Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 BlueEfficiency
Rounded nose signals arrival of third-gen SLK
- Roof-down refinement is very good - even at speed
- Folding metal roof offers best of both worlds
- Manual gearshift is much better than previous Mercedes efforts
- Sporty option is a welcome alternative for keen drivers
- At this price point more standard equipment would be welcome
- Magic Sky' roof is a useful addition but, alas, is a cost option
- Auto gearbox can hesitate when car is being pushed hard
- Electronic performance aids don't fully engage the driver in the experience
Mercedes' third generation SLK caters to a broader audience than its predecessor, which displayed an overtly sporting bias. The car also comes with a wealth of advanced safety kit that's trickled down from more expensive models, plus a modest line-up of more efficient and powerful engines.
It may still come with its maker's infamous folding metal roof, and it might still only seat two people, but Mercedes' compact roadster remains as popular as ever thanks to a design refresh and thorough mechanical update.
The third generation SLK is a welcome improvement on past models. If there was one fault with the original SLK it was that it never satisfied the enthusiastic driver, despite the inclusion of some potent engines. Time has seen that recipe change for the better, and this version is more rounded and competent than ever.
When driven with enthusiasm, the SLK is a forgiving and enjoyable experience. It's softer than its predecessor, but with the aim to reach a broader audience it's easy to understand why. Keen drivers can specify electronic aids to spice up the experience, although the result won't have Porsche Boxster buyers searching for the purchase receipt.
In true Mercedes fashion the whole gamut of modern technology has been thrown at the car, with everything from the latest safety devices to cutting edge creature comforts present in the car or the options list. It's also good to see significant gains in economy and emissions, with the SLK's engines boasting lower CO2 and mpg thanks to a raft of changes including stop-start technology.
Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 BlueEfficiency
For many the SLK is an affordable entry into the world of Mercedes sports cars. The car's original and compelling feature - its folding metal roof - remains, and over the years everything else has changed for the better. For the majority who don't class themselves as 'Driving Gods' this SLK is a well rounded, stylish and attractive proposition.
The overall cost of ownership is never going to dip into the supermini league, making it churlish to complain when the time comes to pay the first servicing bill. Once you understand that the more enthusiastically you drive the more often you'll have to stop at a petrol station, these costs will pale compared to the enjoyment the SLK will generate.
Space and practicality
Adults of average build will find few problems getting comfortable, but it would be wise not to take too much in the way of luggage if you plan a driving holiday as the car's boot decreases in capacity with the roof down. Cabin stowage space is also modest, with the door side pockets useful for little more than the odd map. The centre armrest redeems things somewhat, but the glovebox cannot be relied upon to store more than a few bags of mints for the journey.
Controls and display
The car's main dials are large and clear, with a supplementary display in the centre helpfully duplicating trip computer information and the operating mode of the car's stereo. The centre console is occupied by said radio plus its large display, the climate control panel and minor switches. All switchgear responds well to inputs and falls easily to hand.
The SLK's ride is surprisingly supple in standard trim. Getting into and out of an SLK is not the work of a moment if you're a little stiff, though. Once inside, the car's seats are of the figure-hugging variety. Despite the snugness of the SLK's cabin there's enough room for two adults. Comfort in a convertible also relates to wind noise, and the SLK does a good job of minimising aural intrusion with the roof down.
From the convenience of remote central locking to an immobiliser boasting interior protection, everything is covered. It's just as well, because the SLK is a car that stands out for all the right - and, regrettably, the wrong - ones in the eyes of the thief.
The SLK comes with a raft of passive and active safety features. From the most basic - anti-lock brakes - to electronic stability controls and brake assist programmes, the SLK has been designed to do its utmost to keep you out of trouble. The car's cabin is equipped with numerous airbags, plus rollover protection.
Steering is precise, chassis response is impressive and the car's ability to chart a confident course through a series of challenging bends will please owners of the second-gen car. Even the manual gearshift is good - another past Mercedes gripe - although the electronic sports aids put more distance, not less, between car and driver.
Family car appeal
A strict two-seater, the SLK is designed for fun - not family outings. Even if you were to take a child on a day trip, boot space is modest, which would mean thinking twice about taking a pushchair or a bag of toys.
First car appeal
If you possess pots of money and can stomach the odd scratch that will stem from novice mistakes, then fine. Otherwise, your best bet would be a less powerful family hatch or supermini. Running costs will, predictably, be high as insurance won't be cheap for a car like the SLK.
Quality and image
First generation cars were rarely taken seriously by enthusiastic drivers, who saw them as too feminine and lacking in enjoyment. Mercedes addressed this with the second generation car and this third-gen model cements the SLK's position as a solid all-rounder. Mercedes has also done well to reverse the less than satisfactory quality perception it has gained in recent years, and significant progress has been made.
If you class yourself as reasonably agile you should have no trouble sinking down into the SLK's supportive seats. Once sat in the car, the driving position can be adjusted easily to your liking and all the major controls are within easy reach.
Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)
The standard-fit unit in the 200 variant sounds good and offers a wide range of adjustment. Move up through the optional systems and you're greeted by improved performance and connectivity options. Important controls are duplicated on the SLK's steering wheel. Sat-nav, phone and music player functions work well.
Colours and trim
Bold hues - not a usual Mercedes strongpoint - all do the SLK justice, as if to reinforce the company's decision to pitch the car at a more youthful audience. The SLK's interior is in stark contrast with its exterior, what with its mainly dark fascia and cabin plastics.
It's relatively easy to judge the car's extremities after a few minutes of acclimatisation. Steering is pleasingly light at low speeds and, in manual specification, the clutch is easy to modulate when shunting backwards and forwards. As you'd expect, parking sensors are a great help.
Tyre replacement kit included
Petrol engine options - 200 (184bhp); 250 (204bhp); 350 (306bhp). Transmission options: six-speed manual transmission, seven-speed auto (standard on 350, optional for other variants. Trim levels: base, Sport.
Porsche Boxster Benchmark performer in this sector - obvious bias towards the keen driver
BMW Z4 Rakish looks hide a car that's close to SLK in terms of performance and refinement
Audi TT In drop-top form TT is an arresting sight. Close to SKL in terms of performance
Volkswagen Eos Not in same price league but easily matches this group for quality and style