Edward Stephens experiences the latest incarnation of the sporty SLK.
When Mercedes-Benz launched its SLK in 1996 the radical folding metal roof was something which genuinely stunned the motoring world.
Others copied – although not always successfully – and manufacturers of sports cars with traditional hoods wondered if their time was up.
Since then the car has gone through several style changes both large and small but there is little doubt that the new, third generation model is by far the sleekest, most eye-catching model of all – particularly if you opt for the AMG Sport model with its dramatic body kit.
Gone is the more feminine side of the car, replaced by a far more macho image with the prominent, more upright grille, large Mercedes-Benz star and long tapering bonnet creating strong hints of the SLS AMG “gullwing model”.
And for the first time buyers have the choice of opting for the traditional folding metal roof or the new vario folding glass roof.
You can select a glass roof with what Mercedes calls its Magic Sky Control, which switches the glass from light to dark at the touch of a button. Think vario lense sunglasses.
Whether you opt for metal or glass, however, the folding roof will disappear into the boot at the touch of button in around 20 seconds to give completely open top motoring.
As with the previous model the newcomer offers the Mercedes AirScarf system, which blows warm air through the headrests onto the back of the neck and head of both driver and passenger.
And as any open top car driver will tell you this is the area that becomes cold first when exposed to the elements, so opting for the AirScarf will mean more days when you can have the roof off. Staying warmer is also helped by new, cleverly designed wind deflectors (a £285 optional extra). Termed an Airguide they are two pivoting transparent plastic discs which are attached to the rear of the roll-over bars and can be positioned at the best possible angle for deflecting draughts.
Despite its macho look my SLK was powered by a relatively small, four-cylinder 1.8-litre turbocharged engine. And while the performance was definitely something to shout it didn’t have the refinement of the six-cylinder engine in the 350 model.
Nevertheless, linked to the 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission,there is always an instant and satisfying response to even the slightest touch on the accelerator, particularly if you switch to Sport mode.
Alternatively you can also use this gearbox as a manual using the paddles behind the steering wheel or side to side movements of the gear shift.
The interior of the car is now plusher than ever with a plethora of brushed aluminium features adding style to the black – and in the case of my test car cream – interior.
I particularly like the ambient interior lighting in solar red (an extra £245) which gives dramatic strips of light on the door interiors and each side of the transmission tunnel.
And on the subject of lights the new daytime running lights across the top of the headlamps give a dramatically dynamic look to this car – particularly at night – that is hard to miss.
* Fast Facts
Mechanical: 204bhp, 1796cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving rear wheels via seven-spd automatic gearbox
Max speed: 150 mph 0-62 mph: 6.6 secs
Combined mpg: 42.8
CO2 emissions: 153 g/km
Warranty: Three years unlimited