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Over two decades, the Mercedes-Benz SLK has built a small, solid fan-base in Australia, and now it is up to the newly refreshed and renamed 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC Roadster to carry on that tradition. Rename aside, the facelifted SLC is an SLK - but not quite as we know it. The facelift is only part of the story though, with the much-loved SLK55 AMG coming to an end, replaced by the AMG SLC43. At launch in France, we'll also spend some time driving the SLC300.
Sales of the SLK in Australia have never been spectacular - Mercedes-Benz sold 296 in 2015 - but the roadster has nevertheless benefited from a solid following among enthusiasts lusting after a premium, rear-wheel-drive droptop. That’s even more relevant to the SLK55 AMG model, which means that in appealing to V8 fans, a twin-turbo V6 is going to have its work cut out for it.
Purists will undoubtedly mourn the loss of the V8, but Mercedes-Benz counters that by claiming the new AMG SLC43 is faster around a race track. That’s despite being 0.1 seconds slower in the sprint to 100km/h.
We get a short stint behind the wheel of the SLC300 and the AMG SLC43 variants at launch. You can read our expected pricing report, with full Australian list pricing and specification expected to be announced closer to the range’s launch in September this year. The range will be more affordable, with the AMG variant looking like being around 25 grand cheaper than the SLK55 AMG.
What we do know is that Australia will get four models from launch: SLC180, SLC200, SLC300 and AMG SLC43. The 180 will be the price leader with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder generating 115kW and 250Nm, while using only 6.2L/100km on the combined cycle. Step up to the 200 and you get a 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which makes 135kW and 300Nm, using the same 6.2L/100km. The 300 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which makes 180kW and 370Nm, while using 6.3L/100km. The top of the tree is the AMG SLC43, which is powered by a 3.0-litre twin turbocharged V6, which makes 270kW and 520Nm, while using 7.9L/100km.
The exterior styling remains very much indicative of the previous SLK, so despite the facelift, the new SLC is absolutely recognisable from any angle as a compact Mercedes-Benz roadster. Side-on, the nose still looks a little ungainly, but from most other angles, the SLC is an attractive take on a low slung convertible. The headlights and tail-lights are new, as well as a redesigned bumper and grille, so changes aren't what you’d call major.
Technical highlights are many, based on preliminary Australian specifications, with the main features being a 9G-Tronic automatic transmission as standard for all models, stop-start, rear-view camera, heated seats and 18-inch wheels also standard across the range. The base model SLC180, though, will get manually-adjusted seats as standard, while all models get solar reflecting, full leather upholstery.
Our first drive loop in the SLC300 illustrates that even with 180kW and 370Nm, the SLC still feels like a heavy vehicle in most driving situations - much like the old SLK did, actually. If you work the throttle pedal enthusiastically, you can build speed, but you never feel like the whole experience is effortless. Forget a sultry exhaust note, the four-cylinder turbo rarely ever sounds evocative, unless you’re thrashing it right up at its redline.
Despite that feeling of heft, though, the SLC is beautifully balanced through corners, which is somewhat at odds with the rest of the drive experience, given it never feels especially light on its feet. You'll feel secure enough to toss the SLC into corners at speed, never wavering in the confidence that it will hold the line you desire and exit the corner with the front-end pointing in the right direction.
The ride - even in the cabin of the AMG SLC43 - is excellent, too, with the rigid chassis still able to soak up bumpy roads. There’s barely any loss of rigidity with the roof down, either - an important mark of a properly engineered drop-top chassis. The steering is also excellent, with a solid, meaty feel to it, but its never too heavy, either, even at parking speeds. In short, the interface between driver and the front wheels, is exactly what we would have hoped for.
On the subject of the AMG SLC43, it’s an interesting beast. There’s obviously less of the fire and brimstone that was offered up by the SLK55 AMG, but there’s still some serious power on offer. The roads were slick at the time of our test and the AMG will easily light the rear tyres up when coming out of slow hairpins, and even in a straight line once you’re rolling. The transition to the engine fully coming into the meat of its boost gives the 43 a slightly nasty edge, which befits the AMG badge.
The main negative afflicting the AMG variant is the exhaust note, which is thoroughly uninspiring in any mode other than Sport+, which means you have to put up with the accompanying popping, burping and crackling that goes on whenever you shift down. The flip side of course is a sedate cruiser most of the time, which most owners will probably appreciate.
The whole drive experience is sharpened by selecting Sport+ mode, exactly as it should be, but the AMG SLC43 just feels a whole lot more sedate than the previous AMG variant. Given the raucous nature of most other AMG products, the unassuming nature of the new SLC is a little jarring. A V6 will certainly never sound as evocative as a V8, no matter what sort of exhaust sorcery you concoct. The point needs to be made though, that most SLC owners will want a boulevard cruiser rather than a racetrack weapon - so, for them, it might well be less of an issue.
The cabin of both variants is comfortable, and finished to the usual Mercedes-Benz quality, but we couldn't get rid of an annoying squeak in both variants we tested. It seemed to be emanating from behind the seat-back, against the rear bulkhead, but no amount of squirming in the seat - or seat adjustment for that matter - could quieten the noise down completely. So, while the seats are comfortable, that noise was annoying and the rest of the interior is quite compact. There’s enough storage for wallets and smart phones, but you'll struggle to store larger bottles for longer trips.
You also need to factor in the amount of boot space you lose when the roof is lowered. There is a cover piece, as per the previous model, that needs to be locked in before the roof will lower, and you don’t have a huge amount of space underneath it. We managed to squeeze three laptop backpacks underneath the cover, but only just.
The day of our test drive up into the mountains, the weather took a nasty turn, which meant we could test the air scarf neck warmers and heated seats - unless its raining, the roof in a convertible must stay down. Rules are rules, after all. The air scarf actually works extremely well within the smaller confines of the SLC interior, and the heated seats were too warm after 15 minutes or so, despite the outside air temperature dropping down to 5.5 degrees, so there’s no doubt the SLC is a proper 'cold-weather roadster'.
All told, the new SLC is very much like the SLK it replaces. There isn’t much that’s revolutionary about the facelifted model aside from the dropping of the previous V8 engine in favour of a new twin turbocharged V6 unit. The SLC will still find favour with buyers who love the appearance and style of Mercedes-Benz’ compact roadster. For us, it didn't quite evoke as much emotion as we’d hoped though. We look forward to testing it locally when it lands in Australia.