According to reviewers, the Mercedes-Benz SLK line, launched in 1996, has sold over a half million of these luxury class coupe-roadsters. For 2009, rather than mess with a good thing, Mercedes has only slightly refreshed its SLK class. However, the midlevel SLK350 has received a significant engine overhaul.
Its 3.5 liter V6 now produces 300 hp (32 more than last year) and 265 lb-ft of torque (a 7 lb-ft gain). The V6's extra punch was the result of lighter pistons, stronger valves, a redesigned intake, higher compression, and a bit of cam tuning. Only available with the seven-speed automatic, the SLK350 makes the 0-60 jump in a very respectable 5.4 seconds. Larger, upgraded brakes are also standard. One reviewer was impressed with the SLK350's gas mileage when he recorded an average 29 mpg on a 150 mile highway trip. The EPA estimates 18/26 mpg city/highway.
Externally, the biggest minor changes are to the nose which now takes on a slightly more aggressive look with a split lower front air dam/bumper for a more Formula 1 racecar sportiness and a larger Mercedes star on the grille. In addition, larger side mirrors which incorporate arrow-like directional signals help with the lack of rear view vision when the power hardtop deploys. In the rear, larger tail pipes are divided by a faux diffuser box.
Inside, the changes are subtler with the most obvious being the three-spoke steering wheel brought over from the C-class sedan. The steering wheel is connected to Mercedes new "direct steer" variable-ratio steering rack, which produces a 25% quicker steering ratio providing a more direct, sports car-like feel. Reviewers found the steering feel to be closer to, but still not the equal of a Porsche Boxster, a direct competitor to the SLK class.
Across the line, various options are available like bi-xenon headlamps, satellite radio, a navigation system, an iPod integration kit, upgraded surround-sound audio system, and Mercedes' Airscarf system that directs heated air onto the passengers’ necks to extend the top-down driving season - this is, after all, a luxury sports car!
For the fast and the furious class, non-AMG models can opt for a "Sport Package" consisting of 18-inch AMG wheels, steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, a sport-tuned suspension, and some exterior styling additions.
The usual Mercedes care for safety is evident in the SLK line with ABS disc brakes with brake assist, traction control, stability control, driver knee airbag, side and front airbags, and the TeleAid emergency call system all being standard equipment.
With a metal, foldable hardtop that takes only 22 seconds to provide the "wind in your hair" driving experience, the SLK line is an all-weather, luxury sports car that has proven extremely successful for Mercedes-Benz.