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Click to view road test review picture galleryA new Mercedes is
  always a significant
  event. A new SLK
  Roadster — for many
  drivers, a ‘dream car’
  to own at least once
  in their lifetime — is
  even better...”


WHEN MERCEDES LAUNCHED THE ORIGINAL SLK ROADSTER
in 1996 it was the first two-seater sports car to have a folding metal roof
a feature that is now commonplace and it spawned a whole generation of coupé-cabriolet (CC) models from other manufacturers.

While the folding metal roof is now widely used, think 'roadster' and that still conjures up the premium sporting brand of Mercedes-Benz. The company might also produce SUVs, MPVs, saloons, estates and limousines, but it is still the road-sters that are readily associated with the premium Mercedes-Benz brand and sporting heritage.

Nearly 500,000 SLKs have been sold worldwide since the first SLK roadster was launched in '96. Germany is the largest market for them, followed by the USA and then the UK. Since the SLK roadster was launched in the UK in 1997, 42,768 of them have been sold and that figure includes 18,773 of the second-generation models launched in 2004.

Mercedes-Benz UK says the SLK takes 30 per cent of the premium sports car sector against the Audi TT, Alfa Spider, BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster. Although total sector sales have fallen quite substan-tially — down from 20,000 in 2005 to 14,000 in 2007 — Mercedes-Benz UK said this week that the new SLK range will give a boost to the market sector. On average, throughout its life-cycle, the SLK models have achieved over 4,000 sales annually in the UK, selling to customers of whom 62 per cent are female.

From April 17, the latest generation of Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
two-seater roadsters go on sale having undergone an extensive face-lift incorporating 650 newly-developed components.

The average price increase for the latest generation SLKs is just 2.2 per cent. At the international press launch Mercedes-Benz said that this reflects more powerful engines, lower emissions, enhanced tele-matics and better overall performance across the range.

As before, there are four petrol-engined models in the line-up: the SLK 200 Kompressor costing £29,705, the SLK 280 (£32,530), the SLK 360 at £36,755 and the SLK 55 AMG costing £51, 875.

An astonishing 93 per cent of UK customers order an SLK with auto-matic transmission. This adds £1,480 to the price of the SLK 200 for
a five-speed unit and £1,610 to the price of the three other models which all use a 7G-TRONIC auto gearbox.

The 1.8-litre, four-cylinder SLK 200 Kompressor is traditionally the most popular model in the UK — accounting, as it does, for 58 per cent of sales. The SLK 350 takes 21 per cent, the SLK 280 17 per cent and the 55 AMG variant just 4 per cent.

The SLK 200 Kompressor engine has been revised with 21 more bhp, now 181bhp, and 7lb ft more torque, now up to 184lb ft. Fuel economy is improved by 4.2mpg to 36.7mpg and CO2 emissions are reduced by 27g/km to 182g/km. The car is also quicker, with a top speed of 146 mph and a 0-62mph time of 7.6 seconds.

The SLK 280 unit has also been upgraded but while the horsepower
and torque remain the same (228bhp/221lb ft), and the CO2 emissions drop by 11g/km to 220g/km. Top speed is limited to 155mph and
0-62mph takes 6.3 seconds.

The SLK 350 unit is new. This high-revving unit now has 33bhp more
at 301bhp, 266lb ft of torque, 23g/km lower CO2 at 219g/km with a combined cycle fuel consumption of 30.7mpg. Top speed is, again, limited to 155mph and 0-62mph takes a quick 5.4 seconds.

The SLK 55 AMG engine remains unchanged. This hand-built V8 unit produces 355bhp, has 376lb ft of torque, returns 23.5mpg and puts
out 288g/km of CO2. Top speed is limited to 155mph and 0-62mph
is covered in a very quick 4.9 seconds.

The SLK's UK customer profile makes interesting reading: as already mentioned, 62 per cent are female — compared with the Mercedes-Benz range average of 30 per cent. Fifty-four per cent of SLK buyers are aged 36 to 55 years, 78 per cent are married or have a partner,
85 per cent have more than two cars in the household and 20 per
cent list their occupation as 'professional'.

The latest generation is an evolution of the previous model so it is the same compact size but with sportier looks, improved handling and powered by a choice of four petrol engine options offering more power output with lower fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions.

The latest SLK looks more muscular — no longer is it just a 'cruising' open-topped status two-seater car; it now looks like a purposeful sports car but with added refinement.

Exterior changes include a re-designed front skirt with styling cues taken from an F1 Grand Prix car's front-end. The front skirt incorpor-ates more pronounced cooling air vents. The long, deeply-sculpted bonnet leads down to a larger three-pointed star mounted centrally
in the grille. At the rear are a diffuser type rear skirt, trapezoidal tailpipes and AMG-style dark-tinted tail lights.

