2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350Posted on November 14th, 2011
Third generation roadster gains muscle under the hood
By Nina Russin
Two-seaters are by nature personal cars, purchased by drivers who value the experience of being one with the road. While I wouldn’t classify the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 as a sports car, it is certainly a vehicle for enthusiasts of beautifully crafted and styled automobiles.
The third-generation model which debuts for 2012 evokes memories of the iconic 190SL. The newest SLK shares the original SL’s long hood and short rear overhang. The design is considerably softer and more refined than the 1996 SLK, whose rather angular exterior always struck me as a bit unresolved.
Underneath the 2012 SLK’s hood is a more powerful V-6 engine, rated at 302 horsepower. Direct injection delivers gasoline directly into the cylinders rather than through the valves for enhanced throttle response and reduced parasitic fuel loss. The automaker estimates zero-to-sixty acceleration at 5.4 seconds.
A seven-speed automatic transmission enhances the coupe’s fuel economy even further by providing large overdrive gears for the highway. Despite the additional power, the newest SLK350 averages four miles-per-gallon more on the highway and one more in the city than the model it replaces.
Base price is $54,800 not including the $875 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a premium package which upgrades the audio system and adds seat and neck-level heaters ($2590); bi-xenon headlamps with washers ($1070); hard drive navigation ($2150); 18-inch AMG wheels and ground effects ($2500); a panoramic roof ($500); wind foil ($350) and ultrasonic park assist ($970); bringing the price as tested to $65,805.
Four season practicality
The SLK’s retractable hardtop provides the same open-air pleasure as a soft-top roadster, with considerably better insulation against noise and temperature extremes. It can keep its passengers as comfortable in the heat of a Phoenix summer or the cold of a Chicago winter as a fixed-top coupe.
Despite requiring some complex engineering and six servo motors to operate, the driver interface is quite simple: a single button. The top deploys into the trunk in 20 seconds. When the top goes down, the rear window swivels to match the roof’s curvature in order to save trunk space. The switch automatically lowers the windows as part of the operation.
The optional “Airscarf” consists of heaters in the headrests at neck level. The additional heat in combination with the optional wind deflectors makes it much more comfortable to drive with the top down in cooler temperatures.
The panoramic glass panel provides another option when the weather is too unpleasant to deploy the top, brightening up what might otherwise be a rather dark interior.
Test drive in Phoenix
I spent the past week behind the wheel of the newest SLK driving around the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area. For drivers who need a car which is easy to commute through traffic in and want the ability to drive for sport, the SLK should be on the short list.
The hard top enabled engineers to make glass panels larger than they could with a soft top, enhancing visibility to the sides and rear of the car with the top in place. The top does an excellent job of isolating the driver from road and wind noise, with the exception of the occasional belch from the roadster’s dual exhausts.
The engine and transmission deliver power in smooth, linear fashion, with no noticeable shift shock under normal driving conditions. Engineers utilized a new type of torque converter clutch to extend gas mileage. The torque converter clutch changes the coupling from fluid to friction during steady state driving to reduce parasitic power loss. The device on the new seven-speed transmission works so well that the driver will be completely unaware of its actuation.
The additional torque enables the driver to accelerate quickly into high speed traffic out of toll booths, as well as making the types of quick, emergency lane changes which daily commuting can require.
The AMG wheels on the test car give the chassis an ample footprint for aggressive performance. I was surprised at how compliant the ride seemed despite the car’s low profile tires. The optional sport package on the test car lowers its ride height slightly, reducing the center of gravity for better high speed control.
The four-wheel independent suspension consists of coil springs in front with a multi-link set-up in the back. Gas shocks keep the chassis flat in the corners. I took some decreasing radius turns at speed and was impressed with the SLK’s steering control.
The steer-by-wire system provides plenty of assist at low speeds with excellent on-center response on the highway. The SLK’s short wheelbase translates to an excellent turning radius of 34.5 feet, making the occasional U-turn a piece of cake.
Large ventilated disc brakes in front and solid discs in the rear stop the roadster in firm, linear fashion. The front rotors are also perforated to prevent any sort of heat fade during hard driving.
The SLK offers the driver and passenger all of the amenities one would expect from a luxury roadster: eight-way leather sport seats with adjustable lumbar, power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth interface including streaming audio, automatic dimming mirrors and an upscale sound system. The steering wheel includes redundant audio and Bluetooth controls as well as Formula-style shift paddles for manual gear selection. Cruise control is a wand located above the turn signals, which can take some getting used to for drivers not familiar with Mercedes-Benz automobiles.
The premium audio and multimedia options on the test car add satellite radio and the same Gracenote album information recorded on an iPod.
As long as I’ve been writing about cars, German car companies have had a hatred of cupholders. Over the years they’ve made some concessions to American customers who will not buy a vehicle without ones that function, at least minimally. Still, the cupholders in the SLK are on the small side, especially for athletes who want to carry around 20-ounce water bottles.
There are a couple of smallish storage pockets in the doors and one between the seats, as well as a center console bin. The locking glovebox is too small to hold much more than the owner’s manual and registration papers.
A mouse device on the center console controls a variety of functions on the center information screen, eliminating some buttons. The control for the top is located under the driver’s armrest.
The trunk, despite the manufacturer’s claims, is quite small, even more so with the top deployed. With the top in place it will hold a single roller board. With the top deployed grocery bags or a small duffel bag are its limits.
The SLK350 comes with front, head, knee and thorax airbags, electronic stability control, four-channel antilock braking and 24-hour roadside assistance. A SOS button near the rearview mirror enables the driver to call for help from the car.
A new attention assist device monitors driver behavior for drowsiness, and alerts the driver is a break is necessary with a display in the gauge cluster.
The Mercedes-Benz factory warranty covers the vehicle for up to four years or 50,000 miles.
Likes: A stylish hardtop roadster with a fuel efficient, responsive engine, exceptional seven-speed automatic transmission and excellent steering response.
Dislikes: Small storage areas inside the car and small trunk.
Base price: $54,800
As tested: $65,805
Horsepower: 302 Hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 273 lbs.-ft. @ 3500 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: 5.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 20/29 mpg city/highway
Leave a reply