Mercedes-Benz is planning a major expansion of its sports car line-up over the next three years - and these spy images show that it’s preparing a new SLK to be part of the range.
The next-gen folding hard-top, due next year, will sit at the base of an expanded model line-up that will also include the ‘baby’ SLS (known as SSK, for Super Sport Kurz), a C-class coupe and a sub-C-class four-door coupe, a baby brother to the CLS.
The prices of Mercedes’ ‘sporting’ range will stretch from around £30,000 to £250,000 - although there could yet be a smaller cabrio, based on the next-gen A-class platform.
Codenamed R172, the new SLK is being brought into line with Mercedes’ future styling direction, recently introduced by new design chief Gorden Wagener.
This car’s relatively light disguise cannot hide the switch to a large, trapezoidal front grille, as seen on the recently launched SLS AMG supercar and the F800 Style Geneva motor show concept.
The rear spoiler is similar in style to that on the SLS. And the rectangular patch just behind the front wheel arch probably covers a side vent, another cue from the range-topper.
The links to the AMG gullwing supercar do not end with exterior styling, though. The interior spy shot - our first glimpse inside the cabin - reveals that the dashboard architecture, centre console and air vents closely follow the design of the SLS’s, a look that is said to have been influenced by aircraft.
The SLK will sit on a shortened version of the current C-class’s rear-wheel drive platform. But while the underpinnings are steel, the body will be a mix of steel and aluminium. Mercedes is said to have decided against a switch to all-aluminium on cost grounds.
The current car’s Vario folding roof remains, but engineers have reworked the system to speed up opening and closing, and to allow operation at low speeds.
Mercedes will also offer the new model with an optional panoramic glass centre panel in the roof; it will incorporate the ‘Magic Sky Control’ variable tint already seen on Maybachs and the CLS Shooting Break concept.
The SLK will be launched early next year, with UK sales starting in May or June. Mercedes has yet to decide whether to reveal it at the Detroit show in January or Geneva in March.
It will initially be available in two versions: SLK250 and SLK350. The 250 uses Merc’s M271 EVO engine, a turbocharged 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol with 201bhp.
The SLK350 gets Mercedes’ new 3.5-litre direct-injection V6 petrol motor, which will make its debut in the S-class this autumn. The normally aspirated unit produces 301bhp, up from 268bhp, and features stop-start in a bid to improve fuel economy and CO2 emissions; in the S-class it offers a 24 per cent gain in efficiency over the old V6.
A further petrol variant, using a detuned version of the M271 with 178bhp, is also in the pipeline, although it is scheduled to arrive around a year after the initial launch, in early 2012.
It’s also increasingly likely that the SLK will offer a diesel variant for the first time. Sources say that the 2.1-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder unit, as seen in the C250 and E250 CDI models, will be offered. It produces 201bhp and 369lb ft of torque.
All models except the SLK350 will come with a six-speed manual ’box as standard. The V6 model will get a revised version of the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic; it will also be offered as an option across the rest of the range.
Mercedes’ AMG division is almost certain to produce a successor to the current SLK55. It’s likely to use the same V8 powerplant as the C63 AMG, with 457bhp — but the new V6 engine’s modular design would allow twin-turbocharging, potentially freeing up similar power levels as the V8 but with lower emissions.
Whatever its engine, the AMG variant will take the SLK to almost £60,000, around the same as the base specification of the next-generation, aluminium-construction SL and just £10k shy of the SSK.