By some estimates, the first U.S. baby boomer turned 50 in February 1996. Coincidentally (or maybe not), a trio of new roadsters was introduced, the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster, and Mercedes-Benz SLK. The midlife crises of the oldest boomers breathed new life into the roadster, a segment that had long been dead.
The Mercedes SLK, was welcomed to the U.S. with open arms in January 1997 (after being introduced in Europe), and immediately captured awards from the automotive media, including the prestigious 1998 North American Car of the Year, presented by an independent jury of the top 50 automotive journalists in the U.S. and Canada. Sales, which Mercedes hoped would hit 6,000 a year, increased to a peak of nearly 13,000. Mercedes sold more than 66,115 SLK models in its first seven years of production, with more than 300,000 sold around the globe.
Advance the clock eight years, and baby boomers, whose ranks number 78 million, are turning 50 at a rate of one every seven seconds, and they now have a host of sports cars to choose from, including the Nissan 350Z, Audi TT, Honda S2000, and Cadillac XLR to name only a few. And the earliest entries are now appearing in next-generation form.
The Mercedes SLK is among those entering their second generation. With its extreme makeover for the 2005 model year, the SLK seeks more men suffering midlife crises, with its bolder, more macho appearance, added horsepower and technical innovations. The original proved too popular with women making it less desirable for men, Mercedes marketers say.
Two versions of the SLK are available for the 2005 model year, the SLK350 and the more powerful, more macho SLK55 AMG.
The SLK350, which replaces the SLK320, comes with a new 3.5-liter V6 rated at 268 horsepower. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, while a new seven-speed automatic is optional. The SLK comes standard with leather upholstery, a nine-speaker sound system with an in-dash CD player, an antitheft alarm and the Tele Aid telematics system that provides emergency response service or direct connection to the nearest Mercedes dealer.
Options include bi-xenon headlamps that turn with the direction of the car for better illumination around corners and a headlamp cleaning system; a heated steering wheel; a CD changer in the glove box; a DVD navigation system integrated in the radio; adjustable seats with memory function; rain-sensing wipers; a parking assist system; and a tire-pressure warning system.
A premium package includes automatic climate control, rain-sensing wipers and automatic dimming mirrors, variable power steering and the infrared roof opener and garage door opener. A heating package includes heated seats and headrests (see below). An AMG sports package and a lowered sports suspension are available for the SLK350.
In the early days of the fall 2004 introduction of the 2005 SLK, Mercedes will offer the SLK350 Launch Edition, of which only 1,000 will be sold; Mercedes intends to sell about 10,000 SLKs in the U.S. a year. The special edition features premium Nappa leather, exclusive trim and a special equipment package.
The SLK55 AMG (on sale in November 2004) is equipped with a 5.5-liter V8 engine rated at 362 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, paired with the new AMG Speedshift seven-speed transmission. It's easily distinguished by AMG styling cues, 18-inch AMG wheels, an AMG sport steering wheel with gearshift buttons, and comes with an AMG suspension, exhaust and brakes.
SLK models are equipped with six airbags, adaptive front bags that deploy with a force based on the severity of the crash, side-impact airbags that protect the head and thorax, as well as knee airbags. Two-stage seatbelt force limiters, which tighten based on the severity of the crash, are also part of the safety package; we recommend always wearing seatbelts as they are your first line of defense in a crash.
Active-safety features include anti-lock brakes (ABS), which allows the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency braking situation; brake assist, which automatically applies full braking force should the driver mistakenly relax pressure on the brake pedal in an emergency braking situation; and Electronic Stability Program, which helps the driver maintain control in corners by keeping the front or rear tires from skidding.