A two-seat convertible for a very specific market |
Not only is it a beautiful runner, it sounds good too.
Recently, we have had a considerable amount of seat time in a few different four-seat convertibles bearing price tags in the $60-80,000 range. The Audi S5 had the best powertrain, the Mercedes-Benz E350 was the most luxurious, and the BMW 4-series Cabriolet was the best choice for the driver. Recently though, we had the opportunity to sample the 2015 Mercedes-Benz SLK350, a car that while bearing a similar price tag, is considerably different from all of the others.
This is our first go at the SLK-class, a favourite since its introduction in 1996. It was the first car to reinvent the retractable hardtop on a large-scale level, even though various manufacturers had toyed with the idea over the decades. Our very own Zack Zeraldo actually owns a first-generation (codenamed R170) SLK320, and it’s very similarly optioned to the test car pictured here. Painted in a no-charge Fire Opal with black leather upholstery, the SLK350 stands out from a crowd.
In its nearly two-decade evolution, the SLK has grown to closely resemble its larger brother, the SL roadster. In fact, while out with the car, we returned to it in a parking lot with what we thought was an identical white one parked beside it. Upon closer inspection though, it was revealed to be an SL550. While this may be a huge compliment to the smaller and significantly cheaper SLK, this does take away from the unique and far more premium aspect of the SL. The long hood and short trunklid make for beautiful proportions, and the 18” AMG 5-spoke wheels set the lines off very nicely.
The SLK350 is smack dab in the middle of the SLK-class. Slotted right above the economical SLK250 and just below the AMG-powered SLK55, the 350 is actually the perfect engine. The SLK250 would do the job nicely but would definitely feel a little bit anemic, something we never experienced with the V6-powered car. At 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, the little Benz has plenty of pep. It pulls right across the powerband, with a 0-100km/h time of about 5.5 seconds.
Not only is it a runner, it sounds good too. Even though the 3.5L V6 is (minus some tuning tweaks) virtually identical to the one in the E350 Cabriolet, it has a sport-tuned exhaust that gives it a great throaty sound on acceleration. In fact, more than one staffer noticed that this Mercedes-Benz sounds surprisingly similar to the 5-cylinder engine in the dearly departed Audi TT-RS. The exhaust, being a Benz product, has been tuned properly to not have any drone at highway speeds. It only makes that great sound upon acceleration; when cruising at highway speeds the SLK350 is silent.
On the inside, the SLK roadster is very typical Mercedes-Benz. All of the materials are high quality and the seats are very comfortable. The COMAND infotainment setup is identical to that in virtually every other car out of the Benz factory. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the SLK still uses the conventional center console shifter rather than the new steering column-mounted unit seen in both the CLA as well as B250 and E-Class models we’ve recently driven. Power seat controls are located on the doors in the usual Mercedes fashion and there are plenty of adjustments.
There are some neat features that help the Mercedes-Benz SLK stand out from other convertibles on the market. There are roll bars located behind the passenger area that help maximize safety in the event of a collision, along with Mercedes’ new AIRGUIDE technology. Rather than using wind blockers, AIRGUIDE is made up of three small panels hinged into the roll bars. Combined with the AIRSCARF feature that pushes warm air out of the headrests, the SLK is a wonderful choice for top-down motoring even on colder days.
However, being a small two-seat roadster, the SLK is noticeably tight inside. Anyone over 5’10 will find it quite compromising, especially if you have a large upper torso. The glass Panoramic Vario Roof definitely helps minimize claustrophobia and retracts into the trunk at the touch of a button in roughly 25 seconds. It’s no secret that our team adores the Mazda MX-5 Miata, so it’s important to note that the interior accommodations of the two cars are quite similar. Other than this, our only gripe with the SLK350 is the lack of a reverse camera. At a price point exceeding $70,000 as-tested, this is a feature that should be standard issue.
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is a rear-drive two-seat roadster from a luxury manufacturer. At its as-tested price, it’s dangerously close to the base price of far sportier cars. In fact, Mercedes’ own C63 AMG can be had for less. Dynamically though, the SLK isn’t really a sports car, so don’t expect it to be one. It’s a grand tourer for weekend road trips that can be enjoyed right through the work week as well. At 8.6L/100km combined on premium fuel, it’s not overly thirsty either. With its striking lines that make it easily mistaken for a $150,000 SL, it’s surprisingly good value and a solid choice for anyone in the market for a retractable hardtop convertible.
2015 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 Gallery