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September 21, 2008 - Autos

David Chen
Mercedes SLK350
The little brother of the SL and SLR sheds its “cute” image

The original SLK was everything a little two-seat roadster should be: it was cute, it performed well, and chicks dug it (the majority of buyers for the original SLK were female). But it was missing that extra something that made guys want to jump in, press the gas all the way down, and fly around a corner. That extra something that makes it more of a roadster racer, like the Z4 or the S2000. And more like its psycho big brother, the SLR McLaren.

Enter the SLK350.

Just by looking at it, you can tell that “cute” is not a word commonly used to describe it. “Aggressive” is more like it. Or “mean.” Not quite at “psycho” levels yet, but it does borrow that split grill nose sporting the Mercedes badge directly from the SLR. And the same elongated hood, and wider and more aggressive stance lets you know that this ain’t a car for the slow lane.

As with all Mercedes autos, the interior of the SLK is top quality. It’s also much more modern and sporty looking than the original’s, with brushed chrome trim and buttons on a black matte dash. While space is at a premium, the Mercedes designers have managed to give the driver (even tall ones) comfortable seating, with plenty of headroom when the roof is up.

Speaking of roof, the SLK350 trumps its competition with an automatic top that’s actually a hardtop, rather than cloth top. So you’ll never have to worry about someone going knife happy on your car trying to get to your stereo, they’ll need a chainsaw for the SLK. Press a button, and the hardtop disappears into the trunk in about 20 seconds, setting you up for some open air cruising. But what if it’s below 60 and you still want to cruise with the top down? In other cars, you might freeze your ass off, but the SLK has an ingenious device known as the Active Heated Headrest. Turn it on and you’ll have a scarf of warm air blowing out of the headrest surrounding your head and neck. In fact, this option was originally known as the “Airscarf.” Turn it on, and enjoy top down motoring even when it’s chilly. And prepare for people to stare at you, wondering if you’re crazy.

Airscarfs aside, let’s talk about what’s important: the performance! To go along with the aggressive new looks, the SLK has been pumped full of roids. The SLK350 has a 3.5-liter V-6 that produces 268hp, over 50 more horses than the original V-6. These 268 horses make the SLK good for a 0-60 run of 5.4 seconds, quick by anyone’s standard, and leading the competition. Handling has also been improved over the original model, which is expected, considering the aggressive new design. The new SLK continues to feature the refined Mercedes ride, but feels quicker and more responsive over the original. Cornering is stable and predictable, with just enough lean to make it exciting. Turn off the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) to feel the rear sliding out for some real fun driving. And even with the top down, the SLK feels as solid as a brick. When driving around any corner, it’s free of any creaks, rattles or shakes.

How much will the new SLK set you back? Well, it is a Mercedes, and so it goes without saying that it’s pricey. A decked out SLK350 will set you back just under $50k, and the monstrous SLK55 AMG, with its 355 horsepower 5.5-liter V-8 engine, starts in the mid-50’s. Expensive for sure, but the automatic hardtop, features, performance, and the complete lack of “cuteness” make this SLK well worth the price of admission. Happy racing!

Engine: 3.5L 24-valve V-6 Engine
Layout: front engine/rear-wheel drive
Transmission: 6-sp manual/7-sp auto
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
Top Speed: 155 mph
Curb Weight: 3231 lbs
Fuel Economy: 19/25 mpg
Base Price: $46,970

Keywords: Mercedes, SLK, roadster, convertible, car, 2 seat, V-6
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