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2012 Mercedes SLK350 Review [Video]
More than the sum of its upgrades
By Colum Wood, Photography by Mercedes-Benz, Video by Chris Blanchette, Dec. 05, 2011

In the past we might have compared the SLK to that cute girl next door, or perhaps even a confident woman in a short suit skirt and naughty secretary glasses. So weren’t we shocked when Mercedes unveiled the all-new 2012 SLK. To carry on the metaphor, the internal monolog most certainly sounded like this: “Whoa… it’s a dude.”

FAST FACTS

1. For 2012 the 3.5L V6 engine gains direct-injection. The result is a minimal power increase to 302 hp while fuel economy jumps more significantly to 20/29 mpg.

2. A gimmicky but also very cool Magic Sky Control glass roof can turn from clear to opaque at the push of a button.

3. Along with the SLK350, Mercedes offers a 415-hp SLK55 AMG model as well as a 201-hp turbocharged 4-cylinder SLK250.

4. Pricing for the SLK350 starts at $55,675.

Perhaps “dude” isn’t quite the right word. The chiseled features of the SLK aren’t at all the somewhat corny romantic comedy type. Rather, they’re the square-jawed, five-o’clock shadow in a Hugo Boss suit type. Not a clear enough picture? Just think about the last cologne commercial you saw. Yea, it looks like that guy.

But handsome looks will only get you so far and on further inspection the SLK doesn’t seem to bring much to the table. Thankfully, a drive in the SLK350 reveals much more than a spec sheet can tell you.

LITTLE IMPROVEMENTS

Unlike the somewhat drastic change that BMW made with the Z4, the SLK hasn’t grown much. It’s 2-inches longer than the old car, with a minutely stretched wheelbase and an extra inch side to side. There’s little new under the hood as well. Sure, the 3.5-liter V6 has gained direct-injection, and while that makes for a more significant jump in power on other Mercs (like the C350), horsepower is only up two ponies to 302 and torque rises just 8 lb-ft for a total of 273. The result is a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds, matching the outgoing model – certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

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The more significant change comes in terms of fuel economy with a 20-mpg city rating and a 29-mpg highway rating, an improvement of two and four units respectively. One might argue that fuel economy doesn’t really matter on a vehicle like this, but we’d beg to differ. Thanks in part to its retractable hard top and its uniquely Mercedes driving characteristics, this is just one more way in which the SLK has become an even better daily driver.

MORE THAN JUST AN OCCASIONAL USE CAR

Not convinced? Then take the SLK’s cargo space. Even with the top down there’s a useable 6.5 cubic feet of cargo space – enough to fit an overnight bag on your way to the airport for a quick business trip. Plus, with the top up, the trunk can hold 10 cu-ft., which proved enough space to not only hold a few bags of groceries, we even managed one of those massive boxes of diapers. Taking that functionality into account, if you don’t need pretend rear seats, the SLK is as livable, or perhaps even more so, than a lot of luxury convertibles, like the 3 Series, Lexus IS or Infiniti G.

2012 Mercedes SLK350 Engine

Mercedes continues to offer just one transmission with the SLK, a 7-speed automatic, which comes with three different drive modes: efficiency, sport and manual. Continuously improved, the transmission’s Sport mode swaps gears effectively and is preferable to hitting the paddles yourself. One reason for this is that it’s been engineered to drop as many as four gears at once, to make sure you get the acceleration you ask for when the pedal is pushed. Mercedes claims the Eco mode (the car’s default setting) will deliver an up to 7 percent fuel economy improvement.

FUN FACTOR IS MUCH IMPROVED

2012 Mercedes SLK350

Those who prefer the Sport transmission setting will also want to upgrade to the Dynamic Handling Package ($990), which includes an electronic differential that reduces wheel spin on the inside wheel in a corner, as well as a continuously adjustable damping suspension with two driver-selectable modes.

