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In-depth reviews

Mercedes SLC review

Merc's smallest roadster is its oldest - the SLC has been on sale in one form or another since 2011

Overall Auto Express Rating

2.5 out of 5

  • Refined and solid, smart styling, well built
  • Rivals ride and handle better, dated cabin layout, lacks space

The Mercedes SLK is known for being one of the first mainstream hard-top convertibles to market back in the nineties. Ditching the fabric roof was a revelation in the two-seat roadster class, allowing coupe-like refinement and security with the ability to drop the roof for wind-in-the-hair thrills on a nice day.

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It took the market by storm, and has been a massive seller over the past two decades. The third-generation car was unveiled in 2011 and has continued to prove its worth in a competitive segment challenged by the likes of Audi’s TT and the new Porsche 718 Boxster. SLK became SLC in early 2016, though despite the name change, it was considered little more than a mild mid-life facelift.

Heading into 2018 the SLC is now available with a decent spread of engines, though the popular and efficient 250d model has now been dropped from the line-up. A new entry level SLC 180 model using a 1.6-litre petrol four-cylinder engine has been introduced.

With the change from SLK to SLC, Mercedes dropped the storming V8 SLK 55 AMG, replacing it with a turbo V6 badged AMG SLC 43. While it's narrowly slower and less powerful as a result, it’s considerably more economical – managing more than 30mpg on the combined cycle.

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• Best convertible cars

Elsewhere, buyers get a choice of SLC 200 and SLC 300 petrol engines, with the former coming as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox. All other models use a slick nine-speed automatic. The auto is easy to use, and improves fuel economy by allowing the engine to run at very low revs on the motorway.

With the recent reshuffle, Sport trim has been dropped from the SLC line-up, and only AMG Line model cars are now offered, with the full fat AMG 43 model acting as the range topper. All cars get a seven-inch infotainment screen, Nappa leather seats and a new sports steering wheel. Yet while everything feels suitably well built, the SLC lacks the cutting-edge design found on the latest Audi TT.

The Mercedes SLC isn't as fresh a model you might expect - it's little more than a rebadged and fettled SLK, originally launched in 2011. Rivals feel more modern inside, are better to drive and more practical, and as such the SLC feels like a poor relation in in a lineup of much newer Mercedes models.

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Despite that, the SLC's chiseled styling and refined, secure folding hard-top are a bonus in a crowded market. There's also a range of efficient engines and all models come well-equipped. But the compromises anyone choosing an SLC will need to make in terms of practicality and drivability are hard to ignore, and sadly, Mercedes no longer offers the 250d diesel option. 

Engines, performance and drive

The Mercedes SLC driving experience is left trailing next to rivals like the Audi TT and Porsche 718 Boxster, but it's an good motorway cruiser

The old Mercedes SLK always suffered at the hands of rivals when it came to dynamics and driving enjoyment. The SLC is no different, and even the range-topping AMG version will struggle alongside Porsche’s 718 Boxster.

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The steering is well-weighted but fairly numb and vague around the straight ahead. Body roll is kept in check in normal driving but it rolls and feels wayward at the limit. Selectable driving modes can tighten things up for more spirited driving, but it's not very engaging or fun in any of them.

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It has a tendency to jolt and shudder around town, too, which shows up the SLC as an older convertible design that isn't particularly stiff. The lack of rigidity can make the roof rattle on really bad roads, too. Rivals have firmer suspension but the body is stiffer, meaning jolts and bumps don't wobble the car's frame.

Best sports cars

That’s not to say the SLC is without merit. The two-seat roadster feels very mature at higher speeds, where the ride settles nicely, and the metal roof means refinement is very good on the motorway. It’s nice to drive roof down, too, where occupants are well protected from all but the biggest gusts of wind. 

Engines

There are four engines to choose from, starting with the new entry-level 154bhp 1.6-litre four-cylinder SLC 180 petrol. It comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but a nine-speed automatic is on the option list. With the removal of the diesel option from the SLC's arsenal, it's the most economical choice. Above it sits the 181bhp SLC 200 petrol, which again is mated to a six-speed manual gearbox by default. Both engines feel fairly wheezy and aren't all too entertaining to drive, while the six-speed manual gearbox is too springy to be enjoyable. 

