The Mercedes-Benz SLK is styled like a scaled-down SL-Class model. Fitted with a retractable hardtop, the SLK melds roadster excitement with Mercedes-Benz comfort.
Introduced for the 2011 model year, the SLK will be redesigned and renamed SLC for 2017.
For its part, the 2016 SLK gets a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as standard equipment, replacing the previous 1.8-liter engine. The new 2.0-liter engine in the 2016 SLK300 makes 241 horsepower and 273 foot-pounds of torque and can reach 60 mph from a standing start in fewer than 6 seconds. Fuel efficiency has improved, and the SLK300 is EPA-rated at 25/32 mpg City/Highway.
No changes for the 2016 SLK350, which comes with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 302 horsepower, mating with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Topping the roster is the SLK55 AMG, packing a V8 that sends 415 horsepower to a sharper-shifting AMG Speedshift transmission.
For 2016, a newly available AMG Carbon Styling Package conveys a dark, technical, appearance. AMG bodywork is offered as an option for the 2016 SLK300.
With the retractable hardtop up, the cockpit is tight, quiet and refined, a little too tight for taller drivers. Mercedes-Benz offers distinct features to enhance the top-down experience, such as Airscarf, which blows warm air at the driver’s neck.
Basically maintaining the same profile through its lifespan, the SLK evolved into quite a graceful sports car. Redesigned for 2012, the third-generation model slips between the original blocky design and the overly styled second generation.
Exterior dimensions classify the SLK as a subcompact, but it’s actually a roadster with a traditional long hood and rear-wheel drive. Though aimed at a different audience that its main rivals, the BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster, the SLK provides stimulating drivability for daily commutes, as well as the precision performance that can turn a weekend trek into an adventure. Because of the retracting roof, trunk space trails that of soft-top competitors.
All models include Attention Assist, which senses if you’re growing drowsy. The mbrace2 telematics assists with roadside emergencies.
For 2016, blind-spot assistance is a standalone option. The Driver Assistance Package includes blind-spot assistance and adds Pre-Safe, Distronic Plus smart cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive highbeam assist. Optional front/rear parking sensors permit automated parallel-parking, with the driver operating only the gas and brake pedals.
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK300 ($47,000) includes the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine; power windows, locks and mirrors; climate control; and leather seats. The standard sound system has eight speakers, a CD player, HD radio, USB port, and Bluetooth audio streaming.
SLK350 ($59,200) steps up to the 3.5-liter V6, with power seats, satellite radio, and a Harman/Kardon surround-sound system.
SLK55 AMG ($72,600) holds the 5.5-liter V8 and adds Solar Red ambient interior lighting, an IWC clock, Nappa leather upholstery, and various performance upgrades.
SLK has a twofold purpose: luxury and performance. Visually, it looks ready to provide both. The SLK bears a resemblance to the larger SL-Class.
With a wheelbase shorter than 96 inches, measuring 163 inches overall, the SLK is one short vehicle. A tall, sizable front end blends into a softer, more conservative rear section. Roughly bubble-profiled, the roof tapers back toward teardrop-style taillamps. Some details were adapted from the striking SLS AMG gullwing model. Designers earn kudos for injecting more than a touch of elegance into a short-wheelbase roadster.
The high-performance SLK55 AMG takes the basic shape and gives it a more boisterous presence.
Inside, the SLK looks ready for a major overhaul. Curves are mostly absent, resulting in a more upright and squared-off look. Real buttons and switches are used, but an LCD screen presents audio displays. Models with the COMAND system include a control knob. Analog instruments sit within metallic tubes, and the driver faces a flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Even long-legged passengers can find comfort in an SLK, despite its relatively snug cockpit. Footwells are large enough, but seats are mounted rather close to the dashboard.
With the top up, the cabin feels tight and free of drafts. Highway driving can get turbulent with the top down, though a mesh divider between the seats helps calm things down.
Cargo volume totals 10.1 cubic feet with the roof up, but only 6.4 when it’s down. Still, that’s sufficient for a weekend getaway.
With the top up, an SLK feels a lot more coupe-like; imparting more of a closed-in sensation. Outward visibility can be impaired, however, and a rearview camera isn’t available. We recommend the photochromic Magic Sky Control roof, which can tint its glass panel from almost opaque to fully transparent.
The 2016 SLK300 delivers quicker acceleration performance than did 2016 SLK250. The SLK300 features a new 2.0-liter engine and 9-speed automatic transmission.
The SLK350 with its 302-horsepower V6 earns a solid recommendation, and it comes with a 7-speed automatic. Sport mode yields quick gearchanges, but shifts are drawn-out and syrupy in Eco mode.
The SLK55 AMG features brute-force performance and a wicked, snarly exhaust. The AMG can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. Ride quality is staunchly firm. Responses are quick from the specially tuned, 7-speed AMG Speedshift, which includes big paddle shifters.
SLK uses electro-hydraulic steering coupled with Direct Steer, which amplifies power assist in accord with rotation of the steering wheel. With Direct Steer, you can expect almost an inch of free play at the wheel’s center position, meant to yield relaxed highway cruising. Yet, twisting the wheel a mere quarter-turn produces substantial change in direction.
The SLK300 is fuel-efficient but delivers performance is almost as strong as the SLK350.
The SLK350 is EPA-rated at 21/29 mpg.
The SLK55 AMG, not so much, EPA-rated at 19/28 mpg City/Highway despite a cylinder-deactivation system. All SLK models get a Stop/Start feature that automatically turns off the engine when stopping, for example at intersections.
SLK will be replaced for 2017 by an all-new SLC, so look for deals on the former.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.