An optional Sport Package ($2,500) then seems like a must, if not for the AMG aerodynamic kit and red accent lighting inside (very cool), then for the light weight 18-inch five-spoke AMG forged alloy wheels. So equipped, the car has all the road presence of its big brother the SL. Adding a further level of individualization on our test car was a Diamond White Metallic white paint ($1,500).

2012 Mercedes SLK350

While the previous SLK was a fine-enough sports car, this new model makes no apologies, its driving characteristics as much improved as its looks. With the Z4 having become more of a grand-tourer and the Merc gaining a new sporting edge, the line between the two is now blurred considerably.

The electronic differential really helps the car rotate around corners, though the steering still feels a bit over-boosted. Acceleration is rapid and the V6 makes a thoroughly enjoyable sound. The brakes are much like the steering, being loose initially and perhaps too firm at the bottom.

GIMMICKS AND GIZMOS

Inside is where you’ll find much of what’s new about the 2012 SLK, including the optional Panorama Roof ($500) or Magic Sky Control roof. ($2,500) The latter is nice but offers little shade, and if you’re weekly forecast calls for sun most of the time, it might not be the best choice. As for “Magic Sky Control”, it’s another glass roof, but it can transition to a heavily tinted surface with the touch of a button. They don’t call it magic for nothing.

2012 Mercedes SLK350

Regardless of which top you choose, all hide away in an impressive series of folding parts that will wow bystanders for a solid 20 seconds. The time it takes to open or close a convertible roof always seems like a useless statistic, but get caught in a sudden downpour and the quicker the better.

Top down, you can appreciate the Airscarf system (a part of the $2,590 Premium Package 1), which blows hot or cool air onto the neck through vents in the headrest. Also included are heated seats, an iPod interface XM Satellite radio and an impressive harmon/kardon audio system. Notably absent, however, are cooled or vented seats.

2012 Mercedes SLK350

The cabin itself is premium, though missing any wow factor. The actual display of the Comand system (especially some of the radio screens) looks dated already and it’s disappointing that a keyless access system is a $650 upgrade and not standard. This is a Mercedes-Benz after all. Thankfully, a wood grain interior trim is optional and aluminum comes standard – there’s nothing worse than being forced to upgrade just because the factory wood looks so dated and cheap.

Another notable feature for 2012 comes in the safety department with the addition of Attention Assist as standard, which will notify the driver with a visual warning on the dash if it detects jerky steering corrections, indicating you’re starting to doze off.

Pricing for the SLK350 starts at $55,675. As tested, our model included a long list of options, totaling roughly $11,000 bringing the price to $66,650 – and that’s without the pricey Magic Sky Control roof.

A MERCEDES WITH A STICK SHIFT?

Currently the SLK350 and 415-hp SLK55 AMG model are on offer, although Mercedes is set to offer an SLK250 model soon, with points that appeal to both the budget conscious and the driving enthusiast. A new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine generates 201-hp and 229 lb-ft of torque, and despite the big drop in power is just one second off to 60 mph. Fuel economy will increase further, delivering a 23/31 mpg rating while the real not to driver’s everywhere is a rare-to-Mercedes 6-speed manual transmission. Pricing for this model has yet to be released, but if the savings is significant, it might be a hard model to turn down, especially considering the

2012 Mercedes SLK350

THE VERDICT

Long before hardtop convertibles became as mainstream as they currently are, Mercedes offered the SLK, a car that continues to deliver incredible every-day practicality for a luxury roadster. With added refinement and much improved fuel economy, the SLK350 has moved further from being a weekend toy to becoming a feasible only car. At the same time, rather than lose some of the fun factor as it has matured, it now delivers a heightened driving experience. With the latest model, Mercedes is further proving that a luxury sports can in fact be your only car.

LOVE IT
  • Far more than just a Sunday driver
  • Improved driving dynamics
  • No longer a ‘chick car’
LEAVE IT
  • No cooled seats
  • Passable for a luxury interior
  • Add-ons add-up

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