Despite selling well, the Mercedes-Benz SLK has been seen as a bit fluffy, a lesser animal when compared to some of its roadster rivals. This hasn’t been helped by the fact that most buyers of the car have been female, something that has switched some less- evolved men off.
Now Mercedes-Benz is making a considered effort to ensure that the latest generation car attracts more men. The new third generation SLK has set out to shed its dainty image with more brutal looks and has moved up a gear to become a far more impressive drive.
Available with three engine choices initially – and with a diesel coming for the first time later in the year – we drive the 184hp 200, the 204hp 250 and 306hp 350 through the steep-sided mountain roads around the Mount Teide volcano in Tenerife. The weather is appalling. “Please be aware of slippery roads and snow” says the man from Mercedes-Benz, which isn’t what you want to hear on a sports car launch. Thankfully, though, the road up to the volcano remains closed to all traffic, the sun gradually wins through and we find we are testing a greatly improved sports car on some of the finest driving roads we can remember.
With all cars in the range now featuring stop/start tech as standard, all three cars are improved in economy and emissions. We drive the more frugal 200, the dynamic 350 AMG Sport and the 250 inbetweener. And though the 200 and 250 are both very good, it is the SLK 350 AMG Sport that we want to spend our time in. The AMG Sport model is the regular 350 model but with a new dynamic handling package – an electronically controlled, fully automatic damping system – plus some more aggressive trim to communicate the car’s new-found athleticism. With the suspension switched to sports mode and with the sport button engaged – which instructs the seven speed 7G-Tronic Plus auto gearbox – to hang on to its gears for a bit longer, we’re having an enormous amount of fun and find it an easy car to drive quickly. In this setup, the SLK is a dynamic driver – though not perfect. Sometimes the gearbox, even in sport mode, isn’t quite intuitive enough and we found it had a tendency to delay our gear shift requests via the paddle shifters. As there is no manual option, this feels like the best driving and the most dynamic model we drove, which goes some way to explaining the price hike of more than £14k over the basic 200 model. It may not be the most subtle choice of these three options – the 250 with the optional sport suspension would certainly be a good choice too – but the 350 feels the most aggressive and to my mind the most fun. The car feels really grippy and you can certainly throw it around confidently even on unfamiliar mountain roads and the 3.5-litre V6 engine delivers a good note through the mountainside, maybe not as great as the flat-six of a Porsche Boxster – against which this car with acceleration figures of 0-62mph of 5.6 seconds must now surely compete – but exhilarating and laugh-out-loud good enough.
Design-wise, the car is longer and wider than its predecessor and has taken cues from the 190SL from the 1950s and the current SLS gullwing. Though the car may have a few more strakes than it needs on its bonnet and flanks, it’s certainly very striking. As to whether it has successfully combined Mercedes-Benz elegance with a its new dynamic and aggressive styling will be a contentious issue.
The interior is cool, comfortable, luxurious and straightforward. The SLK also gets a clever new option called Magic Sky Control which is a panoramic vario-roof which can switch to light or dark depending on how much light you want in the cabin. It can allow you to shade and keep the interior cool or allow loads of light in depending on your mood.
But it’s the driving that stays with us. The 200 in particular feels like a lot of car for the money but on the twisty roads of Tenerife it’s the 350 AMG Sport that wins us over. Whether the SLK wins other men’s hearts in the UK remains to be seen.
TOP SPEED: 155MPH
CO2 G/KM: 167G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 39.8MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY