Mercedes-Benz SLK Roadster Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
Our first brush with Mercedes-Benz's lusty little SLK roadster was a few years ago, ascending the winding, treacherous car path leading up to Arizona's Kitt Peak National Observatory at near reckless speed. It passed the trip to the top with flying colors and gave us not only an unsurpassed performance thrill boosted by Kompressor technology (M-B's turbocharger) at the observatory's 6,880-foot thin air altitude, but new respect for anything wearing that famed three-pointed star M-B badge. So that was our benchmark as we started exploring the revised, third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK Roadster for 2012.
Despite the cutesy appearance of past generation models, the new SLK has more intrinsic libido in its inherent character that moves it up the attraction action ladder. We can't help but think of an adorable kittenish Miley Cyrus or Dakota Fanning growing from total teeny bopper status to womanly adult sophistication in one or two short years. Imagine if Justin Bieber made the same kind of leap and bypassed Selena Gomez for a decidedly more adult kind of gal pal.
A little squatter than before riding on 18-inch wheels, with a long and lean front end, the SLK350 seems to grip pavement with a new sense of dominance, now more the aggressor taking the lead than the one aggressed. It's a look inspired by an SLS-AMG style grille -- definitely beyond the puberty stage. The look offsets the sporty look of the shorter rear deck. Not losing its earlier, functional character as part of its gloriously lithe look, the SLK retains the foldable droptop it takes credit for earlier launching within the hard-top convertible ranks. It also claims continued superiority with a pivoting rear window that matches the curvature of the top as it nestles into place for rear storage with top down for a best of both worlds capability, an adaption from the larger SL's retractable roof.
For those susceptible to the quirks of weather changes, or at least to temperature dips when the sun goes behind clouds, the SLK retains it original AIRSCARF system that can add extra months to open top driving in cooler
climates. Little vents built into the SLK's headrests funnel warm air around the driver's and passenger's necks to keep comfort levels high as outside temperatures drop.
Keeping comfort at an optimum level is enhanced by the AIRSCARF's automatic adjustment to account for changes in vehicle speed. An AIRGUIDE wind deflector, attached to each seat's roll bar, keeps buffeting winds at bay.
For those who prefer a Panoramic roof overhead, SLK offers something called MAGIC SKY CONTROL that allows the driver to change the color and deepen the shading of a clear overhead panel.
Equally impressive as its look is improved power designed to give the SLK even more control and performance than our earlier driving memories would allow. For 2012, the SLK350 features a new direct injection 3.5-liter V-6 engine that generates 302-horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque and earns 20/29 fuel economy numbers, with a top speed of 155-MPH. A later arrival is the new, more fuel efficient (23/31) turbocharged 1.8-liter 201-HP inline four (229 lb.-ft. of torque). Both mate to a new, seven-speed automatic transmission (optional with the SLK250) with torque converter that offers mileage as well as performance gains.
For someone taking long, late night drives, the newly revised SLK adds a driver's safety net, a standard "ATTENTION ASSIST" system that recognizes erratic driving patterns and steering corrections that don't have sporty driving characteristics, and sends a warning for an overly tired driver to take a rest break. The system kicks in when vehicle speeds are between 50 and 100 miles an hour.
Expect to pay $55,675 base for the 2012 SLK350, a $1,500 bump up from last year's second generation model. The 2012 SLK250 starts at $43,375, a $5,150 drop from the SLK300 it replaces. A gutsy SLK55 AMG version goes for a cool $68,375, for those who can't resist blasting into the next county ahead of the pack. For those ready to sign on, we say "Women, Choose your engines. There are a lot of challenging roads to conquer."
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