For the 2016 model year, the least expensive Mercedes-Benz SLK sports car has been renamed the SLK 300 thanks to a new turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine and a new standard nine-speed automatic transmission which replaces the 1.8L turbo and standard six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic transmission of the outgoing SLK 250.

Higher up the SLK trim ladder, the 2016 SLK 350 (V6) and SLK 55 AMG (V8) models remain mostly unchanged for 2016. A completely redesigned SLK – probably renamed SLC – is rumoured to arrive for 2017.

Now, when I say the SLK 300 is the “least expensive” model, I don’t mean “inexpensive”. The base price of the 2016 SLK 300 has risen to $58,100, a $5,900 jump over the 2015 SLK 250 with the six-speed manual and $4,400 more than the 2015 SLK 250 with seven-speed automatic. While the 2016 SLK 300 offers more standard features such as automatic climate control, heated seats, and blind spot assist, the price increases seem rather hefty.

Now offering 241 hp at 5,000 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque from 1,300 to 4,000 rpm, the SLK 300’s extra 41 horsepower and 43 lb-ft of torque provide a modest but welcome boost in performance. Zipping from 0 to 100 km/h in just 5.8 seconds, the SLK300 is .07 seconds faster than the SLK 250 with the manual transmission and .08 seconds faster than the SLK 250 with automatic, according to Mercedes-supplied performance figures. As maximum torque now starts at just 1,300 rpm rather than 2,000 rpm, the SLK 300 feels more responsive off the line with less turbo lag.

Fuel economy is better despite the SLK 300 being slightly heavier and more powerful. According to the EPA, the 2016 SLK 300 with the nine-speed automatic delivers fuel economy ratings of 9.4 city/7.4 hwy/8.4 combined while the 2015 SLK 250 offered 10.2/7.1/9.0 (automatic) and 10.7/7.4 /9.0 combined (manual). Still, being a sports car with a turbocharged engine, the SLK 300’s real-world fuel consumption will vary widely depending on how it’s driven. Our tester’s fuel consumption readout was showing an average of 11.4 L/100 km after being driven for the past couple of months by over-excited auto writers.

The loss of the SLK’s standard six-speed manual is a blow for enthusiast drivers of whom, apparently, there weren’t enough for Mercedes to continue offering it. It’s a shame really. What’s a small sports car without a manual transmission? It certainly takes some of the fun out of driving one. Admittedly, the SLK was always more of a luxury sports car than a driver’s sports car like an MX-5 or S2000 and it’s likely that few SLK owners will miss it. Still, it’s another nail in the coffin for the traditional manual transmission.

As before, the SLK’s automatic transmission has driver-selectable Eco, Sport and Manual modes activated by pressing a small button marked E-S-M beside the shift lever. Eco mode alters transmission shift timing to maximize fuel economy, Sport mode offers more aggressive shift timing to enhance performance, and Manual mode allows the driver to shift gears manually using the paddles behind the steering wheel.

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While Eco mode saves gas, it also reduces performance because the transmission is always searching for the highest possible gear. This works well on the freeway where the engine tootles along at under 1,800 rpm in top gear but in day-to-day driving, it tends to sap the fun out of the performance. Eco mode also helps recharge the battery when coasting, an unexpected feature to find in a sports car. Another fuel-saving feature is automatic start/stop which automatically turns off the engine while paused at a traffic light and restarts it automatically when the brake pedal is released. I found the SLK 300’s automatic restart to be a bit jerky and it quickly became tiresome in stop-and-go traffic. Fortunately, a button on the dash allows it to be deactivated if desired.

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