2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Review

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class - The sexy 2012 Mercedes SLK350 has strong performance.


The new-generation SLK remains small,with just a 95.7-inch wheelbase. But it has more aggressive styling for a sexier, more masculine look and continues with its fast-acting retractable hardtop. Even the exhaust outlets are artfully shaped.

The 3,397-pound SLK350 has a solid feel-top up or down. But Mercedes stuck its plastic three-pointed star emblem right up front in the center of the grille, where it can be easily damaged.
The first Mercedes-Benz SLK, which I drove in Italy at a media preview in the late 1980s, was a bore. It had terribly plain styling and modest performance. It was at least some fun with a manual gearbox, but that wasn't even initially offered in America.

The first SLK two-seater reminded me of the 1950s two-seat Ford Thunderbird, which was more a car for a wife or girlfriend. At least that Thunderbird looked sporty.

Not that any of this prevented the first-generation SLK from selling like crazy in America. After all, it was a civilized new Mercedes that was easy to drive with its automatic transmission and small enough for swift in-town parking. It even had a retractable hardtop, which wasn't common in the 1980s.

The front-engine/rear-drive SLK improved as the years passed. It had to, with competition from cars such as the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster.

The new-generation 2012 version is the best SLK yet-putting aside the costly, overpowered AMG versions that eventually arrived.

A costly 415-horsepower SLK AMG version arrives in early 2012, but why waste your money? The SLK350's new 3.5-liter, 302-horsepower V-6 offers all the performance you'll need for American driving. And it delivers 273 pound-feet of torque at only 3,500 rpm for rapid response in all driving situations.

The SLK also debuts in early 2012 as the SLK250, with a turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder generating  201 horsepower, but I haven't driven it yet.

One good thing, though, is the SLK250 will be the only SLK offered with a manual transmission-a six-speed unit..

The SLK350 only comes with a seven-speed automatic with a manual shift feature, using steering wheel paddles or the shifter lever. That transmission (optional for the SLK250) doesn't shift crisply enough in automatic mode, but at least swaps gears smoothly.

The SLK350 has a list price of $54,800. Figure on approximately $50,000 for the SLK250.

The SLK350 is loaded with safety and convenience equipment. It includes supportive long-distance sport seats with leather upholstery, an 8-speaker audio system and climate control.

Safety items include driver and passenger head, knee and thorax air bags and dual integrated roll bars.

Options include a $2,590 Premium Package that contains a neck-level heating system for those who wish to drive in chilly weather with the top down, a harman/kardon premium sound system and heated seats. A "Magic Sky Control" roof can be turned from clear glass to a dark-tinted pane at the push of a button.

The steering is firm, but quick. Handling is sharp-but not in the Boxster class-and is made safer by an electronic stability control system.  The ride is supple, although occupants will feel sharp bumps. The brakes are strong, with a nice pedal feel.

Right now, at least in my book, the V-6 engine is the way to go. The 0-60 mph time with that engine is only 5.4 seconds. The 0-60 mph factory estimated time with the SL250 is 6.5 seconds.  

Estimated fuel economy is about the same with either engine. The SLK350 delivers 20 mpg in the city and 29 on highways. Factory estimated figures for the SLK250 are 23 and 31 with the automatic.

Large door handles allow easy entry to the upscale interior, which is roomy despite a rather large console area. Main gauge numbers are at an angle that is awkward in low-speed driving, and sound-system controls are small. Large outside power mirrors help driver visibility.

There are few cockpit storage areas. For instance, the covered console storage bin is small, and there's hardly any room in the glove compartment for anything but the owner's manual. Small door storage pockets are nearly useless.

The trunk has a low, wide opening and is fairly large when the top is up. It becomes shallow when the top is lowered. At least the lid uses space-saving hydraulic struts and has a nice interior pull-down handle.

The hood raises smoothly on struts, but the engine compartment is largely hidden by a large plastic cover. Fluid-filler areas can be easily reached, though.

In all, the SLK350 is an impressive viable alternative to costlier rivals.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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