Some may view the sleek SLK class as being the entry-level roadsters of Mercedes-Benz. The SLK300, for example, starts at about $47,000. What, you may ask, is wrong with a lower price point? Well, after driving the next-in-the-line SLK350, we'd have to say not a thing — as long as your expectations for the car are modest.
Appearance: This is the SLK's strength. Our tester came in Mars Red, a striking color that's perfect for a roadster. Mercedes says the car has "Formula 1-inspired" styling, and its wide front valance with mesh-covered air intakes, as well as sculpted side sills, attest to that racing heritage. A center bulge on the hood tapers down into the grille and surrounds Mercedes' familiar three-point star badge. Peter thinks the "nose" gives a car a bold and distinctive presence; Lyra thinks it's distinctively unattractive. With the top up, the coupe has a clean, rounded profile. Lyra likes the look better with the top down. Again we disagree; Peter thinks most hardtop roadsters look better top-up. We both liked the chrome dual-exhaust tips. One caution: Parking blocks are Public Enemy No. 1 for such a low car.
Performance: This isn't the AMG version of the SLK line, so the performance is a bit underwhelming. The high-revving 3.5-liter V-6 felt sluggish to us, even if it packs 300 horsepower. The gearbox, though, is a seven-speed automatic that shifts well, and the rear-wheel-drive roadster corners precisely.
Interior: Mercedes likes its Natural Beige — we've seen it on several models. Our tester was adorned with it for seats and trim, which contrasted well against the black and faux-aluminum of the hard surfaces. The deep-set dashboard gauges are a crisp white-on-black, which show up well even in bright sunlight. (There's also a multifunction display in the instrument cluster.) Mercedes does manage to cram a lot of its electronic goodies into the cabin, which results in some center console dials positioned low, behind the shifter, where they can be cumbersome to reach. There are two flimsy cup holders that retract into the dash, but with drinks in them, they block the center vents. We were surprised by some of the interior plastics, which didn't have the high-quality feel we've become accustomed to from Mercedes. Peter felt cramped, finding even his knees were too close to the steering wheel. The car is low, so if you are tall — or of a certain age — it might be troublesome. There's not much storage space either, save for a bin under the armrest and another small one between the seats. Like all hardtop convertibles, the trunk space is sacrificed to house the retracting roof, which opens/closes in 22 seconds. There's enough room for a weekend bag or a few bags of groceries, but not much else.
Our 3 favorites
Hardtop: It retracts in 22 seconds.
Body style: I think the front end of this little car makes a bold statement.
Seats: Mercedes loves beige leather and so do I.
Eye candy: Compact and sleek. Mars Red paint is especially striking.
Gauges: Crisp and easy to see, especially important in a convertible.
Touch-turn: Slightly tap the turn signal and it blinks three times. Great for lane changes.
The bottom line: Our optioned-out tester came with a price tag of more than $60K. That's a lot of money for a small two-seater that doesn't push the performance envelope. It would make the perfect runabout for a night on the town.