SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide
The recently-released 1998 SLK is a blend of the modern and traditional at Mercedes-Benz. A thoroughly contemporary sports-touring car in all specifications, it combines modern style and construction with a more-than-passing nod to some great Mercedes-Benz sports cars of the past. The SLKís convertible-hardtop "Vario-Roof" design uses state-of-the-art technology to combine the advantages of a hardtop coupe with the open-air ambiance of a convertible. The carís engine revives the use of a supercharger on a Mercedes-Benz, common on the companyís sports and racing cars of the 1920s and 1930s.
The SLK is a product of a renewed Mercedes-Benz, a company actively searching for new markets and new customers. The SLK opens a new market for Mercedes. It is smaller and less expensive than the premium SL-Class sports-luxury roadsters, but in no way inferior in specification or construction. It complements the SL-Class cars without competing with them, as the 190 SL complemented the 300 SL in the 1950s.
The most immediately apparent feature of the SLK is an automatically-folding roof that is as trick as the gullwing doors of the original 300 SL. As has been the case with recent Mercedes-Benz convertibles, no latching or unlatching is required, merely the touch of a large, console- mounted button. Within 25 seconds, the steel top disappears into or appears from the double-jointed trunk lid. The lower part of the trunk is still useable with the top down, although the 9.5 cubic feet of top-up space decreases to 3.6 with the top down. During my week with a 1998 Mercedes-Benz SLK, I had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the top. Its operation never failed to impress bystanders or passengers. The car was as comfortable and quiet as any coupe with the top up, and, with the standard wind deflector in place and top down, it provided open-air enjoyment with less wind noise and draftiness than many sunroof-equipped sedans. Great seats, nimble handling, and the torquey supercharged engine added to my enjoyment.
APPEARANCE: The SLK borrows Mercedes-Benz styling cues from both the past and present to create a unique, exciting form of its own. The basic shape is similar to that of the larger SL roadsters, but more rounded and decorated. The SLK is a small, rounded, muscular-looking wedge with large wheels and very short overhangs. Besides the shape, the lights and grille are similar to those found on contemporary Mercedes-Benz models, but subtly different. Outside, the past is represented by the twin "power domes" in the hood, borrowed from the classic 300 SL. With the retractable top up, it looks to be a coupe; with the top down, no one would know it wasnít a regular convertible. The 1998 Mercedes-Benz SLK looks light, lean, and unique.
COMFORT: Inside, as well as out, the SLK blends the contemporary and classic. The stainless steel door sill panels have rubber inserts that evoke the drilled chassis of the 1920s SSKL. The two-tone interior color scheme is a first for Mercedes. The specially-designed seats are wonderfully comfortable, while providing more cockpit space than normal designs. Perforated leather upholstery maintains comfort in hot weather. The instrument panel is fully contemporary in function and ease of use while harkening to the past in style. White-faced instruments with black lettering and chrome bezels look right out of an old 300SL. Balancing that is "carbon optic" carbon-fiber-look trim on the doors and console. Standard power windows and mirrors, good climate control and AM/FM/cassette CD-ready audio systems, and remote keyless entry add modern conveniences.
SAFETY: In addition to safety-cage chassis construction with front and rear crush zones and side-impact protection, and dual frontal air bags, the SLK had side-impact airbags, and the "BabySmart" child seat detector. Reinforced windshield pillars and twin roll bars behind the seats provide roll-over protection. Automatic slip control and 4-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard.
ROADABILITY: The SLK has the same bias toward high-speed touring in comfort as the SL-Class premium sports-touring roadsters. No sacrifices need be made in civility for roadholding. The chassis is solid and stiff, with no flex under normal road speeds and conditions. The ride is much like that of the SL-Class cars - firm and controlled for fast touring on all types of roads, but supple enough for long-distance comfort.
PERFORMANCE: All SLK models sold in the U. S. get the 2.3-liter supercharged 4-cylinder engine that is the premium powerplant elsewhere in the world. It uses variable camshaft timing and an intercooled Roots supercharger for efficient power with low emissions and fuel consumption. It has a strong, flat torque curve for easy driveability, and works very well with the 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission in most driving situations. A manual transmission was rarely missed.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mercedes-Benz SLK is truly a sports car for all seasons and all reasons."
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 39,700 Price As Tested $ 42,385 Engine Type supercharged inline 4-cylinder, double overhead cams, 32-valves Engine Size 2.3 liters / 140 cu. in. Horsepower 185 @ 5300 Torque (lb-ft) 200 @ 2500 to 4800 Transmission 5-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 94.5 in. / 157.3 in. Curb Weight 3036 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 16.4 Fuel Capacity 14 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires Front: 205/55 VR16 Rear: 225/50VR16 Brakes, front/rear vented disc / disc, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear double wishbone with coil springs / multilink with coil springs Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22/30/25 0 to 60 mph 7.2 sec ľ mile (E.T.) 15.6 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) 0.35 OPTIONS ON TEST CAR Heated Seats $ 595 Integrated Mobile Phone and CD Changer $ 1495 Delivery Charge $ 595