Sometimes, cars slip through the cracks.
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 241 hp, 273 lb-ft.
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy: 25 mpg city, 32 mpg hwy
CAN Fuel Economy: 9.6 L/100 km city, 7.3 L/100 km hwy
US Price: 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK300 starts at $47,925 after destination charges, $60,425 as tested
CAN Price: 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK300 starts at $60,095 after destination charges, $70,385 as tested
This year was a really busy one for Mercedes-Benz. Most of the brand’s crossovers and SUVs received major overhauls and the C-Class continued to generate more and more variants. In all this madness, it seems the new 2016 SLK300 got swept under the rug. No fanfare was made, no press event was hosted, and no headlines were inked honoring the new baby roadster. Heck, even I forgot about the change from SLK250 to SLK300 until I picked up the car and noticed the larger denomination on the trunk lid.
Perhaps this mid-cycle refresh deserves a bit more attention, because under the familiar roadster body, there’s a new engine and a new transmission.
More Power, More Gears, Less Choice
Replacing the anemic 201-hp 1.8-liter turbo engine is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that develops a healthier 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. With an increase of 40 hp and 44 lb-ft of torque, the SLK300 is significantly faster in the sprint from zero to 60 mph, which now requires a mere 5.8 seconds.
The increased urgency can be attributed to the new nine-speed automatic as well, which in keeping with Mercedes-Benz naming conventions, is called the 9G-Tronic. An in-house design, Mercedes touted this as the first nine-speed auto with a torque converter in a rear-wheel drive application when it came out a few years ago. Sadly, the 9G also marks the demise of the six-speed manual option that used to be offered in the base model SLK.
Despite its impressive array of gears, the transmission is lacking a bit in the refinement department. Some around-town gear changes are sudden and harsh, even when the car is not in sport mode. It’s a trait found in some 7G-Tronic automatics that unfortunately carries over to the new transmission. Still, this is the best nine-speed automatic I’ve come across, though that’s faint praise at best. In a sea of poor performing nine-speed autos, it’s like picking which member of the Wiggles is the most tolerable.
Quick, Not Fast, But Rather Efficient
Even if the SLK300 is plenty quick, it doesn’t feel overly fast. With a relatively quiet engine lacking any sporty sounds from the intake, exhaust or speakers, the SLK builds speed in an assuming way. Blame today’s ridiculously powerful cars and overly potent drivetrains, but zero to 60 mph in just under six seconds seems rather ordinary now.
What the SLK300 does excel at is ample, on-demand torque for effortless motoring. Boost builds quickly as the SLK wafts down the road like a bigger, more powerful grand touring coupe. Unlike the SLK250, the engine doesn’t need to be wrung out to achieve substantial amounts of power. And the new drivetrain is more efficient. Official fuel economy numbers are rated at 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, which is a 3 mpg improvement in city driving compared to the SLK250.
More Grand Tourer Roadster Than Sports Car
The SLK300 weighs in at a reasonable 3,311 lbs, up 15 pounds over SLK250 with the automatic transmission. With the optional sports package, it came wearing upgraded tires measuring 225/40R18 tires up front and wider 245/35R18 units in the rear. Even with the more aggressive rubber, handling is good, but it’s not as engaging or quick to react as, say, a Porsche Boxster. The SLK is more of a baby grand tourer, evident by only being offered with an automatic transmission, and the handling matches this persona well.
But since the SLK is smaller, with a shorter wheelbase and lower curb weight, it’s still more nimble than the usual luxury roadster. And there’s enough torque from the turbo engine to hang the tail out with power-on oversteer. Well, the tail hangs as far as Mercedes will allow it, since even with the stability control switched off, it never actually fully disengages.
Luxury Coupe or Luxury Roadster?
Behind the wheel, seat comfort is good and driver position is optimal. Sight lines are terrific all around since the car has no B pillars and the folding hardtop features a regular-sized rear window. If that weren’t enough, the SLK300 now comes standard with blind spot detection.
SEE ALSO: Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG Review
The SLK really can double as a roadster and a hardtop coupe, as the usual drawbacks associated with a convertible top are all absent in the SLK. Slap on a set of winter tires, and this would make for a good all-season car. The only real compromise is trunk space when the folding hardtop is lowered. Overall cargo capacity shrinks from 10.1 cubic feet to 6.4 cubic feet, which is still much more than a Mazda MX-5.
The SLK is one of the few Mercedes-Benz vehicles left without the center display screen protruding from the dashboard. The screen is a bit smaller, but fits within the dashboard cleanly. Anyone who’s been in a Mercedes product over the past decade should find all the controls familiar and easy to use.
The Verdict: 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK300 Review
The SLK300 begins at a price of $47,925 after destination charges, which isn’t too bad for a powerful little luxury roadster. But add some option packages, and the car quickly eclipses the $60,000 mark. That’s a lot of money for a four-cylinder roadster, even if it has a three-point star on the front.
If it were my money, I’d still save up for the more powerful SLK350 or maybe even the SLK 55 AMG. But the entry level SLK300 is now a wholly intriguing option, something the SLK250 automatic never was.
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