July 28, 2008
North Vancouver, British Columbia – Sportlich. Leicht. Kurz: Mercedes-Benz can’t say it any more simply than that. For if there is one thing the 2009 Mercedes SLK300 is, it’s sporty, light and short. No translation needed.
Conceived in the mid-1990s and first produced as a 1998 model, the SLK had an immediate impact on the burgeoning roadster revival category, most notably as the second sports car out of the blocks to feature a power retractable hardtop (the ’95 Mitsubishi Spyder was the first of the modern era).
That roadster segment is today a very crowded marketplace indeed, with Porsche, BMW, Audi, a handful of Japanese automakers and even a couple of Big Three manufacturers offering 21st Century two-seat convertibles.
Priced at the upper level of the category, the SLK has consistently delivered on its promise of uncompromised top-down motoring first established with its innovative Kompressor models. That trend continues into 2009, with the rear-wheel drive SLK getting what industry types refer to as a ‘refreshening,’ both inside and out. Available models in the SLK stable for 2009 include the 300, the 350 and the 55 AMG.
Both front and back ends of the new SLK have been redesigned and tweaked with an eye to ‘sportiness.’ Hence the more pronounced V-shape up front with the Mercedes star more prominent, and a beefy diffuser-look out back to give the small sports car a bit of attitude. It works at both ends, as the front styling changes give the car a longer look, while the rear-end integrates into the main cabin nicely with the roof up or down (something that can’t be said of many convertibles).
Inside, that sporty theme is carried over, with a new instrument cluster housing redesigned bezels and controls. A new three-spoke steering wheel with multifunction controls completes the cabin updates, and like all Mercedes-Benz vehicles, the fit and finish is first-rate. Likewise, the materials used throughout the cabin Ã¢â‚¬â€ from the leather seats to the aluminum trim Ã¢â‚¬â€ seem up to the job of dealing with the elements. This is, after all, a convertible.
But if you’d rather hear a symphony in your ear rather than the wind, the new SLK offers a new NTG 2.5 generation of audio and telematic components. The standard audio system comes with Bluetooth technology, while updates include a media interface in the glovebox (think iPod) and a Linguatronic voice control system, a first for an SLK. For the true audiophiles, there’s the optional harman/kardon Logic7 sound system.
There’s very little to dislike about this car, and one never tires of watching the retractable roof do its thing in just 22 seconds.
One limitation of the SLK, however, is trunk space. Let’s just say if you and that special someone are planning a top-down weekend getaway in the SLK300, best to pack pretty light. The leather sport seats are very comfortable and provide bolster and support in all the right places, and when fully back can support a driver in the six-feet plus category.
My tester was a black-on-black SLK300 with a smattering of options, the most notable from a driving perspective being the seven-speed automatic gearbox. Readers of my column will know I’m not a fan of Tiptronic selectors, despite how each passing model year shaves milliseconds from those computer-assisted shifts.
A six-speed transmission is standard equipment on the SLK300 and 350, and provides fast, sporty and short gear throws. The seven-speed 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission with shift paddles on the steering wheel boasts shorter shift times but in my opinion diminishes the true driving experience of letting the clutch out and hearing that exhaust note. The AMG SpeedShift 7G-TRONIC, specifically tuned by AMG, comes with aluminum shift paddles on the steering wheel in the SLK55 AMG.
Still, the optional seven-speed provides seemingly seamless shifts when in automatic mode, providing the driver a chance to focus on the road at hand. In manual mode, the shifts up and down are precise and efficient, with the on-board computer even blipping the throttle on downshifts.
Powering the SLK300 is a 228-horsepower 3.0-litre V6, a reliable and solid though somewhat uninspired powerplant for the 1,470 kilogram sports car. The engine has been, according to Mercedes press notes, ‘optimized for lower fuel consumption and C02 emissions,’ and in fairness does provide spirited performance for the nimble car.
Where you feel the need for just a little more out of the six-cylinder engine is on take-off, the 221 lb.ft. of torque just not enough to give you what the beautiful package promises. The SLK300’s 0-100 km/h time of 6.3 seconds underscores the point. (For comparison’s sake, a 2008 Boxster boasts 245 ponies and a 5.8 second 0-100 km/h time, an ’08 Audi TT Roadster has 200 horsepower and a 6.1 second time, and a 2008 BMW Z4 features 255 horses and a flat 6 time.). That’s not to say the new SLK300 is a slouch, and for what it may lack in punch it certainly makes up for in panache.
Cruising at highway speed with the top down and your eye focused well down the road, the SLK300 embodies a great motoring experience, from the sensitive yet firm steering to the finely appointed cabin to the confident growl of the exhaust ports. Likewise, the SLK300 is very capable in about-town driving, its short wheelbase providing a nimble and light feel around the corners. Sightlines are excellent, even with the top up, and the blind spots that do exist are fairly thin and manageable.
So where does the 2009 SLK300 fit in with the competition?
While it’s true that in terms of performance and all around grunt a Boxster or Z4 offer more on both counts than the Mercedes, in terms of elegance and a real sense of refined driving, the Mercedes-Benz can’t be touched.
Pricing: 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK300
|(Entertainment Package: $1,300; Power Seating Package: $1,500; SLK300 Premium Package: $1,500; 7G-TRONIC 7-speed automatic transmission: $1,500)|
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturer’s web site