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Review

First Drive: Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 car review

05/12/11

MERCEDES is a company of two halves. There’s the AMG wing, responsible for some of the most exciting cars on the market, and there’s the everyday Mercedes-Benz side, generally full of everything quiet, subtle, comfortable and dependable.

But sometimes there’s a crossover point in the middle, where a car from the ordinary Mercedes side of things gets a whacking great engine that takes it closer to its AMG cousins. The SLK 350 is one of them.

With a 302bhp, 3.5-litre V6 under its long bonnet it’s a little bit more extravagant than your average two-seat convertible, especially with its new AMG-inspired front end styling. Having stolen the nose of the ultra-exclusive SLS, the SLK turns an amazing amount of heads. It’s a pretty stunning car.

The wheels ideally need to be larger than the standard 17-inch set though, and many buyers will pay extra for them. But on the subject of options, let’s get a bugbear out of the way. The £44,000 SLK 350 is hardly a cheap car, and a lot of the optional extras should really be standard fit.

Leather trim throughout the cabin costs £360 extra, with £330 for heated seats, and make that another ��1,030 to make them electric as well as part of the Memory Package, which also includes memory-linked electric mirrors and steering column.

Climate control is £495, telephone pre-wiring costs £335, and even cupholders are extra. To park your Starbucks you’ll need to have paid £50 for two spaces in the centre console. It seems a bit mean to say the least.

Fortunately, the old adage is still true in part, and you do get what you pay for when it comes to quality. Inside and out the SLK is beautifully appointed and is a lovely place to sit, though some people might be surprised by how low it feels. The high dashboard cuts down on forward visibility, but others will love the enclosed, sporty feel.

And some of the options available are brilliant. The COMAND Online system is a gem, although a pricey one at £1,995. Then the £215 ‘Direct Steering’ works wonders in the corners, giving the setup a nicely ‘immediate’ quality, if not bags of raw feel.

Then there’s the Harman Kardon hi-fi upgrade, at £645. It’s a box you’d be mad not to tick, because it boosts the joy factor of the wider package by quite a bit. It’s one of those systems that keeps you listening even after you park up at home, just because a great song came on as you pulled onto your drive.

A seven-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox is standard on the 350, bringing with it cruise control and a variable speed limiter. It’s quite slow to respond to throttle inputs from stationary in ‘E’ mode, while the sports ‘S’ mode and ‘M’, which allows partial manual control, are sometimes too grabby.

But despite a few relative negatives, after a week with it I found myself reluctant to give it back. The real heart of the SLK 350, and what makes it so appealing, is its engine.

Smaller, cheaper engines are available, but this range-topper has something the others don’t, aside from more outright shove. It has an old-school luxurious feeling, partly thanks to the noise it makes.

It’s a remarkable thing, very different from big V6 engines in SLKs past. Whereas the old versions were creamy smooth, this one has an off-beat note that sounds more than a little like a V8. Put your foot down and it’s a real treat for your ears, but potentially not your driving licence.

The 350 hits 62mph in a claimed 5.6 seconds and it feels every bit as quick as that, finding impressive grip off the line. This gearbox isn’t one of Mercedes’ raciest units but its softer nature stops the rear tyres losing grip as easily as they might.

That engine noise, luxurious seats and excellent Mercedes build quality all combine to make the SLK surprisingly fulfilling to live with, despite a curious AMG Sport chassis setup that’s sometimes too harsh and sometimes too bouncy.

Around 34mpg is a remarkable realistic average with a sensible approach, and it’s a pleasure to get in and out of – as long as your knees are up to it.

So all in all it’s a curious meeting of different automotive cultures. The engine is from one, the gearbox and suspension are from another and then the standard kit list is a bit of a curiosity.

But it all adds up into a car that offers an awful lot of ownership satisfaction, especially with the characterful V6. Cheap? No, but it’s very tempting all the same.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 BlueEfficiency AMG Sport, £44,225 on the road.

Engine: 3.5-litre petrol V6 producing 302bhp and 273lb.ft.

Transmission: 7-speed 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox driving the rear wheels.

Performance: Top speed 155mph (limited), 0-62mph in 5.6 seconds.

Fuel economy: 39.8mpg.

CO2 rating: 167g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power5 (high performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy3 (average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups1 (very high costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats2

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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