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2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK

2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK New Car Review
Martha Hindes

Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK Interior

Small. Cute. It moved with grace, swiftness and a death grip at speed on undulating, sun parched Southwestern roads. Its acknowledged luxury panache even won a pair of us instant reentry into the United States without question after an unintended, errant exit just feet from the Mexican border.

This was SLK some eight years ago when it first emerged as Mercedes-Benz's answer to the emerging roadster phenomenon. Since then, some critics have suggested it didn't have the appropriate guts to reach true sports car pinnacle status. But that was before some Teutonic designers went back to the drawing board to rethink what being an M-B really meant. The result, first offered a year ago, was a totally redone, gutsier and definitely more intense looking SLK. Still a drop-top roadster, but with more hormones under its beltline.

M-B started with SLK350, a 3.5-liter, 268-horsepower V-6 powerplant with a wide torque curve for extra grunt at launch time a year ago. An upmarket 355-HP, high-performance SLK55 AMG V-8 rounded out the enthusiasts' stable. After all, a road runner is what a roadster is all about. For 2006 Mercedes-Benz added the SLK280, a 3.0-liter V-6 entry level model, for those who previously had only lusted in the wings. With a low- to mid-$40 K entry range, expect more SLKs on the road, but not enough to diminish the glow.

For wide open runs, there's improved braking, ESP stability control and improved rack-and-pinion steering. Six-speed manuals or seven-speed automatics are on V-6 models. The AMG gets Touch Shift automatic only.

The redesigned SLK was Formula One race circuit inspired, with a slightly larger, lean forward slope, with arrow-shaped nose, deeply inclined windshield, high haunched rear and dual exhausts. The interior gained larger gauges and contrasting trim. Dimensions were expanded enough to give a super long-legged Stacy Keebler enough behind-the-wheel stretch space to stay in celebrity dancing trim.

Going from closed to open is a treat for the technically curious. With the press of a button various panels and hinges move to pack the hardtop neatly away. If weather turns cool, heated seats and an "AirScarf" of warm air keep occupants comfy, even at highway speeds. Keeping cozy was never more fun.