The SLC 300 petrol effectively replaces the SLK 350 in the range. That car had a smooth and tuneful 3.5-litre V6 engine, but that has now morphed into a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit. If that sounds like sacrilege, remember that you can't get a six-cylinder in either the Audi TT or Porsche Boxster any more. 

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The SLC 300 produces 241bhp, less than the SLK350, but a healthy 370Nm of torque. It feels quite brisk from as little as 2000rpm and flexible in the mid-range, although the performance tails off towards the redline and the sports exhaust is loud rather than tuneful. The nine-speed auto helps you make the most of the grunt, however. 

Performance fans will look towards the AMG-tuned SLC 43. The latter is almost £7,000 more expensive, but shaves over a second from the 0-62mph time. The Mercedes-AMG car will complete the benchmark sprint in just 4.7 seconds (vs 5.8 in the SLC 300) thanks to its turbocharged V6 engine. The previous-generation V8-powered SLK 55 AMG is no longer available.

MPG, CO2 and Running Costs

Most fuel efficient choice is the newest engine in the line-up - SLC 180 returns a claimed 48.7mpg

Despite its sleek and sexy body, the SLC is surprisingly affordable to run. Mercedes says the entry-level SLC 180 petrol with a six-speed manual gearbox will return 48.7mpg and emit only 132g/km of CO2. The SLC 300 trumps the old SLK350 for fuel economy. A claimed combined figure of 47.1mpg is impressive for the class, beating the equivalent Audi TT and entry-level Porsche Boxster. Expect more like 35mpg in the real world, however. Sadly, neither of these engines get anywhere close to matching the economy of the now discontinued 2.1-litre diesel.

The AMG SLC 43 version is more economical than the old V8-powered SLK 55. It’ll do a claimed 36.2mpg and emit 178g/km. Not bad for a car that’ll sprint to 62mph in 4.7 seconds.

Insurance

Insurance groups for the Mercedes SLC are comparatively high compared to rivals, with even the basic SLC 200 falling in to group 43 out of 50. Rivals like the Audi TT 1.8 TFSI tip the scales at group 34 – meaning annual premiums are likely to be considerably less.

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An AMG SLC 43 falls into group 47, which almost puts it on a par with the fastest and most expensive supercars costing three times the price. The more desirable Porsche 718 Boxster is in group 44.

Depreciation

Decent residual values do offset the high insurance groups, somewhat. The outgoing SLK had suffered towards the end of its life with the imminent arrival of the new model, but the SLC puts things back on track. As a result, even a basic SLC 200 petrol model will retain 52 per cent of its value after three years. The AMG SLC 43 posts a similar figure.

Those numbers are on a par with the Porsche 718 Boxster and Audi TT Roadster, and significantly better the BMW Z4.

Interior, design and technology

The Mercedes SLC feels well built, but against the Audi TT, its dated interior just isn’t a match for the class best

Despite first going on the sale in 2011, the SLK (now SLC) has aged well. It carries over plenty of design details from the larger SL, while the folding metal hardtop not only delivers greater refinement and security, but sleek coupe-like looks too.

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You’d be hard-pushed to spot the differences between the SLC and old SLK, but look closely and you’ll notice new bumpers front and rear, alongside a fresh diamond grille and full-LED headlamps. The tail lights are new, too, and Mercedes says the slimmer design gives the illusion of a squatter, sportier stance.

Inside, everything feels well built, but it’s here the SLC is starting to show its age. Where the Porsche 718 Boxster looks elegant and the Audi TT Roadster high tech, the SLC just feels a bit old fashioned. New models do get a larger screen, a sports steering wheel, Nappa leather seats and fresh trim options, though.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

When Mercedes moved from SLK to SLC, it gave its two-seat roadster a bigger seven-inch infotainment screen. And while that screen sits nicely (if offset) in the dash – unlike the iPad-style afterthought in the brand’s A-Class hatchback – it can’t compete with Audi’s brilliant Virtual Cockpit display.

