Mercedes SLK

The new SLK will arrive just in time for summer, but does Mercedes new roadster have what it takes to be called a mini SL?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Arriving just in time for the summer, the SLK is sure to be a hit. It’s not the most thrilling car to drive – a Porsche Boxster is much more fun – but it’s still very good to drive and improves on its predecessor’s extensive list of attributes with a roomier and more luxurious cabin, more efficient engines and even better build quality. One of the most likeable additions is the optional Magic Sky Control roof, which will be a must-have gadget for British buyers, keen to make the most of the UK’s mixed weather. Factor in the SLK’s strong residuals, and you’re looking at a great little drop-top.

Is this the car that finally gives the Mercedes SL a baby brother? The German company claims that the all-new third-generation SLK roadster is more luxurious, comfortable and fun to drive than ever. But is that really the case? We tried the new model ahead of its UK on-sale date in June.

The new SLK is certainly a more grown-up machine. From the moment you set eyes on it, you get the feeling that it really is a mini SL. It’s much more spacious inside, too, thanks to the fact it’s 31mm longer and 33mm wider than the car it replaces, and the main difference is that there’s a lot more shoulder room.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mercedes SLK

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The new car is stiffer and lighter, too, thanks to more extensive application of high-tensile steel and aluminium. The latter is used for the front and rear cross members – as well as the bonnet and front bumper as before – while carbon fibre has been used for the rear body panels. Further weight is lost by using a magnesium frame for the folding hard top, which also features a new, faster electric mechanism.

There are three options to choose from when it comes to the new SLK’s roof. The the standard ‘vario’ roof, the same top in a darker finish than the rest of the bodywork, or the optional Magic Sky Control roof. The latter adds around £2,000 to the SLK’s price, but it’s an option that’s well worth it, particularly for UK buyers. Why?Because it comes with special glass that allows the driver to change the roof’s transparency. It can be darkened to keep the cabin cool on hot days, or it lets in lots of light in winter to give you a ‘roof down’ feel.

It works very well – indeed, you don’t even need to use the air-conditioning when it’s hot. All you have to do is to push a button above your head, which generates an electric charge that causes the particles in the glass to realign themselves in order to let light through. When this charge is interrupted, the particles reorganize themselves to block the light. Mercedes first used the system on the Maybach 62 limo, although it couldn’t perform the cooling function it manages in the SLK. There are other highlights inside. The dashboard is sportier and more modern, courtesy of elements inspired by the SLS AMG supercar, while the boot is bigger, with a twin-height floor for bulky items. The rear-wheel-drive chassis features a revised ESP system that adds torque vectoring brakes that prevent understeer in corners.

Other tweaks include softer standard suspension. In addition there’s a Sports suspension setting and adjustable electronic dampers, which provide a smooth ride on poor surfaces and become stiffer under hard cornering.

From June, there will be three engine options.The SLK 200 with a 181bhp 1.8-litre turbo petrol engine, the SLK 250 with a 201bhp version of the same engine, and the 302bhp 3.5-litre V6 powered SLK 350. Later in the year the SLK 250 CDI arrives, packing a 201bhp 2.2-litre diesel, while the SLK 55 AMG, which gets a 422bhp 5.5-litre V8, joins later. We tried the SLK 250, which does 0-60mph in around six seconds, yet returns 44mpg. It sounds good, too, thanks to a module placed in the throttle valves which selects pre-defined frequencies and delivers them to the cabin. It’s not all about the sound, though as the engine is responsive across the rev range, while the optional seven-speed automatic gearbox is smooth and precise.

On a twisty road, the chassis is impressively stiff, even with the top down, but the SLK isn’t the sportiest roadster on the market – our standard steel-sprung car felt more comfort-oriented. Perhaps the other suspension set-ups will offer a more engaging experience. But for now, this is a desirable drop-top that certainly feels every inch the baby SL.

Rival: BMW Z4 Also fitted with a folding hard-top, the Z4 is more comfortable and refined than the car it replaces, with a roomier, higher-quality interior. However, despite its sporty looks, the Z4 isn’t as involving to drive as other BMWs.

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