2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250. Click image to enlarge

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Manufacturer’s web site
Mercedes-Benz Canada

Review and photos by Mike Schlee

Photo Gallery:
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

In late July I fell head-over-heels in love with the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG. Besides the amazing V8 engine and accompanying sounds, I appreciated the comfort, luxury, style, and usability of this little roadster. So, when Mercedes-Benz offered the chance to review the base model SLK 250, I jumped at the chance. Would an SLK that is 33 percent cheaper than my beloved 55 AMG still keep me interested with half the power and less luxury? Time to find out.

Being that this is the starting point for the SLK, the 250 comes with the smallest engine, smallest wheels, and fewest luxury amenities. But, like any good Mercedes-Benz, there is the ability to option it up however you see fit. My test vehicle came equipped with the Bi-Xenon Headlamp Package, Sport Package, and Premium Package. The premium package adds items like heated seats, Mercedes AIRSCARF and the Harman/Kardon stereo with SIRIUS Satellite radio. What is notably absent from a package dubbed ‘premium’ are power seats, any form of rear park assist, or navigation. The Bi-Xenon headlamp package is pretty self-explanatory and adds the active headlamps that bend their arc in the direction of the vehicle’s intended path. Turn right and the lights bend their aim to the right. To ensure they are working properly, every time the headlamps are turned on in the SLK, the active headlights do their dance: out, down, together and back up.

2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250. Click image to enlarge

The nicest upgrade for a sports car nut like myself is the Sport Package. Not only does it upgrade the wheels from 17 to 18 inches, it also brings dynamic handling and AMG-style exterior enhancements. In fact, the SLK 250 is very hard to distinguish from the SLK 55 AMG from the front because of the Sport package. It is only in the rear, where the SLK 250 lacks the trademark AMG quad-oval exhaust tips that it is apparent this is a lesser SLK. Well, that and the badging. Still, kudos to Mercedes-Benz for making the SLK 250 such a stunner, with LED taillights that look oh so cool and modern at night.

Okay, so the SLK still looks the part. But how does replacing a 5.5L V8 with a 1.8L turbocharged-four affect the character of the car? Well, besides the obvious decrease in power, it really doesn’t hamper the vehicle that much. It turns the SLK from a surprisingly sharp track tool back into the brisk boulevard cruiser the original SLK always was. Remember, this isn’t the first time the SLK has had a boosted four-cylinder under its bonnet, but rather a return of the four-banger. That said, the 1.8L four-cylinder is new to the SLK as of 2011 and is the first time the base engine is turbocharged instead of supercharged. It produces 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque but is deceivingly quick once boost builds up after some brief turbo lag. And, like every recently developed German-made turbocharged car, it will let out a hearty snarl during high-rpm upshifts.

2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250. Click image to enlarge

Sadly though, those upshifts were performed for me through Mercedes-Benz’s 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission and not the standard six-speed manual transmission—the only manual in Mercedes’ entire Canadian lineup. In virtually every Mercedes-Benz vehicle I have driven this year, the 7G-TRONIC has been a great unit, one of the better automatics. However, in this vehicle it is a let-down. The usually smooth, quick reacting operation is slow, delayed and jerky. In ‘E’ mode, I actually encountered times when it took upwards of two seconds from rapid throttle tip-in to when a downshift finally occurred. But select ‘S’ mode and the transmission reacts much more quickly—like a regular 7G-TRONIC. The downside is that Sport mode holds gears too long and at too high an rpm for everyday driving. Plus, it will not go past sixth gear on the highway so fuel consumption ultimately suffers. The only real solution is to drive in manual mode, which reacts to your inputs acceptably quickly, but may become tiresome for those who opted for the automatic transmission because they didn’t want to change their own gears in the first place.

These contrasting transmission modes combined with an engine that is dormant when off-boost, but very lively once boost pressure rises, makes for a very on-off driving experience; there is nothing tractable in its power delivery. A staff member who spent some time in the SLK 250 may have summed it up best by referring to this Mercedes-Benz as the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of automobiles. Keep it in Dr. Jekyll mode most of the time and the reward will be somewhere near Natural Resources Canada ratings of 9.0 L/100 km city and 6.0 L/100 km highway. Keep it in Mr. Hyde mode though, and something closer to my 10.8 L/100 km should be expected.

2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 250. Click image to enlarge

Thanks to the Sport package, specifically the adjustable dampers and upgraded wheels, the car handles great and is very easy to predict in its movements. In fact, with the summer tires still installed during these near 0-degree C days, the car became quite slide-able around corners, but within complete control. Maybe there is some track-tool sharpness instilled in the SLK 250 after all. The steering feel is quite impressive, too, and better than expected for a non-dedicated sports car. To further assist responsiveness, the SLK’s curb weight is kept to just 1,500 kg, which is pretty svelte for a vehicle that features a retractable hardtop roof.

Yes, the SLK is indeed a convertible; something that is easily forgotten when the daytime high temperature reaches only 5 degrees Celsius. The fact I could forget the Mercedes-Benz was a roadster is a testament to the design. With the roof up, the SLK feels like any other sports coupe on the road. Sightlines are great and actually better than some two-seaters, thanks to the absence of a B-pillar on the side of the car. Cargo capacity, which is a decent 225 L when the top is down, grows to 335 L with the top up and is impressive for a sports car this size regardless of whether it has a fixed roof or not.

The completely manually operated front seat is fairly comfortable, but I find it hard to believe those buying an SLK will settle for having to pull their seat fore and aft or having to stick a TomTom GPS to their windshield. If one can afford the $60,000+ price tag of this SLK, why not spend $2,700 for the Premium Seating Package and $1,950 for the Navigation Package. What’s another $4,650 between friends, right?

Ultimately, the SLK 250 does prove to be a competent package but lacks some of the bang for the buck I found in the SLK 55 AMG (yup, I just called a $90,000 automatic roadster “good bang for the buck”). The SLK 250 is more about style and presence and can be optioned as luxuriously as you want (or don’t want) it to be. Those looking for a bargain luxury performance roadster will want to avoid some of the packages added to this car and stick to the manual-transmission base SLK 250.

Pricing: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG
Base price: $52,200
Options: $1,500 (7G-TRONIC Automatic Transmission), $1000 (Bi-Xenon Headlamps Package), $2,500 (Sport Package), $3,100 (Premium Package)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $2,075
Price as tested: $62,475

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