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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Overview
SLK: Sportlich (sporty), Leicht (light) and Kurz (short). When it debuted, people were a little concerned about the Sportlich aspect of that name, and Mercedes has made every effort to rectify the perceived shortcoming. In the meantime, they’ve also paid increased attention to the Leicht aspect of the game as well if not the Kurz, adding aluminum components throughout to keep weight down. True, the modern SLK is about 100 pounds heftier than when it debuted, but it’s still around the same amount lighter than the previous generation.
The SLK-Class rolls into 2013 fresh off a redesign, yet still receiving some added utility and luxury such as the standard mbrace2 infotainment system and optional adaptive highbeam assist, which automatically dims those lights in the face of oncoming traffic. Those go to all SLK trims, but the SLK350 gets some extra love with an iPod interface and satellite radio for its Harman Kardon stereo, a remote hardtop, heated seats and the Airscarf neck-heating system. Eco Start/Stop cylinder deactivation is also new for the 350’s 3.5-liter V6 as well as the 5.5-liter V8 in the SLK55 AMG.
But before we get into the mythical monster that is the SLK55 AMG, let’s start with a more humble offering, the SLK250. There was a time when 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque was a respectable offering from a V8 Mustang. Of course, Reagan was President, and some sports cars were still carbureted. Today those numbers are delivered via a turbocharged 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder, here benefiting from more appropriate delivery systems like direct injection. Sadly, this is the sole SLK (and the sole Mercedes) to actually offer a manual transmission—a 6-speed in this case. You can still have the 7-speed automatic if that’s your perverted preference, however.
And there is where it ends. Anything else requires an automatic, although the SLK is used to being in a class of one. It was the first roadster with a retractable hardtop and is currently the only vehicle in the world that comes with an electrochromic roof—a giant piece of glass fitted with adaptive opacity that Mercedes calls Magic Sky Control. Press a button and the glass is crystal clear. Press another and it darkens to block the sun’s rays and keep your leather cool.
Those are features you wouldn’t have found back in the Reagan years, luxury car or not. But it’s no longer the Reagan years, and 200 hp no longer impress. Thankfully, we can look to the SLK350, with its 302-hp, 3.5-liter V6. It’s also direct-injected and benefits from a paddle-shifted, 7-speed automatic transmission. This means it can offer you a healthy return at the pump as well: 20 mpg city/29 highway. Not a substantial penalty over the SLK250’s 23/33, especially when considering the power jump.
And while Mercedes took special care to emphasize the light ’n’ low aspects of the SLK, they also want people to see just how wide it is. Currently standing with a 71.3- and 71.5-inch front and rear track respectively, Mercedes designed the interior with an abundance of horizontal lines and shapes to highlight the SLK’s prodigious breadth. Perhaps that’s to heighten the feeling of stability in a car that in its top-tier form is really little more than an engine, 4 wheels and a seat. The SLK55 AMG is truly scary: 422 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque from a hand-built 5.5-liter V8 shoved into a car weighing just over 3,100 pounds. No wonder Mercedes is so obsessed with safety, offering standard electronic stability and traction control, 8 airbags shoehorned into a convertible roadster, attention and adaptive high-beam assist and optional Distronic Plus with the Pre-Brake safety system. If you’d like a little more, go for the AMG Handling Package with its stiffer suspension setup, locking rear differential and upgraded braking system. That’s extra performance you can claim is for safety. A win/win!
The naysayers have little to say nay about these days, as the SLK is truly all about performance. Sure it sneaks some luxury in there as well with its leather upholstery, aluminum and wood trim, and more electronic creature comforts than Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair, but its true purpose shines through. Turbo 4 or screaming V8, the SLK will get you there in a hurry.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.