The Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is the smaller and less-expensive of the marque's two-door roadsters. The SLK350 features a retractable hardtop that shuts out the weather when up and allows for the freedom of open-air driving in just 20 seconds. In price and performance the SLK350 competes with the Audi TT, BMW Z4, and Porsche Boxster.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class features fresh looks inside and out and a new engine, though the platform isn't substantially new.
Initially, a new 3.5-liter V6 is the only engine available. It replaces another 3.5-liter V6, but adds direct engine and changes from a 90- to a 60-degree configuration, which is the ideal design geometry for a V6. Horsepower and torque are up slightly, but fuel economy is improved by 12 percent. The lone transmission is a 7-speed automatic that can be shifted manually with steering wheel paddles.
Due in early 2012 is the SLK250, which will feature a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder. Following soon thereafter will be the SLK55 AMG, which will get a new 415-horsepower 5.5-liter V8.
In basic V6 form, the SLK350 is quite quick, but not as fast as higher end models from its competitors. The new engine has a pronounced exhaust note that is probably the rawest aspect of the car.
Handling is impressive, though not quite as sharp as that of the Porsche and BMW competition. The steering isn't razor sharp just off center but it gets quicker as the steering wheel is turned thanks to Mercedes-Benz's Direct Steer. It's a great system that aids handling in sharp turns. While the Boxster and Z4 may be sportier, the SLK-Class is the most comfortable car in its class, with a quiet, stable ride.
Inside, the SLK-Class offers the typical high-quality Mercedes-Benz cabin featuring an attractive design and top-notch materials. Room is good for all but tall drivers, who will want more seat travel. The folding hardtop limits trunk space, but there is still enough room for a weekend away.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 delivers agile handling, ready power and a smooth ride. Driving enthusiasts, however, will be better served by the Porsche or the performance version of the BMW.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is initially offered in only one model: the SLK350 ($55,675), powered by a new 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The lone transmission is a 7-speed automatic that can be shifted manually with steering wheel shift paddles.
Standard equipment includes leather upholstery, air conditioning, interior air filter, cruise control, 8-way power seats with lumbar adjustment, power tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, heated power mirrors with turn signals and driver's side auto-dimming, power windows, power locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM radio with 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, HD radio, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth audio streaming and wireless cell-phone link, mbrace assistance system, trip computer, rain-sensing wipers, universal garage door opener, automatic headlights, theft-deterrent system, cloth windscreen, sport-tuned suspension, rear fog lights, and P225/40R18 front and P245/35R18 rear tires on alloy wheels.
Options start with Premium Package 1 ($2,590), which includes heated front seats, AirScarf neck-level heating, a Harman Kardon sound system, an iPod interface, satellite radio, and remote control for the retractable roof. A Multimedia Package ($2,150) adds a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic information, the Mercedes COMAND control screen, an SD card reader, and a 10-gigabyte music hard drive. A Dynamic Handling Package ($990) adds a Sport button to control an adjustable suspension. A Sport Package ($2,500) comes with red interior ambient lighting, AMG wheels, and more aggressive AMG-designed front air dam, side sills and rear apron. The Distronic Plus Package ($2,685) includes Pre-Safe crash safety system and adaptive cruise control. A Lighting Package ($1,090) adds adaptive bi-xenon headlights with washers, and a Wood Trim Package ($990) brings Burl Walnut wood interior trim and a wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel. Stand-alone options consist of front- and rear-obstacle detection ($970), dual-zone automatic climate control ($760), Keyless Go keyless access and starting ($650), a glass panel roof ($500), Mercedes' new Magic Sky Control roof ($2,500), a Plexiglas windblocker ($350), illuminated door sills ($700), and the AMG alloy wheels ($500).
Safety features include dual front airbags, side airbags, knee airbags, active head restraints, roll bars, tire-pressure monitor, Attention Assist, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control.