New Car Review

1998 MERCEDES BENZ SLK 230 KOMPRESSOR

by Tom Hagin

mercedes mercedes

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide


SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 39,700
Price As Tested                                    $ 42,985
Engine Type                             2.3 Liter I4 w/PFI*
Engine Size                                 140 cid/2295 cc
Horsepower                                   185 @ 5300 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               200 @ 3650 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   94.5"/67.5"/157.3"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3052 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                    14 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                 Front-205/55R16 Rear-225/50R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                                        N/A
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.35

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/30/25
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16 seconds @ 90.5 mph
Top speed                                           140 mph
     * Port fuel injection

Mercedes-Benz, the traditionally conservative German automaker, is beginning to take some marketing risks. Until now, the company has been very successful building world-class sedans such as the C-Class, E-Class and S-Class, along with the luxurious and expensive SL coupe.

We will soon we will see an all-new sport utility called the M-Class, but this week's evaluation focuses on the SLK, a sporty two-seater with a penchant for the dramatic.

OUTSIDE - There's no denying that SLK crosses all demographic boundaries with its appeal - almost everyone seems to love its look. We received the thumbs-up sign from teenagers and silver-topped oldsters alike. The car is cute, and it's short; shorter than the two current offerings from its Teutonic rivals BMW (Z3) and Porsche (Boxster), but not by much. Its shape pivots around its unmistakably-Mercedes headlights, which are flush and sweep back into a corners of the hood. Close inspection reveals typical Mercedes-Benz attention to details such as rock-solid doors that are a bit on the heavy side, perfectly aligned spacing on each of the body panels, as well as the retractable hardtop that folds in half and disappears into the trunk with a touch of its single console-mounted button. A set of badges on its fenders spell the word "Kompressor," and indicate that this car is supercharged.

INSIDE - Mercedes-Benz has installed a daring (by M-B standards) interior inside the SLK. Instead of muted tones and leather-covered ancillary items, SLK uses racier accents like chrome-rimmed instruments that glow a soft orange at night, along with contrasting dashboard surfaces and trim that looks as if its made from carbon fiber matting. The seats are nicely bolstered and deep, and the driving position and dashboard controls both feel quite natural when seated behind the wheel. Its interior is wide, with a generous amount of head and legroom, even with the top closed overhead. Integrated into its passenger seat is a pressure-sensitive mat that senses the presence of a special child seat made by Mercedes, and thus disables the passenger-side airbags.

ON THE ROAD - The SLK is powered by a supercharged 2.3 liter four-cylinder engine. It produces 185 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. It uses dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, and the supercharger provides an ample seven pounds of boost. Pushing the throttle to the floor does not launch the car with neck-snapping authority but it does produce a low exhaust rumble and a small amount of supercharger whine, along with a quite acceptable 7.5 second sprint to 60 mph. Neither is the SLK a high-strung sportster. It's more of an open-air tourer with adequate power. Part of its docile nature can be attributed to the five-speed automatic transmission that is mandatory in U.S.-destined SLK 230s. It features 15 shift programs that adapt to the driver's input. Normal, around-town or highway driving calls for quick upshifts, which conserve fuel, while its locking torque converter also saves gas. Quick changes in acceleration will cause the transmission to hold gears longer and allow the engine to wind a bit higher.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Of course, SLK is fitted with fully independent suspension that utilizes double wishbones up front and a five-link setup in back. Coil springs and anti-roll bars reside under both ends, while 16-inch alloy wheels shod with V-rated tires (smaller in front than those in back) come standard. The chassis is very rigid, which, in combination with the superbly damped suspension tuning, may isolate the road so much that some drivers with a more "sporting" flair may feel slightly shortchanged. Body roll is minimal and the ride is spirited, though its short wheelbase sometimes makes the car feel like it's leaping from corner to corner. Its steering response is a bit heavy, and there isn't much feedback from the front tires. Braking duties are handled by four-wheel discs, with a sophisticated anti-lock braking system (ABS), which gave us a 70-0 mph stopping distance of 168 feet.

SAFETY - Four airbags, ABS and side-impact beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Our test SLK came with a cellular phone at $1,495, along with heated front seats at $595.

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