By on January 19, 2012

Luxury roadsters have always been niche vehicles. With the economic implosion over the last decade, that niche has become even smaller. Last year the Mercedes SLK and BMW Z4 each sold less than 3,500 units on our shores, down from over 10,000 each back in 2006 and Canadian sales are roughly a tenth of that. While Mercedes is likely crying in their delicious geflügelsuppe, roadster shoppers benefit by being able to drive one of the most exclusive Mercedes models available on our shores. While the last model awkwardly aped the unholy union of a Mercdes F1 car and a bottlenose dolphin, the new model sells itself with sexy new sheet metal, 29 MPG on the highway and a $54,800 base price.

Now in its third generation Mercedes has finally found a style that fits the SLK. The first generation SLK in 1997 was described by all my college buddies as “cute” – not exactly how a dude wants his potential ride described. The second generation in 2005 struck me as more awkward than Ugly Betty in a southern beauty pageant. I’m not sure what the 2005-2011 SLK looked like inside because I couldn’t bring myself to get close enough to find out. Fortunately for the 50-something, six-figure earning, multiple car owning target buyer as well as the 30-something Silicon Valley professional, the SLK’s new duds are decidedly delicious. From the aggressive hood to the pert little trunk, the SLK looks like the hot love child of an SLS AMG and the recently announced 2013 SL550. Adding to the appeal is one of the best expressions of Mercedes new-found love for angles that (to me at least), is considerably more aggressive than the Porsche Boxster’s slippery sheet metal.

Luxury cars are all about options and features, and the SLK is no different. Our tester wore one of two optional wheel packages; the 5-spoke “AMG” wheels included in the $2,500 “Sport Package.” While AMG doesn’t use said wheels on any AMG car, they are quite attractive, as are the $500 wheels in the stand-alone wheel upgrade. Either option will get you 5-spoke rims and identical tire selections. The sport package also adds a more aggressive (and more SL-esque) front and rear bumper, faux-carbon fiber gauges, and more expressive side sill treatments. Our tester also wore a $720 premium metallic paint job, and had the $1090 lighting package which added bi-xenon headlamps that steer into corners and headlamp washers. The Xenon lamp upgrade seriously aids vision at night, and if you are balking at an $1090 option, it is time to pick a cheaper car.

According to Mercedes, SLK stands for “sportlich leicht kurz.” In English this means sporty, light and short. 300+ HP? Sporty: check. But at 3400lbs, light must be a relative term. The SLK is 17-inches shorter than a Toyota corolla, 10-inches shorter than a Boxster, and 3-inches shorter than a Golf, and the “short” part becomes obvious when anyone over 6-feet tall tries to gain entry into the SLK with the top up. You don’t so much get into the SLK as “put the SLK on.” Despite being a tight entry (due as much to the dimensions as the low ride height) once inside, the 38-inches of headroom and 42.5-inches of leg room are similar to the baby-Porsche and even a Volvo C70 (a four-seat hard-top convertible). Being 6-feet tall, I had no problems getting comfortable in the SLK. My six-foot-five friend however fit snugly ( yet with ample leg room) and found the ride a bit more claustrophobic with the lid up.

The SLK350’s cabin is all high rent as long as you don’t look skyward. Oddly enough some of the mechanicals of the two-piece folding hard-top remain completely uncovered with the lid closed, something you don’t even see in the bargain basement Chrysler convertibles. Aside from this haptic mis-step, the rest of the interior is absolutely top-notch from the soft, cross-stitched leather seats to the thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed sport steering wheel. Our model was equipped with the standard aluminum trim which many reviewers seem to favor, but I’d pony up the $990 to get the burl walnut trim to satisfy my deforestation desires. The real-tree upgrade includes highly lacquered walnut door and center console trim as well as a wood/leather steering wheel and wood shift knob. Strangely not available at any price is Mercedes’ excellent radar cruise control and collision warning system dubbed “Distronic Plus.”

