New Car/Review

1999 MERCEDES BENZ SLK230

By Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 40,000
Price As Tested                                    $ 46,085
Engine Type  VVT* Supercharged** DOHC 16v 2.3L I4 w/SMFI***
Engine Size                                 140 cid/2295 cc
Horsepower                                   185 @ 5300 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               200 @ 4800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   94.5"/67.5"/157.3"
Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3057 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  14.0 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                  (F) 225/45ZR17 (R) 245/40ZR17
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                            22/30/26
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 mile (E.T.)                       16 seconds @ 92.5 mph
Top-speed                                           140 mph
     * Variable-intake valve timing ** Supercharged
     *** Sequential multi-port fuel injection

Mercedes-Benz has undergone a product renaissance. Its SLK roadster is one of those products, and it's one of the M-B vehicles that strays from the company's staid image as a builder of practical sedans.

It's almost toy-like in size and shape, but with the ability to transform itself from a safe, snug hardtop to a soft top in seconds, it's one of our favorite, regardless of the season.

OUTSIDE - It's hard not to like the look of the stubby little SLK. It has "bug eye" headlights and an overall wedge shape, with short overhangs front and rear. The sides are a bit plain, being devoid of creases and bulges, but the corners are nicely rounded. The steel hardtop activates by pulling back on a glowing red button on the center console. This opens the trunklid clam-shell fashion, and the two-piece top disappears quietly and firmly into a well behind the rear seats in 25 seconds. There's a fair amount of cargo space in the trunk with the top up, and about half that during top-down motoring. A pull-out fabric cover defines the amount of space available, and the top won't operate unless it's hooked into place. Our test car was equipped with the Sport Package, which added a special bumper, side sills and projector beam fog lamps, and extra wide 17-inch alloy wheels with ZR-rated tires.

INSIDE - There is no arguing the fact that the SLK is all roadster. It's a true two-seater, so there's no space behind but it's legal to carry a child seat up front because of BabySmart, a system that recognizes if a special Mercedes infant seat is on the passenger side. The dashboard is a meld of modern and traditional elements. The analog gauges are ivory with black numbers and trimmed with chrome rings like Mercedes roadsters of the past. Carbon-fiber trim and chrome bezels contrast nicely, and the deeply contoured bucket seats don't use steel springs. Instead, they're shaped and formed with thin padding between the frame and the leather upholstery. The door sills and pedals are of bright alloy, and standard features include power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, and a powerful Bose stereo with six speakers.

ON THE ROAD - SLK is powered by a 2.3 liter four cylinder engine with dual overhead camshafts and 16 valves. Bolted to it is a supercharger (kompressor in German and the "K" in the suffix SLK) that helps it produce 185 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque. At idle, it lopes unobtrusively and in docile fashion, but as the supercharger builds instant pressure when the accelerator pedal is pushed, the exhaust note changes from a low-frequency moan to a brassy wail. Other four cylinder engines under the hoods of compact sports sedans and coupes produce more horsepower, but the SLK's big-bore four offers maximum torque from 2500 to 4800 rpm, which is perfect for passing and off-the-line snap. When we evaluated SLK for the first time last year, it came fitted with a five-speed automatic transmission. We longed for something more sporting. This time our test car came with a five-speed manual, the perfect engine/transmission combination for the car.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Mercedes builds SLK very stiff using unibody construction and the ride feels like the car's been carved from a solid block of steel. Underneath is independent suspension front and rear using unequal length upper and lower A-arms up front and a five-link setup in back. The ride is firm, but predictable, with excellent grip and moderate understeer at its cornering limits. The steering system uses a variable-assist recirculating ball system, which is usually less responsive than rack-and-pinion systems, but in the SLK, it is very precise and offers plenty of road feel. Body roll is minimal as well, and equipped with the Sport Package's 225/45ZR17 front and 245/40ZR17 tires on the back, dry road grip is excellent. Braking duties are handled by four-wheel discs, with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS).

SAFETY - Dual dashboard and dual side-impact airbags, ABS, automatic slip control (traction control) and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - CD changer: $1,595; Sport Package: $3,990; Destination: $595.

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