The 2017 Mercedes-Benz SLC is the car formerly known as SLK. To go with its new name, the 2017 SLC presents a freshened face, touched up around the grille, headlamps, and air intakes.
By any name, this car has not been redesigned since the 2011 model year, and it is the size of a subcompact. It’s clunky when compared to the elegant Mercedes-Benz coupe line. The SLC is especially dated in the cabin, where there are a few new surfaces, some revised gauges and a new steering wheel, but not enough changes to turn an awkward K into a swoopy C.
There are just two models, the Mercedes-Benz SLC300 and the racy Mercedes-AMG SLC43. The SLC300 is more of a comfort machine than a sports machine. The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 is meant to address the performance aspect.
It’s hard to believe that the hardtop roadster sports car has been around for two decades (not counting the true pioneer, the 1957 Ford Skyliner), but that’s how long it’s been since Mercedes-Benz reintroduced it with the SLK. The 2017 SLC efficiently carries on the design.
The SLC300 uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, to accelerate the car to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, a brisk performance. The engine has a fairly flat torque curve, so there’s little drama or high-rpm thrill.
The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 is a totally different car, with its twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that makes 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. On top of the hood-busting power, a Dynamic Handling package makes cornering balanced and responsive, including when the car is being pushed hard. Steering and suspension improvements, plus a limited-slip rear differential, further help the Mercedes-AMG SLC43 get around corners. It uses the same 9-speed automatic transmission as the SLC300, but it’s programmed to shift quicker. It’ll get to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds, which is very quick. A standard Dynamic Select system provides five drive modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual.
The 2017 SLC comes in just two models, SLC300 with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, and Mercedes-AMG SLC43 with its twin-turbocharged V6 and suspension upgrades.
Standard features include Bluetooth and the Mercedes COMAND infotainment system. But not a rearview camera. Available safety equipment includes active braking assist, and lane keeping assist.
The SLC is elegant and nicely sculpted, more masculine than the previous SLK, with chiseled low sheetmetal. The new grille for 2017 is a diamond pattern, fairly vertical, standard in black, or chrome with the Sport Package. At the rear there are LED taillights. The familiar silhouette rises at the beltline.
The transition from the blunt nose to the tapering rear end isn’t as smooth as it might be, and it looks more distinctive with the top down than up.
Just as the AMG SLC43 is totally different behind the wheel, so does it look different, with a glossy black air deflector, big air intakes with chrome fins, a silver front splitter, shiny black 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome exhaust tips, and a silver chrome diffuser apron.
The squared-off cabin fails to match the curvaceous and meticulous levels of the Mercedes-Benz sedans and the crossovers, or even the smaller CLA and GLA. The new flat-bottomed steering wheel tries to convince you that the instrument panel is fresh, but the clean analog gauges are about it. Same buttons, switches, and seven-inch infotainment screen embedded in the dash.
The cabin is tight when the top is up, turning the SLC300 into a quiet coupe. It’s the high point of the car’s overall design. With the top down, there’s some turbulence, reduced by a mesh divider between the seats, and windstops that close the openings in the rollbars behind each seat. Now that’s detail. Meanwhile, the available Airscarf whispers warm air onto the occupants’ necks. It’s a charming feature.
The hardtop comes standard with a panoramic glass roof with available Magic Sky Control, which lightens and darkens the glass. More detail. Visibility can be difficult with the top up.
Given the long hood and short cabin, there is remarkably little cabin space. However, if you compare it to the Mazda MX-5 Miata, it feels generous. Taller folks will want more legroom, and more seat travel, as the seats are located close to the dash. Deeper footwells would be nice, too.
Cubbies for storing small things are surprisingly lacking. The center console compartment has maybe enough room for a camera without a long lens. Don’t look to the trunk, either, certainly not with the top down. You might get away for a weekend with two people, as there’s backpack-sized space under the floor. In total, there’s 10.1 cubic feet with the roof up, 6.4 with it down.
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine in the SLC300 feels plenty quick in a straight line, and it’s quite responsive and not peaky; although when you compare it to the V6 that was in last year’s SLK, it loses a lot. In Comfort mode there’s too much lag in the turbo and the 9-speed transmission. Fortunately there are peppier modes; the Dynamic Select system offers Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual, to tune throttle response, transmission response, steering boost, and electronic stability reaction.
The steering is great, but it’s very clear that the SLC300 doesn’t want to hang its tail out; try it, and the inside rear wheel will spin. Meanwhile the he short wheelbase doesn’t exactly enhance the ride. Adaptive damping helps, but your butt stays pretty busy on bumpy roads.
The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 is a different story, when you want it to be, but around town, it’s as tractable and easy to drive as the SLC300. However out on the open road, it’s way faster, with its twin-turbo 3.0-liter V6 bringing 362 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque. And it handles way better, with a balanced, responsive feel even when near the limits of grip. That’s made even better with the available Dynamic Handling package that lowers the suspension, stiffens the variable-ratio steering, and upgrades the brakes, while adding special engine mounts, rear suspension tweaks, and a limited-slip rear differential.
Changing the name from SLK to SLC can’t change the fact that this is the seventh year of a generation. The 2.0-turbo engine is only one year old, and the 9-speed automatic transmission is new for 2017, but the transmission isn’t proven, and the engine is not matching that of the competition. Even the retractable hardtop, which is a great thing, is nearly 20 years old.
Sam Moses contributed to this report, with driving impressions by The Car Connection.