Mercedes-Benz’s Little Roadster Redone

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2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350.

Back in 1996, Mercedes-Benz brought out something quite revolutionary. It was a two seat roadster with a hardtop that folded up and retracted into the trunk. The tidy little SLK was a great interpretation of a luxury sports model, although it was often seen as a “chick car.”

A redesign in 2004 brought a second generation of the SLK, with smoother shapes and an elongated nose. That version was better overall, but still not quite what we’d call macho or even manly.

Over the years, the SLK has often been cross-shopped with BMW’s Z3 and Z4 roadsters, as well as the Porsche Boxster. It was no secret that many male customers would often give the nod to one of those others, deciding that the Mercedes just wasn’t cutting it in the testosterone department.

Now the SLK has gotten a redesign once again, and is appearing now as a 2012 model. The retractable hardtop is still there, along with great driving dynamics and a good dose of luxury. It also sports a much more aggressive, less feminine look.

Designs of cars from a brand evolve. One model picks up a styling cue here or there, and soon the other offerings in a company’s lineup will adopt that look. In the case of the SLK, the flagship SLS AMG (aka “Gullwing”) has inspired the grill as well as some of the interior items.

Initially there is just one model, the SLK350. With a 302 horsepower V6 engine and 7-speed automatic transmission, it’s no slouch in the acceleration department, though fuel mileage is nothing to write home about. (Officially listed as 20 city and 29 highway, but I only averaged about 15-16 in city use.)

In the interest of fuel economy and to offer a lower priced model, the SLK250 will be coming along soon. Featuring a turbocharged four cylinder engine and the availability of a 6-speed manual transmission, this will also be the more sporting choice, although it’ll be down about 100 horsepower from the SLK350.

No matter which SLK you might end up in, the car is a great combination of fun and style. And then there’s that clever roof. Pull a console-mounted lever, and whirring and humming noises fill the car while the metal top retracts neatly into the trunk area. Many other cars have employed this type of roof system in recent years, but none do it better than the little Benz.

Another cool thing about the roof is an option called Magic Sky Control. Working in a similar fashion to those electronically dimming rear view mirrors, the top’s glass panel can be tinted or un-tinted with the press of the button. If you want a little bit of the sun on you, the glass is almost clear. If you prefer to block the rays, it gets a dark tint. Very slick.

One other useful option that first debuted on the larger SL model is called Air Scarf. As its name implies, vents at about neck level in the seatback blow heated air onto you so that you can enjoy top-down motoring on chillier days. There are also available flip-in clear panels behind the headrests which keep airflow down.

Looking stylish and enjoying the Mercedes-Benz of small roadsters isn’t cheap, though it is if you compare the price of the SLK to the higher-end and larger SL. Base price for an SLK350 is $55,675 (that’s a little over half the price of an SL550 for point of reference). The “bargain” SLK250 should be priced somewhere near the outgoing SLK300 at about $48,000. The SLK350 with the aforementioned features I tested checked in at just north of $61,000.

The new Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster has a lot going for it. Great looks, fun performance, and that convenient power hardtop. Now, we can also add more manly looks to that list.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 8 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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