The interior has been upgraded with the use of higher quality materials and the new three-spoke steering wheel has multifunction buttons. There is also a new instrument cluster with chrome-ringed, three-dimensional, tube-effect dials. In addition there is hands-free tele-phony, an advanced Europe-wide satellite-navigation system and iPod and MP3 connectivity. 'Airscarf' is a popular option that works very effectively to warm the occupants' necks when travelling top-down and this costs an extra — but not unreasonable — £350. For the UK weather, it really is a 'must-have' item.

All four engines are either new or significantly changed. The four-cylin-der 200 Kompressor — the most popular engine choice by far in the
UK — has an actual capacity of 1.8-litres with 181bhp and 184lb ft of torque. It gets its 'sports car' power from a supercharger which pro-vides 'grunt' from 2,800rpm right up to 5,000rpm, making it satisfyingly responsive yet it remains very flexible, even docile, driving along busy in-town streets. Its top speed is 146mph, 0-62mph takes 7.6 seconds and customers should see around 36mpg. The lower CO2 emissions of 182g/km puts the 200 Kompressor in Vehicle Excise Duty Band E that costs £165 a year in road tax. The SLK 200, 280 and 350 models do not fall into the forthcoming £25-per-day London Congestion Charge although the SLK 55 AMG does.

The SLK 280 has a 3.0-litre normally-aspirated petrol engine with 228 bhp and 221lb ft of torque. Top speed is limited to 155mph, the zero to 62mph sprint takes 6.3 seconds and owners can expect around 30mpg.

Moving up, the SLK 350, with its 3.5-litre high-revving 305hp V6 engine is new and described as a 'sports engine with a sporty soundtrack'. Certainly it is all those things, and the exhaust note is to die for. This engine will make all the headlines for the new range, but in reality it will loose out on the top sales spot to the 200 Kompressor unit because
of higher running and purchase costs. The extra power and grunt it gives is undoubtedly significant. Acceleration feels instantaneous with 0-62mph taking 6.3 seconds and, as usual, the top speed is limited to 155mph. Expect around 30mpg.

Top of the SLK tree is the hand-built 355bhp 5.5-litre V8 AMG engine which has a muscular 376lb ft of torque. What can you say about this unit, other than it is fast and it sounds great. Realistically, only a few of them will ever be seen in the UK. Top speed is, once again, limited to 155mph with 0-62mph being achieved in just 4.9 seconds. Owners can expect to see around 23mpg.

All the SLK models I tested this week on the fantastic winding roads
in the mountains of the South of France and around the fashionable streets of Monte Carlo, had the various types of automatic trans-missions that 93 per cent of UK customers choose. In either fully auto-matic mode, or using the tiptronic-type manual gearchanges, these units are ideally suited to the power units they're mated to and the SLK concept of sports roadster-cum-grand tourer. Each unit has a button than can be pushed for 'sport' or 'comfort' driving mode which either sharpens or relaxes throttle responses. No prizes for guessing which setting I used the most!

Another option worthy of mention is the new Direct-Steer system that costs an extra £220. Basically, it sharpens-up steering response and feedback on twisting roads as well as improving steering ease when reverse parking. In theory this is a good system for most of the time although, just occasionally, I found myself ahead of the steering sys-tem's response on fast, very tight hairpin bends — the steering wheel was turning faster than the power assistance so the feedback was
not consistent.

The new SLK is much improved in most areas, from the excellence of its 22-second shut-to-open folding metal roof to the much improved higher quality and relatively roomy interior. The boot is now big enough for two weekend bags, and the crisper exterior styling adds enhanced desirability.

Niggles? I thought long and hard and could only come up with two: for this price, the Airscarf and Direct-Steer options should be standard.
On the other hand, it's easy to come up with reasons to buy this latest SLK Roadster: Iconic design, improved muscular looks, better interior quality, more power, lower emissions, more performance and better sports car handling — the SLK now has enough ability and power not
to be classed just as a 'fashionable' roadster, but as a genuine high-quality sports car. Finally, while the ride comfort can be firm — even bumpy — on some road surfaces, the SLK remains a very easy car to drive. — David Miles

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Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 Kompressor| £29,705
Maximum speed: 146mph | 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
Overall test MPG: 36.7mpg | Power: 181bhp | Torque: 184lb ft

CO2 182g/km | VED Band E £165 | Insurance group 16
Visit Mercedes-Benz's website Click to go there now

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---------------------------------- Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 Kompressor