The Mercedes SLK is a compact roadster that first came to market in 1996 and has seen two further generations introduced, in 2004 and 2011. It was one of the first to offer a retractable hard roof, and it blazed the trail, along with the Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder, that was followed by manufacturers such as Peugeot, Lexus, Pontiac, and Chrysler to move away from their folding cloth tops during the course of the years that followed. It is built in Bremen in Germany and shipped for sale here.
The roof design is one of the most notable aspects of the SLK. Made of folding steel, it interlocks completely when closed, yet opens hydraulically with the simple touch of a button, folding fully away into the boot, leaving 145L of space (first-generation figures) for luggage, which expands to a hefty 348L (first generation) when the roof is closed up again.
SLK stands for Mercedes’ mission statement for the roadster – Sportlich, Leicht und Kurz, which translated into English means sporty, light, and short – and it certainly delivers on all three levels.
First-generation SLKs have the designation R170, while second-generation models are known as R171 and third-generations R172. While clearly related, there are some noticeable styling differences between the generations. The R170 demonstrates the gently sloping curves of the era, while the R171 shows some major updates to the front grille and a general lengthening of the bonnet. The R172 in turn has a slightly boxier feel, again in keeping with the way that car styling fashions have moved on. Whichever generation you choose, there is no denying that the SLK is an extremely good-looking car, with plenty of badge appeal and the ability to turn heads wherever it goes.
The first SLK was inspired by the 1950s Mercedes 190 SL and shared with its ancestor its 4-cylinder engine and 2400mm wheelbase. The first models came to market with a 2.3L supercharged engine coupled with a choice of a 5-speed manual or automatic transmission. A facelift in 2000 brought with it a 6-speed manual gearbox and a new range of engines including a top-of-the-range supercharged 3.2L V6 engine giving 260kW of power and a special 5-speed ‘SpeedShift’ gearbox capable of shifting 35 per cent quicker than a standard gearbox.
The year 2004 brought with it a facelift and a new range of engines, including a 3.0L double overhead cam V6, giving 170kW of power and reaching 0-100km/h in an impressive 6.3 seconds, with a top speed of 249km/h. Top of the range was the SLK 55, with its 5.4L V8 engine, giving 265kW of power in less than 4.9 seconds and also a top speed of 249km/h. A version of this was used for a while as the Formula One safety car, such were its speed and holding.
Models from 2011 include the SLK 200 with its 1.8L 4-cylinder engine giving 135kW of power and 270Nm of torque, coupled with either a 7-speed automatic or 6-speed manual gearbox. Fuel economy is 6.9L/100km. Next up is the SLK 250, also with a 1.8L 4-cylinder engine, delivering 150kW of power and 310Nm of torque, coupled with a 7-speed automatic gearbox and delivering fuel economy of 7.0L/100km. The SLK 350 comes with a 3.5L 6-cylinder engine delivering 225kW of power and 370Nm of torque, also coupled with the 7-speed automatic transmission and offering fuel economy of 8.3L/100km. At the top of the heap, the SLK 55 AMG comes with a whopping 5.5L 8-cylinder engine giving 310kW of power and 540Nm of torque. The 55 AMG comes complete with a 7-speed automatic gearbox and returns a fuel economy of 8.5L/100km.
The SLK oozes quality inside as well as out. Various changes to trim and accessories separate the generations and individual model years, but on the whole, if you are in the market for an SLK, you can expect to find it fairly brimming with kit and extras. Smart beige and black leather interiors, 3-spoke steering wheels, and woodgrain trims all feature strongly, along with high-quality audio systems. Newer SLKs come with a NTG 2.5 audio system with hands-free phone connectivity and iPod compatibility with optional voice control. The addition of the Airscarf system, which blows hot air directly onto the necks of the driver and passengers via the backs of the seats is a suitably luxurious touch.
The SLK was brought to market as a direct competitor to the Porsche Boxster, the leading popular roadster of the time. It also gives the BMW M Roadster and BMW Z3 a run for their money in older incarnations, and competes directly with the BMW Z4 amongst the newer models.