2012 Mercedes SLK 350 Review
I drive the newer, butch-er SLK. It is much, much better. The End.
Wait, you want more? Oh, all right then. Click through for a full review. Why would you buy a convertible in the Middle East? It’s blazingly hot nearly all the year around, dusty virtually the entire time as well and the roads are all arrow straight highways with no fun bits, except for a few roads that you have to drive for miles to reach.
Or, there’s another way of looking at this.
Unlike most of Europe, the Middle East is blessed with sun all year round. Even in summer, you can drive top down at night. Car washing is cheap so dust isn’t a problem. And because the roads are so dull, it doesn’t matter how fast your car is, so you can buy the cheapest model with the smallest engine and it’s more than good enough.
But because this is MME, I wouldn’t drive the smallest engine. The 350 is the most powerful SLK you can currently buy, at least until the mad 55 AMG V8 monster turns up later this year. Still, with a 3.5-litre V6 that develops 306bhp, does the 0-100kph sprint in just 5.6 seconds and has a limited top speed of 255kph, it is resolutely not to be sniffed at.
The SLK has always taken its design cues from the larger SL of the time. Ergo, the first-gen car was a shrunken version of the boxy R129 SL, the second gen took its swoopy look from the stunning R230, and this new car previews the soon to be released R231. Except that things are bit different this time.
That’s because the SL is no longer the top dog Mercedes sports car – that honour now goes to the mental SLS, which of course also has its own droptop on the way. So Squared Off, or should I say Pissed Off, is the new Mercedes family face. The grille and three pointed star are enlarged and more prominent, you have double deck LEDs built into the headlights as well as the air intakes and angular headlamps that call to mind the CLS coupe. This is a car that desperately wants to be an SLS when it grows up. Or a Panzer tank.
The sides are disappointingly flat, only livened by the now standard grille and silver strake combo. Side profile definitely won’t set anybody’s pulse racing and the same goes for the tail, which looks like it came from a small saloon car. Having said that, the proportions are well established; unlike a lot of small folding hardtop cars (BMW Z4, I’m looking at you) the addition of a folding roof has not given this car a huge bum or elongated the wheelbase too much. Guess that’s what you get when you’re the one who essentially stared the current craze in the first place.
When the current round of Mercedes interiors, I criticised them all for a bit dull and wedded to the colour black. It took a few cars to realise that actually that is what Mercedes does – it makes sober suited interiors that happen to age rather nicely. So it is with the SLK with an interior that’s cribbed largely from – you guessed it! – the SLS. Nevertheless, it’s a nice place to be, with excellent ergonomics for all the major switchgear, especially on the brilliantly simple three-spoke wheel. My only quibble is with the Mercedes control interface which is still not as intuitive as rivals from Ingolstadt or Munich – the little swivel knob you could use could benefit immensely from having shortcuts to commonly-used functions like the radio, telephone and so on.
Three other noteworthy things about the interior. First, these seats are uniformly excellent – deceptively flat, but supportive both on the endless highways and in the bends when things get twisty. Second, this car didn’t have the Airscarf heating system, but even in our frigid winter, with the windows up buffeting is kept to an absolute minimum. You can hold a conversation with your passenger (who is hopefully Keira Knightley) at speeds of up to 100kph, and if you put the top up, it’s impressively quiet and refined. Third and most important as far as I’m concerned, the crisp clear Harman Kardon Logic 7 system is one of the best I’ve sampled in any car, regardless of price. Don’t buy an SLK without it.
At Dh185,000 for the base car and nearly Dh250,000 for this version with AMG kit, this is no cheap car. That’s well into Porsche Boxster territory, so does it drive as well as Boxster? No, but then few things could, such is the mid-engined brilliance of that car. The steering feel is a lot better and even though its an electric system, the transition from finger-tip light parking speed to high-ratio sensitivity at speed is handled well. As a result, the front end feels impressively darty and lulls you into a false sense of security, since the narrow front tyres can’t deliver the grip needed to avoid early understeer.
So the SLK isn’t the last word in cornering ability. It’s a point and shoot car – aim for the straights, fire and forget. The V6 pulls like a steam train up to the redline making an impressive bellow as you pass 3000rpm. Feel like a little drift action? Turn the traction control off (which involves holding down the button for approximately forever) and it’ll hang its tail out all day. But really, this fashionista isn’t built for those things. What it’s happiest doing is the really the cliche that it invented – cruising along in the sunshine, good tunes on the stereo and not a care in the world. Asking it to hustle is like asking Keira Knightley to to become an action heroine – she’ll do it, but everyone is happier just looking at her.
Even if you don’t go for the big engine, this is still a really expensive way to ruin your hairdo, especially if you consider that you can get Volkswagen’s excellent Eos which is nearly as quick, far more economical and considerably more practical for just Dh118k. But then again, it doesn’t look as good as a low slung sexy roadster – and for the target market, female or otherwise, that’s the only thing that counts.