What is it?
Enthusiast drivers would be forgiven for having mentally docked the Mercedes SLK under ‘humdrum boulevard special’. And it’s true that the first SLK (back in 1996) was known more for its revolutionary folding hard top than for its abilities on winding roads.
This, third generation, model is again more of a tourer than a sports car, but Mercedes is promising a much greater emphasis on agility. Described as being ‘70 per cent all-new’ the SLK uses the same base platform as before, adding slightly increased width and claimed improved rigidity, partly thanks to a fibre-reinforced rear bulkhead.
The more aggressive SL-style exterior gets an aluminium bonnet and aluminium wings. The SLS-style interior is relatively plain, but clear and well screwed together. Although there’s a raft of sophisticated extras available (including a Reactolite-style glass roof panel option, adaptive damping, a variable rate steering rack and Torque Vectoring Brakes), there’s a strong argument that this base model could be the best SLK of the new line-up.
What’s it like?
Most impressive is the new 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. Equipped with a very sophisticated high pressure injection system and twin balancer shafts, it gives a remarkably tractable and diesel-like response, delivering its significant maximum torque from just 1800rpm to 4600rpm. Indeed, this flat torque delivery means that changing up as the engine approaches the redline can result in a most unexpected surge of acceleration as the motor spins back down into the very punchy mid-range.
It’s seems pretty frugal, too. According to the trip computer, this manual SLK200 was about twice as economical as the V6-engined, autobox, SLK 350 I drove on the same demanding mountain roads. And, in truth, it didn’t feel significantly slower.
The new SLK now has quicker steering and this model, rolling on standard-issue steel springs and dampers, was decently agile in that typically restrained Mercedes way. The driver needs to put some effort in to extract the best from it, pushing the car hard into bends. But it’s pretty easy to place and resists understeer well.