2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK

Version 3.0 of the Mercedes-Benz SLK two-seat hard-top convertible pushes further into sports car territory and away from the “chick-car” status it has endured (somewhat unfairly with regards to the 2004 2nd gen car) since first coming on the scene in 1996.

Not to say this all-new $66,500 2012 model won’t coddle and cruise like a slick Merc should, it’s just that it also rewards spirited driving in a way the previous models, save for the V8-powered AMG model, did not.

Currently the only engine on offer is an all-new direct-injection 60-degree 3.5-litre V6 which replaces the less efficient and heavier 90-degree 3.5-litre V6. Power goes from 300 hp to 302 at 6,500 rpm and torque from 266 lb.-ft. to 273 at 3,500 to 5,250 rpm. Direct-injection and an ignition system capable of delivering multiple sparks per combustion event allow for a high 12.2:1 compression ratio – all good for increased power and a claimed 10 per cent improvement in fuel efficiency. I saw 10.8 L/100 km for a week mixed driving.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350. Click image to enlarge

The SLK 350 is fitted with Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto – no manual transmission is offered.

The SLK 350 looks squat and muscular, with Canadian models coming standard with an AMG Sport Package that includes 18-inch wheels with performance tires and aggressive body bits. In the interest of weight saving, the hood and front fenders are aluminum, and the folding top is now constructed mostly of plastic. Just as the previous gen SLK mimicked the front end of the then current uber-Merc, the Mercedes McLaren SLR, this 2012 model has a snout styled after the SLS AMG gullwing supercar.

Similarly, the SLK interior is pretty much a dead-ringer for the SLS, featuring a simple and bluff retro-inspired dash, chrome faced gauges, four large round air vents and a broad centre console. The flat-bottomed steering wheel is Nappa covered and very nicely contoured, and the leather seats provide a fine comfort/support compromise. Dialing in a good driving position was a breeze.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350. Click image to enlarge

Mercedes’ COMAND driver/vehicle interface remains as one of the best of this ilk, here fitted with navigation for $1,950.

Firing up the V6 drives home the SLK 350’s sporting intent. The exhaust note is surprisingly loud and rorty, if a little gruff (you won’t mistake this for a Porsche), but as the revs rise out on the open road it starts to sound positively racy.

Power delivery is eager and linear right up to the 6,500 rpm redline, and there is plenty of torque across the rev range. This little roadster really flies when you put your foot into it, and surprise, the chassis plays along beautifully.

You can provoke the tail out in low-speed turns and the stability control allows a graceful sidestep before gently reining things in – just like a Porsche Boxster. While not the dynamic jewel of the mid-engined Porsche (what car is?), this Merc feels light, playful and poised, and with cornering attitude easily adjustable with the throttle, you’re getting a healthy dose of rear-wheel-drive fun. The electronic steering is accurate, well weighted and delivers good feedback – might be the best Mercedes rack I’ve experienced – with one caveat (more on that later).

Unlike U.S. models, all Canadian SLK 350s come standard with the Dynamic Handling Package. This includes electronically controlled dampers which adjust to road and driving conditions. A button on the dash selects Sport mode, firming things up for flatter cornering, although the ride is never harsh. You also get a rear torque-vectoring system that gently brakes the inside rear wheel when cornering to mitigate understeer and help the car rotate.

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