Since our tester was equipped with the aforementioned “Sport Package,” our interior was bathed in red ambient lighting from the doors and a glowing red stripe down both sides of the center console. Also included was the $2,590 “Premium Package” which brings a few options that really ought to be standard on a $54,000 car, namely: the iPod/MP3 player interface and heated seats. On the flip side, the package does also buy the 11-speaker, 500-watt Logic 7 sound system by Harman/Kardon and a pair of “Airscarfs” (yes, I’m told that is the correct plural). The up-level sound system is as crisp as the Logic 7 sound systems in the rest of the top-tier Mercedes lineup but it lacks any bass punch at all. Apparently there was no room to squeeze a subwoofer so if thumping bass tunes are required for your cruising, you might want to look elsewhere. As gimmicky as the “Airscarf” sounds, they proved worthy of the name and kept our topless napes warm as December temperatures in California “plummeted” into the 40s.

Rounding out the gadget list is the $2,150 “Multimedia Package”, also known as Mercedes COMAND. The system comes with XM radio, XM weather (and a short 6 month subscription), voice controlled navigation, voice controlled Bluetooth phone interface, 10GB of usable storage for your music, an SD card reader, and a 6-disc DVD/CD changer. If you have read any of my other late-model Mercedes reviews you will know I’m not the biggest COMAND fan, I find it somewhat awkward and a decent step behind iDrive. I’d rather have COMAND than nothing, but the price tag is a bitter pill to swallow. Also on our option list was the $760 dual-zone climate control option, $650 for keyless-go and a whopping $970 for ultrasonic parking sensors. While parking sensors on something as big as a size-10 cross-trainer seems silly, rearward visibility isn’t that great with the lid closed so you might want to consider coughing up the cash before bashing your $60,000 roadster into a pole, or accidentally cracking the center surround speaker with your elbow as I did. Oops.


If the options above have your head spinning already, as they say on TV: but wait! There’s more! While the SLK doesn’t have a “sunroof” that opens like the VW EOS, in the front section of the two-piece hard top you still have some choices. You can opt for the basic all-metal lid, a “panorama sunroof” which is a fixed, slightly tinted piece of polycarbonate for $500, or the $2,500 variable tint sunroof dubbed “Magic Sky,” which, at its darkest setting, comes as close as you can get to an actual cover in the SLK. Our tester had the $500 plastic porthole option and I have to say, I’d skip it or jump up to the active window. (Given the price, just skip). On a bright sunny day I found myself jamming envelopes, papers, anything I could get my hands on, into the seams around the “sunroof” to block the hot sun and glare. Regardless of your choice, the SLK350 goes topless in 21-seconds flat.

Once the two-piece top is stowed, trunk space drops from 10.1 cubic feet to 6.4. While I find this number a bit disappointing given that there are no back seats to use as a padded cargo area, it is on par with a wide variety of four-seat convertibles and significantly better than the 1.99 cubic feet the Infiniti G37 convertible is left with. There is just about enough room for a weekend away as I was able to fit one computer bag, one camera backpack, and one carry-on rollerbag in the trunk with the top down. Since Mercedes doesn’t offer a feature like Volvo where the roof segments lift up and out of the way to make cargo retrieval easier, the top must be closed to stow or retrieve those larger bags. The Boxster on the other hand gives you 9.9 cubic feet of cargo space at all times, but splits it into his and hers trunks in the front and rear. For safe topless driving the new SLK350 also includes head airbags that pop out of the sides of the seat, active headrests and tiny roll-over hoops behind the seats.

Putting out 302HP at a lofty 6,500 RPM and 273 lb-ft of twist at 3,500 RPM, the new engine drops the SLK’s sprint to 60 by just over half a second (to 5.06 seconds) compared to the former SLK350, thanks to a broader torque curve and a reworked transmission. In addition to being a hair faster, the new 3.5L V6 features a 60-degree bank angle making it considerably smoother than the outgoing 90-degree V6. Joining the new engine is a revised Mercedes 7-speed automatic with three drives modes: Eco, Sport and Manual. As with other Mercedes products, Eco mode causes the transmission to be reluctant to downshift but supposedly improves economy by 7% in mixed driving. Sport mode makes the transmission hold a lower gear for longer and in addition allows this new 7-speed unit to downshift directly from 7th to 3rd for improves padding performance. “Manual” attempts to replicate the paddle shifting tendencies of Infiniti and Jaguar with rev-matched downshifts. Unfortunately the Mercedes transmission has absolutely no sense of urgency when it comes to the flappy-paddles and treats flaps like mere suggestions, not commands. Just leave the transmission in Sport and mash the pedal or put it in Eco and enjoy the “greener” leanings of the new V6. For 2012 EPA numbers are up from 18/25 MPG to 20/29 MPG, and in our 578 miles with the SLK we averaged a respectable 24 miles per gallon.

