This era of engine downsizing has offered up some interesting results. Who would’ve thought six-cylinder F-150s would dominate the sales chart and BMW would offer a four-cylinder 5 Series? Madness!
|1. Powered by a turbocharged 1.8L direct-injection 4-cylinder the SLK250 makes 202 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque.
2. Look for a 6.5 second 0-60 time.
3. Fuel economy is rated 23 mpg city and 33 mpg highway with the 7-speed automatic transmission.
4. Starting at $42,900 the 250 is significantly less than the $55,400 SLK 350.
The latest comes from Mercedes-Benz, which is following the trend in various C-Class models, but also now with the 2013 SLK. This is more than a little karmic because the original SLK 230 used a supercharged 2.3-liter with 193 horsepower and on paper, the new car isn’t that far ahead of the original.
TINY 4-CYLINDER UNDER THAT BIG HOOD
The current SLK adopts a smaller turbocharged four-cylinder for its new ‘base’ model in North America, the 250. In this case, a 1.8-liter direct-injection unit that produces a healthy 202 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque.
Amazingly, our press car came with the extremely rare six-speed manual transmission; something we believe only existed in theory since no one ever orders them.
The company claims the littlest SLK will run from 0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds with a human handling the shift duties (6.6 sec. with the seven-speed automatic). Top speed is limited to 130 mph in every SLK except the crazy 415-horse AMG model.
Compared with the carryover V6-powered SLK 350, the four-banger weighs 140 pounds less and gets better gas mileage, only using 22 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway (23/33 with the automatic.)
Mercedes-Benz’ manual transmissions are much improved since the original SLK of nearly 20 years ago. The shift action is no longer notchy and balky while clutch take-up is smoother too. However, there were a few instances when the electronic throttle and some turbo lag at low revs made changing gears under light throttle a tad challenging. When giving it the boot, these issues mainly disappeared.
FUN, BUT NOT THE SPORTIEST OPTION
Steering is light and reasonably communicative, but artificially weights up during harder cornering. Once you find the right road, the SLK 250 can find its flow, but will never be mistaken for a Porsche. You get the sense that Mercedes-Benz figured most entry-level buyers will spend more time in parking lots or trendy shops than a country road.
Strangely, the car has a very faint porpoising action – even over relatively smooth roads. Activating the Sport Mode firms things up just enough to cancel the bob, but doesn’t sharpen the throttle response any.
One thing every SLK shares is its head-turning looks and last year’s redesign added some needed aggression to the roadster’s skin, most notably the squared jaw and upright three-pointed star that takes a page from the larger and more expensive SL and SLS.
The SLK garners even more stares when its folding hardtop is activated. Even though it re-introduced the technology when the model debuted in 1996 – and copycats from everyone from Chrysler to Volkswagen have come along since – the mechanical ballet never fails to amaze. Although we never officially timed it, our gut says it goes from closed to open in about 15 seconds.
THE RIGHT SIZE
Once open to the elements, our SLK shows off its revised cabin, which for 2013 includes the repositioned cruise control and turn-signal stalks introduced on the latest ML-Class. The eight-way power seats are easy to use and reasonably supportive for spirited driving. Thankfully, they can sit low enough that even a 6’3” occupant won’t bang their head on the raised roof.
The interior isn’t perfect, though… the matte silver finish on one row of buttons across the dash that include the seat heater, Airscarf and Sport mode is nearly illegible during the day, especially with the top down. Finally, the engine delivers lots of turbo whoosh and intake noise, but overall, the sound is pretty uninspiring. The non-turbo V6 in the pricier SLK 350 would fill that option nicely.
A BARGAIN MERCEDES?
Starting with the quite decently equipped 250 instead of the 350 means a near $13,000 savings in MSRP. However, added to the $42,900 base price on our test car were options like the $2,590 Premium Package which includes the excellent Airscarf, heated seats and a harman/kardon 10-speaker surround-sound system; and the $2,500 Sport Package with those adjustable shocks, more dynamic styling and 18-inch wheels. And let’s not forget the bi-xenon headlights ($1,290), parking sensors front and rear ($900), dual-zone climate control ($760) and metallic paint ($720). That’s a grand total of $50,765 before delivery and taxes.
Other four-cylinder turbo rivals in this segment include the evergreen Audi TT and BMW Z4, although they both boast a fair chunk more power than the SLK. BMW asks about $5,000 more for its car though with any high-priced sports cars finding one without any personalization is impossible. It’s a dead heat in the head department.
Here, the heart rules. And the SLK 250 is the big looker in our books.
If we were going to invest in one, we’d probably also opt for the automatic transmission, mainly because it’ll be easier to live with and easier to get rid of. The Z4 sDrive28i is the most likely to enjoy itself on a drive, but five large is a lot of do-ray-mi.
Surprisingly, the ‘Benz offers the best value. Who would have ever guess that would be the case?