· If you are a high-end German car company you have to offer at least one two-door sports car. Or, that seems to be the rule.
BMW has the Z4, Volkswagen·s subsidiaries Audi and Porsche have two each, the TT and R8 from Ingolstadt and the 911 and Cayman from Zuffenhausen. Mercedes-Benz has no less than three · the SLK, SL and SLS.
Each of these highly-respected marques have reputations for engineering and execution. Needless to say competition is intense and the results are rewarding.
The most recent Mercedes-Benz roadster is the 2012 SLK. Bristling with technology, style and new-found performance, this third generation SLK has a fresh appearance, more powerful and fuel-efficient engine, heavily reworked transmission and a host of new technologies and features.
SIZE AND APPEARANCE
The SLK retains the classic long hood, short deck roadster proportions of the outgoing model. The compact passenger compartment sits well back, ahead of a short deck lid. The new SLK has been given a more masculine look with abrupt angles replacing smooth transitions from the distinctive and upright Mercedes grill to a rear diffuser with integrated exhaust. The front end is wider with big air intakes at the lower outboard edges.
Despite this more muscular front end, the design team managed to trim the coefficient of drag from an already impressive 0.32 down to 0.30. The hood and fenders are made of aluminum in the interest of weight saving.
Perhaps the most impressive design accomplishment is the way the joint lines of the folding hardtop, where it collapses into the trunk, have been artfully hidden.
The top itself introduces some industry-leading technology. Mercedes introduced the folding fixed roof for roadsters in 1996 with the first generation SLK . The second generation brought the AIRSCARF system which directed a stream of warmed air to the neck and shoulders, greatly extending the ·top-down· season.
The 2012 SLK, the third generation, brings Magic Sky Control. The transparency of the panoramic roof can be changed at the touch of a button. Particles sandwiched between two layers of glass change alignment when an electric current is introduced, letting light in, or blocking it out. The base version of the folding roof is painted in body color while a mid-level version is available with a large glass insert.
Another innovation is a draft reduction system Mercedes calls AIRGUIDE. A pair of Plexiglas plates, shaped like the head restraints and fastened to the rear of the roll-over hoops, can be swiveled toward the middle of the vehicle to very effectively reduce turbulence in the cabin.
The hard top folds intricately into the trunk at the tug of a button found beneath a small armrest on the center console. Even when folded, it leaves room for a pair of roll-a-board cases and a computer bag or large purse.
The Canadian version of the 2012 SLK is unique in a number of ways, among them an AMG body kit, Dynamic Ride Control and 18-inch AMG wheels, all of which are standard here and optional on roadsters sold south of the border.
You might notice one of 100 introductory versions of the 2012 SLK looking like it just came out of the body shop. That primer-like finish is intentional, expensive and limited to cars that carry the ·Edition 1· label on the front fenders. In addition to the matte finish, they come fully equipped with two-tone leather interior with contrasting stitching, navigation system, bi-colour wheels, pearl/black interior, aluminum trim and AIRSCARF.
The interior has also been completely redesigned. There is new ambient lighting system and a variety of leather and trim colors are available ·a departure for Mercedes. You can also chose between aluminum, high gloss burl walnut or dark ash trim.
Big round instruments and a quartet of air outlets have a family resemblance to the exotic SLS sibling while a well-dressed analogue clock centered atop the instrument panel on models equipped with the Premium package.
A centre digital display provides a variety of information that can be selected from a switches on a flat-bottomed steering wheel covered in sun-reflecting leather.
The new SLK marks the Canadian introduction of an all-new, aluminum, 3.5-litre V6 engine known internally as M276. Thanks to direct injection, it puts out 302-horsepower and 273 lb.ft. of torque. This is delivered to the rear wheels through a heavily-modified seven-speed automatic transmission that offers faster and smoother gear changes. The new engine uses 9.3% less fuel than the one it replaces. We averaged 7.6 litres/100 km during more than 500-km of somewhat ·energetic· driving including some 2,200-metre high roads along the Rockies.
It is easy to enjoy the newfound performance of this car thanks to a silky-smooth delivery and great sound from the twin pipes. While there was criticism from some corners about the previous SLK, labeling it as a ·chick car·, this new one should dispel those notions thanks to the new look and enough power to haul it from rest to 100 km/hr. in 5.6 seconds · that·s serious performance.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
The SLK may have swapped its curves for straight edges, but it loves curves in the road. The standard Dynamic Handling package includes Direct Steer and Torque Vectoring braking systems. The former is a form of variable assist that varies from light at parking speed to well-weighted at higher speeds. The torque vectoring feature uses selective brake application of the inside rear wheel in severe cornering situations to stabilize the car. The result is a delightful blend of steering accuracy and feedback that gets better as speed climbs. The ride is pleasant, but gets a bit brittle over rough surfaces when switched to ·sport· mode.
This is a Mercedes-Benz so safety was paramount during the development process. In addition to eight airbags and the requisite ABS and ESC, the 2012 SLK comes with a drowsiness warning system called Attention Assist and an anticipatory protection system called Pre-Safe.
The first monitors driver behavior through 72 inputs and warns of a lapse in attention via a flashing coffee cup symbol on the instrument panel. Pre-Safe is capable of initiating full braking when necessary to avoid a crash.
Pricing starts at $66,500. SLK250 four-cylinder and SLK55 AMG V8 versions are expected to join the line in the fall
The new 2012 Mercedes SLK moves the bar back toward the male side of the image ledger with stout performance and tougher looks.