While the SLK’s primary mission is to be a stylish luxury roadster that’s a cheaper alternative to the six-figure SL, the 2012 baby-Benz makes a compelling argument against the likes of the Porsche Boxster S. The optional ($990) dynamic handling package which includes a variable suspension system and a torque-vectoring rear axle is an absolute most for anyone that wants to have a bit of fun in the twisties and remain parallel to the lane lines. The well-weighted steering, balanced chassis and an engine that sounds like a banshee when pressed to the limit, make getting sideways in the SLK easy, entertaining, slightly unexpected, thoroughly butt-clenching and strangely addictive. Compared to the Boxster S, the more compliant suspension, narrower 225-width front and 245-width rear rubber and nearly 400lb heavier curb weight mean the SLK will never handle as well as the small Porsche (or indeed a Subaru WRX STi that was my mountain dance-partner for a short while) but in my heart of hearts I would have to say I prefer the softer GT characteristics of the SLK. If crazy is what you seek, the SLK55 AMG is dropping soon with a 412HP 5.5L V8 under the hood and a rumored base price around $70,000.

Speaking of pricing, our SLK started at $54,800 and ended up at $67,565 after options. ($720 Diamond White Metallic paint, $630 Bengal Red Premium Leather, $2590 premium package, $1070 lighting package, $2150 Multimedia Package, $500 Panorama Roof, $2500 Sport Package, $760 dual-zone climate control and $970 “parktronic” parking sensors). Price aside, roadsters are such a niche market that somehow the first and second generation SLKs came and went without TTAC taking one for a spin. If the sales numbers are anything to go by, the same happens on dealer lots.  Largely forgotten by shoppers who lay down similar cash for E350s, ML350s or GL350s at Mercedes dealers, buyers are walking right past one of the best Mercedes models available. Forget about the school run, forget about the trailer you never tow and buy an SLK350 as your commuter car. After all, a pair of commuters in an SLK can drive in the 3+ HOV lanes in California and Texas. Sounds practical to me.


Statistics as tested

0-30: 2.08 Seconds

0-60: 5.06 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 13.46 @ 105.5 MPH

Mercedes provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.


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36 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mercedes SLK350 Convertible...”

  • avatar

    Nice review. While the SLK is not for me it nice to see that MB continued to focus on making a roadster that people can live with every day. Unlike BMW which got confused with the Z4 and now don’t know if their want to make an alternative to the Porsche Boxster or an SLK (and ended up with a mess).

  • avatar

    I like that folding top. It will NEVER break. Lol!

  • avatar

    What an overpriced pig. You’re better off buying a convertible Mustang.

    • 0 avatar

      But then you have to grow a mullet.

    • 0 avatar

      Soft tops are not as good. They can be stolen much more easily.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, because that’s really the same thing…

    • 0 avatar

      “What an overpriced pig. You’re better off buying a convertible Mustang.”
      First, the ‘Stang really that much lighter than the SLK? I doubt it but don’t know for sure and don’t feel like looking as I am sure I will be corrected anyway.
      Second, they are not really the same cars now are they? Selling to different people who want different experiences from driving. Mustang is cool in its own way just as the new SLK is cool doing what it does. To each his own…

    • 0 avatar

      “What an overpriced pig. You’re better off buying a convertible Mustang.”

      You might as well buy a V6 Camry SE. More room, back seats and better reliability.

    • 0 avatar

      You compare the SLK with a Ford mustang? Why not compare it with an oxcart?

      • 0 avatar

        Why not a Mustang>

        Mustangs (at least with metal tops) do make it to race tracks. If you want to play make believe that you are a racing player, then the Mustang is much more legit then the SLK.

        While the Mustangs are heavily worked over for track work, the SLKs got nothing.

        Again, that is if you need the thought in your head that what you drive on the road has anything to do with what is raced on the track. Many do, just like many need a SLK for some reason.

    • 0 avatar

      This is fundamentally a legitimate comparison, they are both sporty rear wheel drive convertibles with V6 engines making just over 300 HP and weights of around 3,500 pounds.

      But the people leasing (not buying) an SLK don’t care. And for the additional $30K the interior is nicer and the ride is better (I’ve driven the new Mustang, and the axle doesn’t affect handling but does affect ride).

