2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Mercedes-Benz Canada

Preview and photos by Greg Wilson

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery:
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350

St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France – Even on the French Riviera, the temperature gets a little nippy in February – around seven degrees Celsius earlier this week – but at least it was sunny and dry, allowing me to lower the new 2009 SLK’s folding convertible hardtop and enjoy the beautiful vistas of the Cote d’Azur while keeping warm thanks to the SLK’s heated seats and optional “Airscarf” system in the head restraints which blows warm air around the neck and head for increased comfort in colder temperatures.

A push of a button on the centre console raises the SLK’s ingenious folding metal hardtop which emerges from the trunk and closes automatically in just 22 seconds, turning this wind-in-the-hair sports car into a quiet, comfortable, and secure two-door coupe. The folding hardtop is probably the SLK’s greatest advantage over its soft-top convertible competitors, the Porsche Boxster, Audi TT Roadster, and BMW Z4.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350. Click image to enlarge

Since, the SLK hadn’t been given any major upgrades since its redesign in 2004 (as a 2005 model), Mercedes decided it was time for a mid-cycle freshening. The 2009 SLK 300 (formerly SLK 280) and SLK 350, available in Canadian showrooms this Spring, receive a mixture of styling, comfort and mechanical upgrades that give them a sportier look, improved fuel economy, added performance for the 3.5-litre engine, and more convenience and comfort features. The top-of-the-line V8-powered SLK 55 AMG model remains basically the same except for a new style front air dam.

Styling changes, though relatively minor, give the SLK 300 and 350 a more aggressive look. The modified front air dam has a new V-shape and the hood bodywork around the Mercedes star is more pronounced. At the rear, the bumper has a new apron with a diffuser look, the taillights are darker like the SLK 55, and the tailpipes have a new trapezoidal shape. Side mirrors are now larger with new arrow-shaped turn signal indicators, and all the alloy wheels are new designs too.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350. Click image to enlarge

The cabin features a new gauge cluster with red needles and chrome surrounds, a new 12-button three-spoke steering wheel, darker coloured buttons on the centre console, revised power window switches with pull-up/push down capability, new leather seats in “Gullwing red” and “Natural beige” and new “Pale burr walnut” and “Black ash grain” interior wood trim. Technology upgrades include a new i-Pod or music player interface in the glovebox, “Linguatronic” voice-operated control system for the audio, telephone and navigaton system, and a new optional 500-watt Harmon Kardon Logic7 audio system.

The base 3.0-litre V6 in the SLK 300 and 5.5-litre V8 in the SLK 55 AMG model remain the same as before, but the mid-level 3.5-litre V6 now offers 300 hp @ 6400 r.p.m., up from 268 hp @ 6000 r.p.m. in 2007. This was achieved by raising the rev limit, increasing the compression ratio, revising the intake manifold and modifying the valve gear. As well, the mufflers were tuned to provide a sportier sound.

Despite its significantly higher horsepower and torque, the 3.5 engine actually has better fuel economy, according to Mercedes-Benz: a combined 9.5 L/100 km with the standard six-speed manual transmission (improved from 10.6), or 9.2 L/100 km with the seven-speed automatic (from 9.9). The drop in fuel consumption also reduces C02 emissions by about 10%, says the company. The SLK’s base 3.0-litre V6 also has also improved fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions even though its horsepower remains the same at 228.

Other than the increased power of the 3.5-litre engine, the thing that most drivers will notice when driving the new ’09 SLK is its direct-steer variable-assist steering system. It provides quicker steering response on city streets or on winding country roads while also providing light steering effort when parking.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350; bottom photo by Dieter Rebmann. Click image to enlarge

The new system is purely mechanical: revised gearing in the steering rack allows the steering gear ratio to change in tune with the steering angle – the number of steering wheel turns lock to lock has been reduced by about 25 per cent – while at the central position, an indirect ratio provides surer straight line stability.

I spent most of my driving time in the SLK 350 with the 300-horspower 3.5-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 engine equipped with the optional 7G-TRONIC Sport seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The new 3.5 engine revs higher, briefly touching 7,200 r.p.m. when pushed, and has a menacing exhaust note at idle which rises to a high-pitched crescendo at high speeds. 0 to 100 km/h is reached in just 5.4 seconds according to Benz, 0.2 seconds faster than its predecessor and only half a second slower than V8-powered SLK 55 AMG. The automatic transmission is geared so that it’s possible to break through the 100 km/h barrier in second gear! Once up to cruising speed, the engine burbles along quietly – I recorded an engine speed of 2,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h in seventh gear. This is such a smooth, powerful engine, with such awesome performance that I can’t see any real justification for spending the extra bucks on the SLK 55 AMG; the 350 has all the legal performance you’ll likely ever need.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350; top photo by Dieter Rebmann, bottom photo by Luc Gagne. Click image to enlarge

However, if you are looking for performance, you might want to stick with the standard six-speed manual transmission. The seven-speed automatic is designed for smooth shifts, sliding from one gear to another so smoothly, you can hear it, but not feel it. However, this turns out to be a disadvantage when you want to shift manually – quick downshifts are often difficult to accomplish, even though this transmission has the capability of double de-clutching during downshifts to match the rotational speeds of the crankshaft and transmission. I found that downshifts when braking into a faster corner dragged on too long at a time when milliseconds count, leaving me ‘gearless’ when I was ready to go. Still, if you’re one of the vast majority of SLK buyers who will be commuting in city traffic on a daily basis, a smooth automatic transmission would likely be a better choice than a manual.

For the same reason, ’09 SLK drivers will appreciate the new direct-steer system which blends light steering effort at parking lot speeds with fewer turns lock to lock for easier manoeuvrability while at the same time providing quicker steering response at higher speeds and overall directional stability at high speeds. My only complaint with the steering is that the turning circle seems quite wide when making u-turns even though the official turning diameter of 10.5 metres (34.4 ft.) doesn’t seem excessive.

2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350; bottom photo by Dieter Rebmann. Click image to enlarge

The SLK’s low centre of gravity, wide track, fully independent suspension and low-profile radials (front 225/45R17/rear 245/40R17) provide exceptional handling and poise at speed, and the ride is very comfortable as well – two things that don’t always go together in sports cars. Some credit must go to the wonderful leather sport seats with multiple adjustments for comfort. In braking, the SLK’s four big discs with ABS and Brake Assist haul it down in very short order too.

From a practical point of view, the SLK is strictly a two-seater, but it is a roomy two-seater for large adults. For cabin storage, I was impressed with the size of the two covered storage containers between and behind the seats, and even with the convertible hardtop lowered, there is enough room in the trunk for a couple of overnight bags. I had a couple of issues with the interior – the 10-way adjustable front seats are manual not power adjustable. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but for over $60,000, some buyers will expect power seats. Next, with the top down, glare can obscure the navigation screen and traffic noise overpowers the voice commands of the navigation system, which means that at times, you don’t know which way to go! Another couple of quibbles, the cup/bottle holders are in an awkward position near the top of the dash, and I found it easy to accidently honk the horn button while turning.

But these are just quibbles. The 2008 Mercedes-Benz SLK is a handsome, sporty, powerful, and comfortable luxury sports car with everything it takes to cruise the Riviera – or the 401 – in style.

Prices haven’t yet been announced, but given recent pricing trends, I would expect them to be at or below last year’s prices which started at $60,500 for the SLK 280 (now SLK 300), $67,000 for the SLK 350 and $87,500 for the SLK 55 AMG.

Manufacturer’s web site
Mercedes-Benz Canada

Connect with Autos.ca