- Mercedes Benz image.
- Mercedes Benz quality.
- Mercedes Benz coupe and convertible in one package.
- Mercedes Benz luxury.
- Mercedes Benz with a manual transmission!
- Mercedes Benz price.
- Styling is getting old.
- Engine is pretty weak for such a heavy and pricey "sports" car.
- Interior is somewhat cramped.
- Handling, although good, is far from class-leading without Sport Package.
Press Coverage :
With the benefit of increased driver interaction, the SLK comes to life. The change is not just a mechanical difference, it's a total personality enhancement - this car begs to be driven. Want to take the engine into redline? Go right ahead; no stupidity-preventing electronic rev-limiter is going to stop you (the engine might, but no rev-limiter will). Rowing through the gears, we were very pleased with the action of this five-speed box. It's a little more rubbery in feel than we'd like, and isn't as precise as, say, the new Miata, but it's still a blast to wind up the engine by hand.
For 2001, more has changed than the SLK's personality: it also received a facelift, or rather, some AMG-certified steroids. The new Sport Package includes additional beef around the car's lower extremities, providing a muscular and more aerodynamic appearance. Also added are beefier 17-inch treads: 225/45ZR-17 front tires and 245/40ZR-17 rear tires. Now maybe the demure SLK can be taken seriously when parked next to the ferocious visages of the Z3 or Boxster. Other than the heavy-duty lower enhancements, the Sport Package replaces the side-mounted "Kompressor" badge with "Sport" (don't worry, German-language buffs, the "Kompressor" badge now appears on the trunk).
The AMG-added components do a lot for the car's appearance in this writer's eyes. Candidly, I've never been attracted to the SLK's styling, partly because of the unnecessary "retro" touches of interior carbon fiber, but mostly because of the contradictory exterior. The power domes on the hood are a nod at the timeless 300SL, but they come across as an imitation rather than an incorporation of style. The 300SL is a beautiful classic car, whereas the SLK tries to be a beautiful modern car. Instead of chic, the SLK tends to come across as "cute." But with the added Sport package, the car looks more intentionally modern and all is forgiven.
Handling is superb, thanks to the front double-wishbone and rear five-link suspension common to all Mercedes passenger cars. Since it's a roadster, most drivers would expect some sports car choppiness, but the SLK plants its huge tires and keeps them grounded, and the chassis and spring-loaded seats absorb the bumps. In that way, the SLK acts like a larger coupe or sedan, but handling is unmistakably roadster (read: superb). Brakes are equally if not more impressive, aided with standard four-wheel ABS and Brake Assist.
The tires don't hurt stopping distances or handling, because they just won't lose their grip. Around one tight curve in the road, I was actually hit in the arm by a tarred stone ripped from the asphalt by the tires. Talk about grip! This car will pull the pavement up before it agrees to slide.
Mercedes claims that the SLK has "only four factory options." Heated seats are $595, metallic paint is $600, a cell phone/CD changer option comes in at $1,595, and the AMG appearance/17-inch wheels and tires (a.k.a. Sport Package) option costs $3,990. We demand a recount: the automatic transmission is a $900 option. Then again, maybe Mercedes only counted the important options.
Last year, our chief gripe about the SLK was its lack of a manual transmission. Now, we can focus on less important issues -- like the exhaust sound. With the addition of the manual, Mercedes will be pitted against some capable competition, such as the aforementioned Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3 (as well as the Mazda Miata), each of which sounds much more sporty. The SLK's exhaust is a disappointing mechanical whir, devoid of any hint at the car's true performance.
Perhaps unfairly, the performance factor itself will soon be up to scrutiny as well. The SLK offers a very peppy motor, with output of 192 horsepower at 5300 rpm and 200 foot-pounds of torque at 2500 rpm. Still, even the Miata boasts 140 horsepower with a normally-aspirated engine.
But in the real world, no one needs a roadster with a more powerful engine than this. The Kompressor will hold its own and make you a very happy driver indeed. It's probably a defective hormone that persuades otherwise rational buyers that they really need more than 192 horsepower in a super-light two-seat roadster. Or maybe performance claims are just used as bragging rights, because enthusiasts like nothing more than to boast about their cars.
1998-2000 Mercedes Benz SLK230 Kompressor
2,295 cc / 185 hp / 200 lb-ft / 3055-3110 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.4 sec.