A person looking for a 2 passenger sports car with a prestigious name and retractable hardtop
Comparable cars in this class:
Jaguar XKR, Lexus SC430 (although neither of these has a useable back seat)
The Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class cars have always taken a back seat to the bigger, more powerful SL-Class cars. The SL cars, of course, are derived from the legendary 300SL introduced 50 years ago. They aren't gullwings any more, but they're still interesting.
However, the SLs have grown. "SL" used to be an abbreviation for short and light in German, but the cars are no longer light, nor short. Another problem is that you can't touch a new SL for under $90,000, hardly a car for the average buyer. So the more affordable SLK was introduced in 1998. It has been redesigned for 2005, and in design anyway it leaps way ahead of the SL. Now, instead of looking like a little brother, it takes styling cues from the $450,000 SLR McLaren Mercedes. It doesn't share the blistering 626 horsepower supercar performance, though.
The SLK350 is powered by a 3.5-liter DOHC V6 engine. This powerplant develops a healthy 268 horsepower, enough to give the 3,200-pound SLK excellent performance. Power is up more than 50 horses from the older 3.2-liter V6. Torque has been increased to 258 lb.-ft. as well.
We had the SLK for a trip to see our daughter and grandbabies (maybe even our son-in-law). The trip was 350 miles one way, so it would be a good test of seat comfort. My wife felt that the lower back didn't offer enough support, although I didn't' have any problems. She added a lumbar support cushion (odd that there wasn't a power lumbar support available) and was happier.
Regular readers will note that when we take trips to see the children, etc., we tote along a lot of stuff. With the SLK350 we only had 9.8 cubic feet of cargo volume in which to stow gear and goodies. By using flexible luggage that can be shoved around to fill small spaces, and choosing what we took economically, we had little problems. Luggage volume is reduced considerably if you choose to run with the top down.
About that top. As it was in the beginning, the SLK top is a stowable hard top. Push the right button and the deck lid opens to expose the trunk area and the top folds neatly into that space. You can still use the trunk, but only for small flat objects. Accessibility is reduced considerably.
But this is a sports car and it's meant to be driven with the top down. My MGA had less cargo volume even though the top didn't interfere with the trunk.
With the top in the trunk, two mini roll bars located behind the seats become more visible. Our tester came with a tight mesh fabric that was fitted over the roll bars. This reduced backdraft wind a bit, but also reduced rearward vision, so we took it off.
Power reached the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual transmission. Some people complain about Mercedes-Benz transmissions, but I found this one a delight to use. My wife, for one, complains about my heavy-handed and heavy-footed shifting, but in the SLK none of this was apparent.
Also, with the manual, downshifting to gain quick acceleration was better than with an automatic. A 7-speed automatic is available if you want it. Another option not mentioned above is a 5.4-liter V8 that delivers 355 horsepower in the AMG-tuned SLK55 and adds about $15,000 to the bottom line.
When the road develops twists, there is a 3-link front suspension and a 5-link rear suspension. The SLK handled like a sports car and made every drive a delight. I think the relative lightness of the car made for a better experience.
Big ventilated and perforated four-wheel disc brakes did a great job of stopping the SLK. The first time I hit the brakes it was like running into a wall of dough. I had to learn how to moderate my brake foot.
Of course, the SLK350 isn't for everyone. It's only valid as a primary car if you have no children or don't often carry a lot of luggage. When we had the MGA, I had my wife "trained" to travel light. Then I made the mistake of getting a large van, and it's been downhill since then. The SLK is excellent as a bachelor's car or as a second car.
The key word above is excellent. I hadn't driven an SLK in several years, so I was pleased to note the positive changes. While the SL may not be the sports car it was in the past, the SLK is better than the original.