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Mercedes-Benz SLK320 (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 43,900
     Price As Tested                                    $ 50,850
     Engine Type              SOHC 18-valve 3.2 Liter V6 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 195 cid/3199 cc
     Horsepower                                   215 @ 5700 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               229 @ 3000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   94.5"/67.5"/157.9"
     Transmission                               Six-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     3042 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                    (f) 225/45ZR17 (R) 245/ZR17
     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 (top up)


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            18/27/23
     0-60 MPH                                        6.5 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                          15.5 seconds @ 92.0 mph
     Top-speed                                           140 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

The Mercedes-Benz SLK two-seater roadster is the company's least practical but most "fun" car. It's designed to carry a driver and passenger with enough room left for weekend luggage and golf bags.

The car was formerly offered with only a four-cylinder engine but for 2001, a V6 model has been added. We drove this V6 version.

OUTSIDE - The 2001 version of the SLK has been freshened somewhat. New headlights and tail lamps, body-color door handles and fog lights give the car a fresher, cleaner appearance. Also, turn signal repeaters have been integrated into the outside mirrors. The fully retractable hardtop remains a one-button system, transforming the car from a coupe to a roadster in 25 seconds. The short, stubby trunk holds 9.5 cubic feet of cargo with the top up, but when the top is down, only a third of that space is left. Restyled five-spoke alloy wheels are now standard on the SLK320, while our test car, equipped with an optional Sport Package, was fitted with aerodynamic body enhancements, projector-beam fog lamps and special "Monoblock" alloy wheels with 17-inch performance tires.

INSIDE - The snug interior received a facelift too. The leather- covered front bucket seats have been redesigned and are now power- operated six ways as standard equipment. Also, the faux carbon-fiber trim on the dash has been replaced with real wood, and the steering wheel is now slightly smaller in diameter with narrower spokes. There are new knobs and switches, metal-plate door sills and chrome-trimmed analog gauges. Fortunately, storage bins are abundant since there isn't much room behind the seats. The integral roll hoops just behind the headrests are there for rollover protection. Other standard equipment includes power windows, door locks and outside mirrors, remote keyless entry, heated mirrors and headlight washers, dual zone climate control and a powerful AM/FM/CD/cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD - While the 190 horsepower, 2.3-liter, four- cylinder supercharged engine is still available in the standard SLK230, the new SLK320 version comes equipped with a 3.2 liter V6 that produces 215 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. This is what the car needed to push it into the high-performance category. The exhaust produces a beautiful rap, especially noticeable with the top down. While the SLK320 isn't spectacular from a standing start, it's overall performance factor is dramatically improved. Spinning the V6 engine up to high rpms and rowing the standard six-speed manual through the gears produces a more satisfying rush than the smaller four-cylinder car. The standard transmission is a six-speed manual transmission, but also available is a computer-adaptable five-speed automatic with TouchShift sequential shifting. This system allows the automatic to be shifted somewhat like a manual but can also be operated as a full automatic for around-town convenience.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The SLK rides on a unibody platform that is firm and stiff enough to virtually eliminate twist and bending, even with the top down. The suspension consists of double A-arms up front and an independent rear multi-link setup that now features retuned shocks, stiffer springs, a rear torsion bar stabilizer and a one-inch lower ride height. The SLK320 handles quite well, rewarding its driver with intense grip in corners and very little body roll. A recirculating ball steering system was used, which is quick and precise despite its razor-quick off-center feel that takes some familiarization. Braking is handled by four-wheel discs with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), while an electronic traction control system works with the ABS and engine management system to reduce wheelspin on slippery surfaces. Brake Assist is a Mercedes system designed to automatically maximize braking force in emergency situations, overcoming driver input.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard and side-impact airbags, ABS, traction control, Baby Smart child seat recognition system and side-impact door beams are standard.

OPTIONS - Package K4 (Headlamp washers, Xenon headlamps and heated seats), $1,545; Sport package, $4,135.