It's amazing that the SLK has been so comprehensively improved over its predecessor, yet still leaves us cold. The 350 appeals with its seductive looks and aggressive sound, but the dynamics don’t live up to the promise of the sporty styling. And although this car offers serious performance, lesser models are easier to live with day-to-day. If you’re after a truly hardcore version, we’d wait for the SLK 55 AMG.
The SLK 350 is the quickest version of Mercedes’ roadster currently on sale, and we’ve driven it on UK roads for the first time.
This car will top the range until the V8-powered SLK 55 AMG arrives later next year, although it doesn’t exactly feel underpowered or slow.
The 3.5-litre V6 under the bonnet delivers 302bhp to the rear wheels, and makes a terrific, throaty howl once you start exploring the upper reaches of the rev range.
It’s mated to the latest version of Mercedes’ 7G Tronic auto gearbox, and when this is set up in sport mode, the SLK 350 blasts from 0-62mph in only 5.6 seconds.
More impressive than this pace, though, is the new car’s efficiency. Considering the power on tap, the 39.8mpg combined economy figure is truly remarkable. The stop-start system is central to this, and it ensures that, when you drive sensibly, you can go a lot further on a single tank of petrol than you might expect.
Drop the folding hard-top, and the V6 sounds even more fantastic. Plus, the 350 comes with all the high-performance details you expect. It rides on a set of 18-inch AMG alloy wheels, and also features lowered sports suspension, a pair of chrome tailpipes and racy red seatbelts.
In addition, our car came fitted with the £215 Direct Steering option. Mercedes claims this speed-sensitive set-up provides better feel than the standard steering, although we found it didn’t deliver sufficient feedback.
It was rather numb, and lacked turn-in bite. The firm, bouncy ride exacerbates the problem, as the car rarely feels composed enough to corner with total confidence. All this seems at odds
with the lavish new interior, which uses SLS-inspired switchgear and cowled instruments to give the look and feel of a more expensive grand tourer, albeit with more compact dimensions.
This mixed approach makes the SLK hard to pin down. It’s not sharp enough to challenge rivals from Porsche and BMW for driver fun, but not comfortable enough to be a wafting summer crusier. Hopefully, the upcoming AMG version will provide a much more focused experience.