If you’re wondering why we’re road testing the Mercedes-Benz SLK again, two years after the launch of the current generation in South Africa, there are two good reasons.
The first is that the German carmaker recently raided its AMG parts bin, giving the roadster range a new lease on life. The second, and more important reason, is that there’s a new version in the line-up - the SLK250.
So let’s start with the AMG bits and pieces.
It’s called the AMG Sports Line and has become a standard offering across the SLK range; I reckon it adds a few points to the roadster’s head-turning scorecard. We’re talking about more muscular front and rear aprons, side skirts with added attitude, headlights with dark surrounds, and smoked tail lights.
Inside, buyers now get an instrument cluster finished in a chequered-flag design, floormats with red piping, seats with colour-coded top stitching, and scattered AMG livery. If contrast stitching, red seatbelts and perforated leather on the steering wheel are your thing, ask for it - they’re no-cost options too.
On the mechanical side the Sports Line pack throws in a lowered suspension, stylish 18” alloys running on low-profile rubber, and larger perforated discs under Mercedes-branded calipers.
The hardware under the SLK250 bonnet is not all that new; it’s a pumped-up version of the 1.8-litre turbopetrol four found in the SLK200, and fills the gap between that model and the SLK350.
Where the SLK200 makes 135kW and 270Nm, the software in the 250 translates this into a healthier 150kW and 310Nm. Mercedes-Benz reckons this is good enough for a 6.6 second 0-100km/h sprint time, 243km/h top end, and 7.3 litres per /100km consumption figure. The first two figures are plausible, but that consumption claim - even with the 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto and Mercdes’ eco-mode - is way out. Our test car averaged 12.4l litres per 100km.
In terms of power delivery the uprated engine is perky. Gone are the days of naturally-aspirated SLK200s wheezing up mountain passes; the turbo engine makes for a reasonably entertaining and lag-free drive. I’m just not so sure about its gearbox software.
On its own it’s difficult to fault the mechanical operation of Mercedes’ 7G-Tronic setup. The problem here is that you have either Eco or Sport modes, or the Manual mode. Manual is pretty pointless as it won’t hold a gear for you – and let’s be honest, it’s not the SLK55, you don’t want to play with the gears.
The Eco mode lives by one principle, fuel saving. It gets to the highest gear as quickly as possible, which makes for a lethargic execution of the 150kW on offer. The Sport mode is your only option for responsive driving, and it’s in this mode that this SLK justifies its bigger badge. Boot it and it will happily chirp those 245/35 rear tyres, and even with the ESP on will let you break a bit of traction exiting corners.
The SLK is comfy to drive, offering that slow-slung roadster driving position and enough head and leg-room. It handles well, with meaty feedback from the steering helping it feel confident and weighted through corners. The ride quality is plush too, and the suspension has no problems with flexing its chassis over speed bumps.
Our test unit had a bit of a problem with the driver’s seat though; if the backrest was flush against the panel behind it, it would squeak continuously. Moving the backrest slightly forward would remedy this, but made it impossible to get that ideal driving position.
Drop-tops in winter can be a bit pointless, but Mercedes’ air-scarf in these cars is really worthy of praise. With that hot air warming your neck, windows up, and heaters on you’re as snug as a bug in a rug. Put the roof up and our test car had Mercedes’ clever “magic sky control, which at a touch of a button lightens or darkens the glass panel above your head. The kids loved it, and I thought it was perfect to let in a bit of winter sun.
Normally I’d also moan a little about the boot space in the SLK, but after spending some time with Jaguar’s F-Type roadster, the SLK’s boot is cavernous in comparison.
At R639 197 you’re paying around a R56k premium for the jump from the SLK200 to the SLK250. If performance is your penchant it’s probably worth looking at, but for the 15kW and 40Nm power advantage I’m not so sure. The AMG mods certainly make the SLK range an attractive offer, especially when you consider that against Audi’s TT and BMW’s Z4 the SLK is the freshest of the bunch. - Star Motoring