True sports car enthusiasts assert that true sports cars must have manual transmissions. A shift-it-yourself gearbox can indeed be a major plus when the primary goal is having fun behind the wheel. The installation of a five-speed manual in the Mercedes-Benz SLK for 1999 silences the purists and does much to raise the little two-seater's fun quotient.
Among two-seat roadsters, the SLK has two rivals in price, performance and features-the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster. The Audi TT will soon join these three. All are impressive, all fit into a fairly narrow price window centered in the low-$40,000 arena, all are well-equipped, and all promise as much over-the-road fun as most drivers can stand. Each carries a company name synonymous with quality, engineering and performance. Each comes from a company with plenty of sports car-building experience.