From £29,170
Reworked V6 engine and steering tweaks give SLK new lease of life

Our Verdict

Mercedes-Benz SLK
Evolutionary looks shroud new underpinnings. Is it a good mix?

The Mercedes-Benz SLK has the right image, a posh cabin and it's easy to live with

31 January 2008

What is it?

The facelifted version of Merc's hugely successful second-generation SLK. Here is a car that showed all the signs of enduring well beyond the traditional facelift cycle when it was launched back in 2004, so it's highly indicative of the expectations harboured by today's car buyers that Mercedes-Benz has decided to refresh its entry-level roadster.

Central among the measures taken to place the SLK on a more level footing with new competition such as the Audi TT, is the appearance of a reworked version of the older model’s 3.5-litre V6 engine.

Set to head into a range of updated Mercedes-Benz models in the not-too-distant future, the 90-degree unit gains a host of detailed internal changes, including lightweight valves, a revised camshaft, new pistons, higher 11.7:1 compression ratio and new single stage inlet manifold – all aimed at providing it with a sportier twist.

With 301bhp at 6500rpm and 265lb ft of torque, it is certainly not lacking in reserves, boasting a respectable 24bhp and 7lb ft more than the engine it replaces. More significant, perhaps, it also gives the facelifted SLK more oomph than any of its German rivals in standard guise, outgunning the range topping TT to the tune of 54bhp, Z4 by 40bhp and the Boxster S by 10bhp.

What’s it like?

More than these bald figures, it is the reworked four-valve-per-cylinder unit’s improved response and ability to rev that really makes a difference. While the old engine achieved a rather conservative 6800rpm, the new one can be wound to 7200rpm before the onset of the limiter. Consequently, it feels livelier and more willing, with the revs rising and falling with greater determination.

Allied to this new V6 engine is a standard six-speed manual gearbox, but the optional seven-speed automatic will still impress the most. Running a slightly longer final drive than before, it helps propel the updated SLK350 from 0-to-62mph in 5.4sec – just 0.5sec slower than the similarly updated 355bhp 5.4-litre V8 powered SLK 55 AMG - and a slight 0.2sec improvement on the old model.

Interestingly, Mercedes-Benz says you will be no quicker in a straight line with the manual, and the automatic achieves better fuel economy and lower CO2 emission figures.

Acknowledging the second-generation SLK has lacked the sort of steering response offered by some of its more contemporary open top rivals, Mercedes-Benz has also given it a new variable steering rack.

At the straight ahead, the so-called Direct Steer system is geared much the same as before in a bid to achieve good motorway stability, but as you wind on lock it gradually becomes increasingly direct, the actual ratio varying from 15.8:1 to a whip crack 9.5:1.

In combination with standard of 17-inch alloys shod with 225/45 (front) and 245/40 (rear) tyres, it provides the SLK with noticeably sharper responses at speed and a keener ability to turn into corners.

Add the optional sports suspension and larger 18-inch wheels to the mix and you’ve got a car that can hold its head high in the company of the TT, Z4 and Boxster. In fact, the complete handling repertoire has been greatly improved, making it a much more rewarding drive.

Making things all the more impressive is the fact that the improved dynamics do not come at the expense of the SLK’s excellent ride quality. No other two seat rival cossets its occupants over rough roads with such aplomb or control.

Accompanying the mechanical tweaks is a very lightly reworked exterior. Among the changes is an aggressive new front bumper with twin vertical struts seeking to provide the compact roadster with even closer visual ties to the latest McLaren-Mercedes F1 car, darkened tail lamp lenses, a deeper rear bumper with integrated diffuser element and a pair of trapezoidal shaped chromed tail pipes.

It’s a subtle makeover that helps give the SLK a slightly fresher, but far from character changing appearance, like that brought to the facelifted SL.

Similarly subtle changes have taken place inside, with reworked instruments, multi-function three-spoke steering wheel and a new finish for some of the switchgear grouped on the centre console helping to lift its appeal.

Should I buy one?

Yes, if you want a comfortable premium roadster with enough pace to keep you ahead of the obvious competition; the SLK’s new top-of-the-line engine and variable steering rack does make it a more appealing buy than its well-liked predecessor.

But if sales of that model are anything to go by it will be the cheaper 182bhp, 1.8-litre SLK 200 Kompressor and 228bhp 3.0-litre SLK280 that will continue to the bulk of business here in the UK.

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