Mercedes SLK 280 auto

Metal-top roadster scores on refinement. But is it driver’s choice?

Drop the top and soak up the sun, or close the roof and enjoy the refinement of a coupé – the appeal of the SLK’s folding metal hood is as strong as ever. Spotting the changes on the fresh model isn’t easy, though, as visually there’s little to distinguish it from its predecessor.

The front bumper has been reshaped to give a more pronounced ‘V’, and the three-pointed star sits prouder on the nose. At the rear, a low-down diffuser moulding gives the tail a sportier profile. Bigger door mirrors wrap up the changes.

However, with its relatively small 16-inch wheels, our SLK 280 looked plain parked next to the sporty Audi. And despite having better-quality cabin materials, the Mercedes doesn’t offer the same sense of occasion inside. The three-spoke steering wheel is big for a roadster, and while the dash layout is modern and functional, it doesn’t have its rival’s attractive detailing. The driving position is low slung and comfortable, but overall the cabin feels more claustrophobic and the seats aren’t as supportive in corners.

Thanks to the metal roof, the SLK is quieter with the top up: our meter read 57dB at 30mph and 69dB at 70mph. This combines with the relatively comfortable ride to make it a good cruiser.

When the roof is folded, there is more buffeting than in the TT, and the boot is reduced from 300 to 208 litres. But sitting out in the open does at least let you enjoy the SLK 280’s purring V6 exhaust note.

It’s just a shame it doesn’t deliver on this promise. With 228bhp and 300Nm of torque, the Merc can’t compete with the TTS in the performance stakes. Even more irritatingly, our test car’s £1,610 optional 7G-TRONIC transmission doesn’t let you enjoy the smoothness of the engine. It kicks down too easily, and searches for ratios rather than staying in gear and letting the torque do the work. The system leaves you frustrated rather than involved.

This is a pity, as the 3.0-litre engine is smooth and refined. And even if you avoid the automatic gearbox altogether, the standard six-speed manual doesn’t deliver the short and smooth shifts of the Audi.

Dynamically, the Mercedes falls some way short of the TTS. The steering isn’t as accurate or sharp, and there’s more body movement in corners. Neither does the SLK turn in as smartly, and it can’t match the Audi for traction. On twisty roads it quickly loses its composure, and lacks agility.

Even though the Mercedes remains a quality roadster, can its classy roof compensate for other flaws, and give the SLK the edge for all-round desirability?

Details

Price: £34,145Model tested: Mercedes SLK 280 7G-tronicChart position: 2WHY: Fresh from a mid-life update, the Mercedes SLK is one of our favourite roadsters.

Economy

This SLK is slightly cheaper than the TTS, even with the auto box. But options are costly, and our test car had nearly £10,000 worth – including essentials such as leather seats and a wind deflector. Extras bump up the tax bill, and even in standard trim the Mercedes is £4,234 a year for a higher-band earner. On top of that, our experts predict the SLK will retain 59.3 per cent of its valueover three years and 36,000 miles. Servicing costs are a fraction higher, too, as is the initial forecourt price. We averaged 22.2mpg during the course of our test, and even our best figures was a couple of mpg behind the smaller-capacity TT.

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