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2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 Convertible Review

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SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mercedes-Benz

MODEL:  Mercedes-Benz SLK350
ENGINE:  3.5-liter DOHC V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 268 hp @ 6,000 rpm/258 lb.-ft. @ 2,400-5,000 rpm 
TRANSMISSION:  6-speed manual
WHEELBASE:  95.7 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT:  160.7 x 70.4 x 51.1 in.
TIRES:  225/45ZR17 Front; 245/40 ZR17 Rear
CARGO:  9.8 cu. ft.
ECONOMY:  18 mpg city/25 mpg highway/22.8 mpg test
PRICE:  $48,445 (includes $720 destination and delivery charge)

The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class cars have always taken a back seat to the bigger, more powerful SL-Class cars. The SL cars, of course, are derived from the legendary 300SL introduced 50 years ago. They aren't gullwings any more, but they're still interesting.

However, the SLs have grown. "SL" used to be an abbreviation for short and light in German, but the cars are no longer light, nor short. So the SLK was introduced in 1998. It has been redesigned for 2005, and in design anyway it leaps way ahead of the SL. Now, instead of looking like a little brother, it looks like a bigger brother McLaren Mercedes. It doesn't share the performance, though.

The SLK350 is powered by a DOHC V6 engine of 3.5-liters capacity. This engine develops a healthy 268 horsepower, enough to give the 3,200-pound SLK excellent performance. Horsepower is up more than 50 horses from the older 3.2-liter V6. Torque has been increased to 258 lb.-ft. as well.

We had the SLK for a trip to see our daughter and grandbabies (maybe even our son-in-law). The trip was 350 miles one way, so it would be a good test of seat comfort. My wife felt that the lower back didn't offer enough support, although I didn't' have any problems. She added a lumbar support (odd that there wasn't a power lumbar support available) and was happier.

Constant readers will note that when we take trips to see the children, etc., we tote along a lot of stuff. With the SLK350 we only had 9.8 cubic feet of cargo volume in which to stow gear and goodies. By using flexible luggage that can be shoved around to fill small spaces, and choosing what we took economically, we had little problems. Luggage volume is reduced considerable if you choose to run with the top down.

About that top. As it was in the beginning, the SLK top is a stowable hard top. Push the right buttons and a compartment opens in the top of the trunk area and the top folds neatly into that space. You can still use the trunk, but only for small flat objects. Accessibility is reduced considerably.

But this is a sports car and it's meant to be driven with the top down. My MGA had less cargo volume even though the top didn't interfere with the trunk.

With the top in the trunk, two mini roll bars located behind the seats become more visible. Our tester came with a tight mesh fabric that was fitted over the roll bars. This reduced backdraft wind a bit, but also reduced rearward vision, so we took it off.

Power reached the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission. Some people complain about Mercedes-Benz transmissions, but I found this one a delight to use. My wife, for one, complains about my heavy-handed and heavy-footed shifting, but in the SLK none of this was apparent.

Also, with the manual, downshifting to gain quick acceleration was better than with an automatic. A 7-speed automatic is available if you want it. Another option not mentioned above is a 5.4-liter V8 that delivers 355 horsepower in the AMG-tuned SLK55 and adds about $15,000 to the bottom line.

When the road develops twists, there is a 3-link front suspension and a 5-link rear suspension. The SLK handled like a sports car and made every drive a delight. I think the relative lightness of the car made for a better experience.

Big ventilated and perforated four-wheel disc brakes did a great job of stopping the SLK. The first time I hit the brakes it was like running into a wall of dough. I had to learn how to moderate my brake foot.

Of course, the SLK350 isn't for everyone. It's only valid as a primary car if you have no children or don't often carry a lot of luggage. When we had the MGA, I had my wife "trained" to travel light. Then I made the mistake of getting a large van, and it's been downhill since then. The SLK is excellent as a bachelor's car or as a second car.

The key word above is excellent. I hadn't driven an SLK in several years, so I was pleased to note the positive changes. While the SL may not be the sports car it once was, the SLK is, and is better.

2005 The Auto Page Syndicate