A higher-powered four-cylinder turbo brings some extra performance to the Benz\'s compact roadster without breaking the $100,000 barrier.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK250 joined the German brand’s compact luxury roadster range earlier this year as the second four-cylinder turbo offering.
It’s only months later that Mercedes has had a car for media to test, citing customer demand for the delay.
The SLK250 jumped in ahead of the entry-level SLK, the SLK200, with which it shares the same 1.8-litre turbocharged direct injection engine and sits behind the SLK350 and SLK55 AMG flagship. Pricing reflects this, with the Mercedes-Benz SLK250 priced from $92,450 – $9000 more than the 200 but $16,500 less than the 350.
That premium over the base model not only brings more power but also some extra goodies, such as bi-xenon headlights, electrically folding and dimming side mirrors, memory settings for the electrically adjustable front seats and steering column, four-way lumbar support, differently styled 17-inch alloy wheels, larger TFT colour dash display with HDD satellite navigation, and steering-wheel-mounted paddleshift levers.
And of course that more powerful engine. The SLK250’s version of the 1.8-litre turbo (no Kompressor supercharger here) produces an extra 15kW of power and 40Nm of torque for outputs of 150kW and 310Nm.
As with all SLKs in Australia, power is directed to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic (a manual is available in markets such as Europe).
There’s a small penalty in the fuel efficiency department, with the SLK250 – also with engine stop/start – recording 6.7 litres of premium unleaded used per 100km on the official cycle versus 6.5L/100km for the 200.
In the performance department, though, the Mercedes-Benz SLK250 is four-tenths quicker from 0-100km/h, breaking the tap at 6.6 seconds on the way to a slightly higher top speed – 243km/h v 237km/h.
You can sense that gain on the road. As with the SLK200, the 1.8-litre turbo isn’t the smoothest of these new-age, advanced downsized engines but in the SLK250 it feels more urgent and offers a mid range that is meatier without matching the strength of the V6 in the SLK350.
The SLK250 produces its peak 150kW 250rpm higher than the SLK200, at 5500rpm, and will happily rev past that point towards its 6300rpm cut-out without having to utter the word futile.
There’s a decently sporty note to proceedings, too, and the auto automatically blips the throttle on downshifts.
For the best throttle response, though, the transmission’s Sport mode needs to be selected. This should be the default mode for a sports-minded roadster, though in traffic the auto is too eager to dive down through the gears, making slowing for traffic lights, etc, a less-than-couth experience.
Another brand other than Mercedes might be criticised for not offering a manual gearbox with such a car, but the paddleshift levers do bring a sense of driver involvement even if the SLK ultimately is no dynamic match for the brilliant Porsche Boxster (that’s not a million miles away in price at $107,000 if you don't mind a manual gearbox).
There’s still grip and poise in spades, reassuring stiffness to the body, and when cornering the suspension isn’t unsettled by country road bumps (but does get a bit lumpy in town).
The SLK’s steering could do with more weight, is prone to some kickback on mid-corner bumps, and lacks a fraction of accuracy just off centre, but turn-in is keen and from there there’s plenty of precision and consistency that helps to place the car through corners.
Roof up, plenty of wind and road noise can fill the cabin.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK is no longer distinctive in the segment for choosing metal over fabric after the BMW Z4 switched to a solid retractable roof, though there’s no doubt it ensures it looks like a junior version of the company’s flagship roadster, the SL.
It only takes 20 seconds and the flick of a switch, though, to expose yourself to the elements as the folding metal roof goes through its slick operation.
As with other SLKs, you can pay $4550 to have the ‘Magic sky control’ vario roof that can change from clear to tinted by the press of a button that manipulates embedded magnetic particles.
It’s $1750 for a normal glass sunroof, or you keep your costs contained by opting for the standard body-painted roof.
The Airscarf neck-warming system pioneered by the second-generation SLK is only standard on the SLK350 and SLK55; that's a $990 option here.
The two-seat cabin is plenty spacious, the seats are long-distance comfortable, and storage is relatively good for a roadster.
There’s much to admire about the interior design that’s inspired by the SLS supercar cabin, especially the air vents, though in terms of perception of quality the SLK trails its key rivals, the Z4, Boxster and Audi TT.
None is out-selling the Mercedes-Benz SLK, however. Now in third-generation form since its mid-1990s debut, Stuttgart’s roadster is well clear locally in the sales race.
Even with its latest exterior design aiming to introduce a more masculine approach with the potential to alienate the female demographic that has always been the SLK’s core audience, its image clearly remains powerfully alluring in the market.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK250 is the second in the range to offer that desirability for less than $100,000, and with some improved performance over the SLK200 it’s perhaps no surprise this is the most popular of Stuttgart’s compact luxury roadster locally.
But while the best-in-class Boxster is nearly $20,000 away in auto form, it is also worth looking at the $89,400 BMW Z4 sDrive28i that also shares the SLK's folding-metal-roof concept.