Mercedes Benz SLK can change from a practical hardtop to an open top fun car within seconds. Ameya Dandekar drives the ‘wow' vehicle
I f you're the kind that deliberately chooses the corner seat at a restaurant, the Mercedes SLK is not for you. People you drive past will acknowledge the presence of this car with a loud “Wow,” there's always someone looking and pointing at you, probably grinning more than you are.
It's no surprise that Merc's done a stellar job of updating the aesthetics of its compact sports car. The SLS-style protruding front grille gives it tremendous character, the pert boot and larger tail-lights are perfectly integrated and the presence of the new ‘beaky' nose also means it has that long bonnet so sought after in sports cars. And it has the muscle to go with the sporty looks too.
It uses the same 3.5-litre motor from the S350; this engine has been tuned to be more responsive and powerful, and this makes all the difference. Every jab on the throttle results in a satisfying surge and that's just what you want from your sporty set of wheels. And it's quick too, with 305bhp on tap, the rapid 0-100kph time of 6.48 seconds is quick enough to match competition. Driven flat-out, the SLK350 will hit 150kph in just 13.08sec, cross 200kph in 25.52sec and slam into the speed-limiter at 250kph without too much effort. These quick times are also thanks to the way it powers off the line. The engine spins freely, elasticity is good and the motor pulls cleanly all the way to the redline. The top end is not ballistic but the fantastic midrange more than makes up for it. It has so much muscle and performance is so linear that you often don't notice how fast you are going. 180kph has a tendency to sneak up on you and, if you still don't pay attention, sliding past 220kph is quite effortless too.
Even the gearbox is good. Unlike one of Merc's typical relaxed gearboxes, this one is pretty obedient and responsive. It's nowhere as quick as the dual-clutch unit on the Z4 or the Boxster S, but at the same time is quick enough to keep the motor on the boil.
Underneath the body of the front-engined, rear-wheel-drive SLK, the suspension is multi-link all round. And this two-seater is quite stiffly sprung too, thanks to which the new SLK has plenty of grip in corners. Body roll is well contained, the car feels comfortable when cornered hard, and understeer doesn't raise its ugly head either.
Still, there's something essential missing here. The car doesn't encourage you to drive hard, the steering lacks precision, and the wheel is so well-insulated from the road that there's precious little feel. And this is disappointing, especially since this car seems to have every other essential ingredient. The stiff suspension also means that the ride is not always Mercedes-pliant or comfortable. The SLK gets unsettled over broken surfaces, its 17-inch wheels and low profile tyres communicate a lot of the road's surface into the cabin and this means the SLK is not fun enough on a winding road nor comfortable enough to be a relaxed cruiser.
The interiors however are typical Merc — solid and full of quality bits. Sit in the snug cockpit and you are met with plenty of brushed aluminium and leather, the seats are comfortable and large enough, and the dash has a nice clean design. One thing's for sure — it's a cabin that leaves you thoroughly convinced of the Mercedes' premium status. Our test car also came with an optional ‘Vario-roof', which is a clear-glass panel set into the folding electric hardtop. And though it sounds like an underwhelming detail, it does add a lot to the ambience of the cabin. The SLK is even reasonably practical. You retain 225 litres of the 335-litre boot even with the roof stowed away, which looks particularly good next to the BMW Z4's 180 from 310 litres.
It is pretty easy to be seduced by the SLK. With the hard top retracted, wind in your hand and a muscular 3.5 litre V6 providing the background score, the new SLK hits the spot quite easily. It can transform from a practical hardtop to an open top fun car within seconds. The V6 under the hood is the only thing that can match the car's racy profile.
Costing Rs 61.9 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the SLK has almost everything going for it.
Sit in the snug cockpit and you are met with plenty of brushed aluminium and leather, the seats are comfortable and large enough, and the dash has a nice clean design