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The plethora of buttons on the centre console doesn’t make for easy navigation, while the tiny scroll wheel feels dated next to BMW and Audi’s more modern setups. All cars do get Bluetooth and USB connectivity, though, so you can make calls and listen to music on the move – with the roof up, of course.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

Bootspace isn’t the SLC’s finest attribute, though new models do get an automatic divider, allowing you to lower the roof more easily on a whim

Practicality is rarely the name of the game when it comes to two-seat sports cars, though the Mercedes SLC makes a strong case for itself in this area. It’s only available with two seats but Mercedes buyers looking for a bit more versatility are well catered for, thanks to the larger C-Class Cabriolet offering space for four.

The driving position is fully adjustable thanks to loads of movement in the seat and steering wheel. The view out the front is pretty good, with the stubby bonnet allowing you to easily place the car when parking nose in. And while visibility isn’t great out the back with the roof up, this failing encourages you to lower the lid at every opportunity, whereby full 360-degree vision is ensured free-of-charge.

There are a couple of small cubbyholes, but you’ll struggle to house much more than some sweets or a small bottle of water in the door bins.

Size

The SLC feels neat and compact on the road, but unfortunately the firm ride means this isn’t a car best suited to the city. At 4,143mm long, it’s smaller than the Audi TT Roadster and Porsche 718 Boxster, while the shorter nose means it’s easier to place than a BMW Z4. It’s ever-so-slightly wider than the Porsche – though you’d never know it from behind the wheel.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

There’s plenty of room inside for two passengers, though those wanting to carry small children will have to look at bigger convertibles like Merc’s very own C or E-Class Cabriolets.

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Headroom is good with the roof up, and roof down you’ll suffer very little in terms of buffeting with the small wind deflector in place. Buyers can also spec the brand’s innovative Airscarf neck-level heater, allowing roof down motoring all year round. That’s providing you don’t live in Germany of course, where the manufacturer is currently undergoing a heavy legal dispute that prevents it from selling cars with the system installed.

Boot

A decent 335-litre boot means the SLC boasts more storage space than all its main rivals. Of course, this decreases quite considerably when the roof is folded away due to the fact that each of the bulky metal panels needs to be tucked away behind the rear seats. There’s enough space for a couple of squashy bags, though, to ensure weekend trips away can be enjoyed with the roof fully retracted.

One advantage of the new SLC over its SLK predecessor is the automatic load cover, which – providing there’s nothing stored in the boot – can now lower without human intervention. It’s a handy addition and ensures you needn’t stop at the side of the road when those brief glimpses of British summertime suddenly shine through the clouds.

Reliability and Safety

Mercedes has a strong reputation for safety and reliability, and the SLC is no exception

The Mercedes SLC benefits from some (but not all) of the same tech found on the brand’s latest saloons. The facelifted model launched in 2016 brought lots of new equipment, too, including active braking, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist.

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All those features are standard across the range, with plenty more tech available if you’re prepared to delve into the options list. The SLC hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP yet, but many other Mercedes models fared very well indeed – and we’ve no reason to suspect the roadster would be any different. 

In terms of reliability, fell behind both BMW and Audi in the 2017 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey with a 21st-place finish overall - a disappointing result compared to 2016.

Warranty

The Mercedes SLC comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, which although similar to rivals, actually pips them in some areas. The Audi TT Roadster’s guarantee, for example, while also providing cover for three years, is actually limited to 60,000 miles.

Servicing

Like many modern Mercedes models, how often your car requires a service depends on how you use it. Longer motorway journeys create less stress on the engine and will therefore require less frequent servicing. Your car’s trip computer will alert you as to when it needs attention. 

Fixed price and monthly payment options are available, and can cost from as little as £27 per month (including some parts and labour) – though it’s best to speak to your local dealer for specifics.

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