      The Camaro convertible is probably a better comparison, even though it weighs 500 pounds more. It looks better (in my opinion), has a nicer interior (with the 2012 refresh), and has a very good, solid ride with its independent rear suspension. I almost bought one but it was not sporty enough for me. The Camaro convertible is sporty enough for the typical SLK lessee, but again they cannot be compared because a Chevrolet is not going to overcompensate for typical SLK lessee’s baldness and impotence. Wait, sorry, that is the SL stereotype, I believe the typical SLK lessee is a 45 year old woman trying to overcompensate for being childless and unmarried? And while we are on stereotypes, please stop calling the V6 Mustang a mullet car. The V6 mustang is a secretary car. The real mullet car is the Challenger. I am often tempted to buy a Hemi 6-speed Challenger, so maybe I have a mullet that I am not aware of.

      While they will probably never be cross-shopped, the SLK does make the Mustang and Camaro convertibles look like incredibly good deals.

      • 0 avatar

        The target market for this car are high quality trophy wives and mistresses. Their affections are expensive and cannot be bought with a Mustang.

        I would be willing to bet (although I could be wrong) that the number of these cars purchased by males for their own transportation is vanishingly small. The only specification that matters is will this keep my girl ready, able, and willing.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually dejal1 is wrong. The SLK is a popular track/fun car.

        In Europe the first and second generation SLKs are hugely popular at local racing and drift events. These are usually second hand cars that have been modified for racing conditions. The formula speaks for itself: small, lightweight, RWD and powerful (easily tunable) make the SLK an interesting alternative to the usually much more expensive second hand Boxsters.

        The first generation SLK was also available with a manual transmission across the range except for the SLK32 AMG. The same was true for the second generation model except for the SLK55 AMG. But you’d be hard pressed to find one since most people ordered them with automatic transmissions. I have, however, seen many SLK320 6-speeds and a few SLK350 6-speeds at track events in Germany and France as well as here in Switzerland.

        Notice that I said that this is true for second hand models. Most people buying an SLK want a luxurious GT cruiser that is both comfortable and also sporty. I seriously doubt a Mustang is comfortable.

  • avatar

    In my way of thinking, there is no such thing as a bad “drop top”. Though I can never understand why you so rsrely see a high end vert with the top down.

    Yeah..I own a four year old Stang rag. If its above 50 degrees, the top goes down. Its always the Camaros and Mustangs with the top down, even the odd Solara. Never! the high end Euro stuff…Why is that?

    • 0 avatar

      Because by the time you’re old enough to afford the high end Euro stuff, you won’t want people to see what’s left of you.

      I figure I’ve got a few years left of hair at best, so the top is down on my car rain or shine.

    • 0 avatar

      “Its always the Camaros and Mustangs with the top down, even the odd Solara. Never! the high end Euro stuff…Why is that?”

      Funny. It’s the exact opposite thing that I observe. Dudes and dudettes in their ‘merican iron with the top up. Why is that?
      When I had my Boxster if it was not raining and above 45 the top was DOWN. Heat on high if need be. Wonderful!!! I miss it very much.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe the people driving high-end Euro-convertibles have their “Avoid the Ghetto” apps switched on and are keeping the roof up as a precaution.

  • avatar

    Nice review.

    I’m glad to see Mercedes getting you guys this car to test. I guess, with the current sales numbers on the car, it’s not exactly a huge risk…

  • avatar

    Never to fond of verts but with that kinda climate you’d almost be silly not to have one. Seems like the SLK has finally become a decent enough car but it’s still kinda…’cute’. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    But talking about interior decorating; you’re joking about the burl walnut wood trim right? Seriously, one of those half leather, half wooden steering wheels? Come on…it doesn’t get much tackier than that, IMHO. Wood’s for the fireplace.

  • avatar

    I think used ones are a great value.

    Several years ago I bought a 2yr old certified ’05 SLK350 for $32k with 3yr /100k mile warranty. The sticker was nearly $63,000. People don’t believe me that it costs about the same as a high end Camry or Mustang convertible.

    I’ve been driving it everyday as my “commuter” car and gets nearly 30mpg on the highway. Atlanta weather allows me to drive with the top down almost everyday. It was 70+ degrees the last week in December. The air scarf is a very nice and unique feature.

