgiven, however, when it comes to changing down. It’s then that the engines blips, belting out a sporty note as you pick your way down through the gears.

The best engine is still the supercharged 5.4-litre V8 of the SLK55 – and so it should be given that it’s $52,520 more expensive than the V6. The engine is no different to the previous model as Mercedes has decided not to upgrade to the 6.2-litre engine that powers other AMG models.

It’s not an issue as the existing engine has so much punch. Drop the roof and you will hear a wonderful thundering V8 note under acceleration. Back off the throttle and you can sometimes hear a gruff rumble as the engine winds down.

The new steering feels pretty good in most conditions and there was no sign of rack rattle even over some very, very bumpy roads. There is also good feedback for much of the time, though the wheel does feel vague and very light on centre.

Nothing has changed when it comes to the SLK’s body, which isn’t a bad thing as this is a relatively stiff one. Of course, when you drop the hard-top roof there is some movement in the body, but it isn’t that bad.

Unfortunately, Mercedes has missed an opportunity to upgrade the SLK’s seats, which are quite firm and become uncomfortable on a longer trim.

The subtle styling changes are most evident on the SLK55, but you can also pick the differences to the other cars if you look hard enough.

It’s the same with the interior, which looks similar to the previous model’s, but the SLK still looks quite modern inside and out, so there was little need to change its appearance.

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