Mercs are nothing if not inoffensive. In all their cars, everything has been styled more or less to please all and offend none. Fed up of being labelled as cars for old people, Mercedes is now on a sporty offensive.
The Formula 1 team. Michael Schumacher. The rip-snorting SLS AMG. Even more AMG-ing of the range. The angry face to the new C-Class. And the growing up of the SLK.
What really sets the tone is the startlingly angry exhaust note that greets you when you fire it up. All that noise is courtesy the new engine. Gone is the (cool-sounding) Kompressor 1.8-litre four-cylinder supercharged engine that, along with the lazy 5-speed auto, made the SLK200 more show than go. Enter a new V6 engine — the first Mercedes V6 in India to get petrol direct injection — and that makes for a very healthy 306PS of power and 370 Nm of torque.
Launching with the SLK 350 (the four-cylinder SLK 200 will come in eventually) has of course been necessitated by BMW and Audi bringing in beefy six-cylinder engines in the Z4 and TT, even though this has resulted in Rs. 13 lakh hike in price.
Performance numbers: The earlier SLK200 managed 0-100 kmph in 7.9 seconds. With power going up by 121PS, acceleration times drop to 6.71 seconds for the 100 kmph sprint, which makes it slightly quicker than the Z4 (though the TT is quicker to 100 kmph). What everyday driving will highlight is the impressive flexibility and bottom end grunt of the engine that demands a gentle prod on the accelerator to serve up strong overtaking oomph.
Performance is now abundant and effortless and you can call the SLK a proper sports car without having to endure peals of laughter.
But this is a Merc and they haven’t forgotten how to make Mercs.
So, while it is aurally delightful when you knock back two gears, things settle down impressively when you knock it up two gears. The engine goes silent, the exhaust note becomes muted.
It is a sports car, no doubt, but has little of the compromises — visibility, for instance, is excellent, you sit almost as high as a C-Class, so tootling in traffic doesn’t get intimidating, the steering is light at parking speeds, refinement is excellent and the ground clearance is so good that you can take all kinds of speedbreakers without ever worrying about the belly scrapping.
This, again, is very unlike the other cars in this segment.
And of course there’s that roof, the SLK’s main attraction. The original SLK pioneered the retractable hardtop in this segment and though this wizardry has been around for over a decade, taking the top down never fails to draw the oohs and aahs. In under 20 seconds, the SLK transforms from a very attractive coupe to an even more attractive convertible and the way the whole mechanism works is still utterly fascinating to watch.
(This story appears in the 02 December, 2011 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)