    I was 29 when I bought it, so not that old. Many people in the SLKWorld forum are in their 30’s.

    I wish I could like the styling of the new model, but I find the front ugly. The rear looks a lot smaller, rounder and generally incongruous with the boxy front. I sat in one at the dealer and the interior is a huge step up in comfort and materials. One thing I don’t like is the tiny nav screen and that it’s offset from the center line of the otherwise symmetrical dashboard. Either make the design really symmetrical, or make it obviously asymmetrical. Having just the screen and vents offset by an inch looks sloppy.

    In retrospect I should have bought a SLK55 AMG, but it was $10k more at the time used, and gas prices were in the news constantly back then.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Well… a clean low mileage Chrysler Crossfire with either transmission and a hard top or a softop is about $10,000 to $15,000 retail. (While we’re talking about value, I’m just saying…)

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      You know they’re just first gen SLKs in Chrysler suits right?

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, but they’re horribly ugly and the wrong brand.

      • 0 avatar

        The bigger problem with the Crossfire (I thought about buying one once) was the SRT-6 with 330 supercharged HP, 0-60 in 4.8 seconds, aka the one you would actually want to own/drive was it came with an automatic transmission only… HORF! Other then stupid hood rakes I think they are interesting looking with that “shoe” side profile. The coupe has more storage space in the back then my current 350Z, however I know most everyone was only interested in the convertible edition.

  • avatar

    I can’t get on board with the styling or the cost new. Almost 70K with options? I’d wait for the 09 SLK55 to depreciate a bit more and pick one up in the low $40K range.

  • avatar

    I know manual transmissions are a dying breed, but I wish more people demanded 3 pedal setups so more companies would continue to offer them. FWIW, this is more car than a Porsche Cayman S aside from the Cayman’s handling prowess.

  • avatar

    Any car with massive chrome dual exhaust tips that doesn’t have a true dual exhaust from the exhaust ports to tailpipe is a poser mobile, and should be killed with fire.

    • 0 avatar

      why? it’s probably got one big muffler with two outlets on either side.
      What does the number/quantity of muffler outlets vs exhaust pipes post exhaust manifold have to do with performance?
      A poser mobile would be a car that met your requirement while engine pumping efficiency be damned.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re making unfounded assumptions. SLK has two mufflers.

  • avatar

    A few years ago I had a first-generation loaner SLK from the local Mercedes-Benz people for a weekend. I drove it up to the Baltic and really enjoyed driving it. The car felt remarkably solid, as if made from one piece. At autobahn speeds, the heavy steering was appropriate. I think the engine was a 2.0 l with supercharger but it was plenty fast enough.

    On the negative side, with the top down I was perfectly positioned to get the full force of the wind directly in my eyes over the windshield unless I slouched way down in the seat. I am 6 feet tall so from this test it sounds as if things have improved in that direction. For the weekend I also just packed all my stuff directly into the trunk without a suitcase as with the top down there was almost no space.

    For me the next generation of SLK with the F1 nose completely ruined the look of the car. The new one looks very nice, I think, but having seen the excellent workmanship on current Miatas I am not sure why I would go for an SLK over the Miata with the retractable top.

  • avatar

    Maybach lives on in the Magic Sky

  • avatar

    I haven’t driven a new Mercedes in a while, but I’ve been in a few, and I did check this out one day at a dealer while looking at some other cars. This is the kind of car that when you’re in it, you think it’s quite nice, like most recent Mercedes, and you see why it’s special. (I have to assume it’s nice and fun to drive.) It’s got the details down, but wow, I haven’t seen one decent looking new Mercedes in so many years, and it just gets worse and worse. Sure, it’s got a few nice aspects, and it’s sharp looking, but the proportions are awful, and it looks like two different cars were joined at the middle.

    I can’t get over how much better looking these cars were when Bruno Sacco was there.

  • avatar

    No single muffler “needs” two outlets. You simply size one outlet pipe depending on the amount of horsepower/torque you want to achieve. Adding two exhaust pipes and tips, or two mufflers to a single exhaust system just increases weight thereby decreasing acceleration and handling, and increasing braking distance. I am also sick and tired of 3″x 5″ chrome exhaust tips on 2″ pipes. It’s poseration for a poser nation!

  • avatar

    I always thought a mullet was required before one could by a ’79 era Camaro (with t-tops, natch).

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