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2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK
Fashion cents: It's the least expensive Mercedes-Benz convertible, but do you really need much more than the SLK to make a statement while enjoying the open air?

By Malcolm Gunn

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLKWith 110 years of sports-car history in its back pocket, Mercedes-Benz has learned a thing or two about what makes these cars and their proud owners tick.

And this vast experience is packed into the 2012 SLK roadster that's due to arrive this summer.

Style and substance are necessary ingredients for any sports car, but, for Mercedes-Benz, how the vehicle makes you feel and how others see you behind the wheel are perhaps treated with equal importance.

SLK customers will likely feel and look particularly good with this third-generation drop-topper. As well, anyone approaching the SLK from afar will instantly notice the dominating three-pointed star affixed to the grille. In fact, they might even mistake the SLK for the similar-looking SL or even the SLS AMG relations that cost considerably more.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLKThe king-size Mercedes-Benz logo is part of a larger and more upright grille, one-piece lower air intake and enlarged all-LED (Light Emitting Diode) headlamps that provides the illusion that the SLK is much lower and wider than its predecessor. However, a comparison of vital statistics reveals that the overall length, width and height are actually within a few centimetres of the 2011 edition and the distance between the front and rear wheels is identical, which suggests that the platform carries over largely unchanged.

Even so, Mercedes-Benz reports that the suspension has been firmed up, the electronic power-steering system offers additional help during low-speed maneuvering and the brakes feature "torque vectoring" that will gently apply stopping power to the inside rear wheel during high-speed turns. The idea is to counteract the vehicle's natural tendency to continue in a straight line (referred to as understeer) after the wheels are turned.

Also coming in for some sprucing up is the SLK's interior that showcases a new flat-bottom steering wheel, plenty of brushed aluminum trim on the center console plus four oversized chromed air vents that don't quite seem to fit with the car's otherwise restrained cabin design. Optional are special leather coverings that keep the seats cooler by reflecting the sun's rays. This seems minor, but it will hopefully cut down on arms, legs and backs that are scorched when they come in contact with seats that have been soaking in the sun for even short periods of time.

The SLK's signature lightweight power-retractable hardtop returns for the 2012 model year, but you can now opt for a panoramic glass roof that can be ordered with "Magic Sky Control." With the press of a button, the glass can be changed from a dark tint to clear, depending on the time of day or to suit your  personal preference.

Once again, the starting-point engine is a V6, but it will initially be the 302-horsepower 3.5-litre unit for the SLK 350. Later in the model year - likely early 2012 - a new base-model SLK250 is expected sporting a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine that replaces the outgoing 228-horsepower 3.0-litre V6.

Mercedes-Benz reports that the V6 SLK will sprint to 60 mph (96 km-h) in 5.6 seconds, nearly a second quicker than the turbo-four versions. A seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters is the only transmission available for the SLK350, while the SLK250 will arrive with a six-speed manual as standard and the seven-speed automatic as an option.

2012 Mercedes-Benz SLKStandard SLK350 luxury features include climate control, six-speaker audio system, power-folding outside mirrors, electronic parking brake and 18-inch wheels.

Mercedes will wait until closer to the launch date before revealing the SLK250's standard and optional equipment.

A wealth of extra-cost items await SLK shoppers, such as heated front seats, genuine wood interior trim, self-cleaning and pivoting bi-xenon headlamps, sporty body trim and a 10-speaker surround-sound system. Once again, you can order Airscarf, a system built into the front seatbacks that blows warm air onto passengers to keep them toasty on cool days when the top is down.

There's no word yet regarding the return of a high-performance AMG version, so for now the fuel-sipping four-cylinder and more mainstream V6 will have to do.
However, for SLK drivers it's how you arrive that's just as important as how rapidly you arrive.

Either way, you're practically guaranteed to get there with a smile.

What you should know: 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class

Type: Two-door luxury hardtop convertible

Engines (hp): 1.8-litre DOHC I4, turbocharged (201); 3.5-litre DOHC V6 (302)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual (std.,1.8), Seven-speed automatic  (opt. with 1.8, std. with 3.5)

Market position: The SLK is the starting point in a trio of impressive sports cars that tops out with the $200,000 SLS AMG. It's success has been built on delivering first-class luxury and attitude at an affordable price.

Points: Front-end styling is more aggressive and luxurious; Trick day/night sunroof will be popular option; Upcoming 1.8-litre turbo engine highlights M-B's need to add more fuel-efficient models; diesel would be great for low-stress, high-efficiency cruising; Look for other automakers to soon offer torque-vectoring technology.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; driver's knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.6/8.0 (3.5, est.)

Base price (including dest.): $60,000 (est., SLK250)

By comparison

Audi TTS roadster
Base price: $54,500
Four-wheel-drive soft-top sticks to four-cylinder turbo engine choices.

BMW Z4
Base price: $55,000
Recent facelift has this "Bimmer" looking and acting better than ever.

Infiniti G37
Base price: $60,200
2+2 folding hardtop model comes with 325-hp V6 plus plenty of extras.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted April 3, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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