13 January 2004

The original modern-day coupé-cabriolet is back. Mercedes took the unusual step of unveiling the brand new SLK last week - despite not showing the car at Detroit.

Instead, it will debut the car at March's Geneva Motor Show. Sales start in the UK this summer, with prices expected to start at around £27,000.

Although smoother styling is an evolution of today's eight-year-old design, the new car gains a McLaren SLR-inspired nose. The same look will be transplanted to the SL in a forthcoming facelift, to give all Merc sports cars a family look.

Two models will be available in the UK at launch: an 163bhp SLK 200 Kompressor and the all-new 272bhp V6 SLK 350. That makes the 350 quick enough for 0-62mph in 5.6sec. Order the optional seven-speed 7G-Tronic auto 'box, and the sprint falls to 5.5sec.

The range-topping SLK 55 AMG, spotted by Autocar lapping the 'Ring last week, follows at the end of the year. With a 360bhp V8 and seven-speed auto, it will hit 62mph in 4.9sec and 155mph. Further engines will be added in 2005.

Thanks to new C-Class-based underpinnings, with rack-and-pinion steering, the SLK should be better to drive than today's stodgy roadster.

A new SL-style three-piece roof turns the SLK from coupé to cabrio in 22sec - 3sec quicker than the old car - and frees an extra 63 litres of boot space with the roof down, at 208 litres. Roof up, capacity is 300 litres.

Longer and wider than the old car, with an extra 30mm in the wheelbase, the new SLK boasts a roomier cabin and options include a new Airscarf neck-level heating system, which blasts warm air from the headrests to keep the driver warm on wintry top-down runs.

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