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Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - SLK-class - SLK230K convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Interior space, on-road competence, build quality
Room for improvement
Choppy low-speed ride, steering feedback

Mercedes-Benz logo17 May 2001

THE arrival of the SLK has helped crystallise the changing face of Benz. It draws a crowd of old and young like no other Mercedes we have driven.

And no wonder. With its wedge profile and wheel at each corner stance, it has been voted by our office as the best-looking modern Benz.

It is also short but wide and this adds to its muscular appeal, winning the hearts of both males and females.

Inside, the red and black trim took a little time to get used to but we appreciated just how much room the SLK offers roof up or down.

The "retro" dials, surrounded by chrome and with ivory faces, look the part but we were less convinced by the mock carbon fibre finish of the centre console.

The seats, although a little flat under the thighs, are comfortable and offer good shoulder and side support.

The SLK is the only car in the Benz range to offer drivers a hand brake rather than the infuriating foot brake used in all other models.

With the roof in place it is difficult to tell that this car is not a fixed head coupe.

Dubbed the Vario roof and made of steel, it is neatly trimmed inside and does not rattle or squeak. When in place, it banishes outside noise.

It goes up and down at the touch of a button, even attaching itself to the top of the windscreen without driver or passenger assistance.

It folds into the boot where there is a neat roller blind that separates it from, and protects, luggage at the same time.

If the blind is not in place the roof will not shut. Roof up and with the blind rolled away there is a surprising amount of boot space.

Roof folded, the boot can still hold a mid-sized suitcase although the opening is a little restricted.

Dynamically, the car more than matches its looks.

The most impressive aspect is its ride which remains firm yet supple and comfortable across the spectrum of road conditions.

Matching this ride comfort is a very stiff body. There is virtually no scuttle shake or vibration.

This stiffness helps the SLK reach its high standards of handling. The double wishbone front and sophisticated multi-link rear end offer agile and almost neutral handling.

It may not be quite as sporting as a mid-engined car, but it still satisfies and is unlikely to leave you wanting more.

Sporting it most definitely is, although the supple ride and an exhaust note that never inspires do dull the impression a little.

Performance is strong if not earth shattering.

Power comes from a supercharged version of the Benz 2.3-litre, four-cylinder engine. With 142kW and a broad and meaty band of torque, the sweet-revving engine hustles the car along.

The only transmission choice is an electronically-controlled five-speed automatic. This may seem a little strange but do not complain too loudly as the manufacturer claims the manual version, which is sold in Europe, is a tenth of a second slower to 100km/h than the auto.

For the record, Mercedes claims the automatic model takes 7.5 seconds for the 0-100km/h run.

Sixteen-inch wheels, with larger rubber on the back, get the power to the ground. Traction control is also standard.

Mercedes has not only produced the most user friendly convertible available on the market, but also a practical, fun sports car.

The question is why would Benz fans spend an additional $100,000- plus on the slower SL280?

- Automotive NetWorks 05/03/1999

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