The 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is now in its final year on the market, since a full replacement is coming for the 2012 model year.
The SLK mixes roadster openness and sportscar performance in a two-seat body with appealing styling and charming road manners. It matches up against the Infiniti G37 Convertible, the BMW Z4, and the Porsche Boxster, and acquits itself well against those machines, particularly against the Infiniti in performance, and against the others in price.
The SLK's look is wedgy and purposeful; the passing resemblance to the heftier SL-Class is unmistakable. The interior is a high-class, low-contrast place for drivers to exercise control over the performance at hand. One off note: squadrons of matching buttons to control the radio, nearly unintelligible at a quick glance.
Three different personalities are imbued in the SLK. The base SLK300 sports a 228-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6; as equipped, it's more a sun-worshipping sports coupe or convertible, and it's the least sporty version though it's the only one with a manual transmission on offer. The SLK350 moves up to a 3.5-liter V-6 with 300 horsepower, teamed to a seven-speed automatic. This is the SLK's mainstay powertrain, and it's quick and snarly when provoked, with a 0-60 mph time of about 5.3 seconds, the manufacturer reports.
The SLK curls toes with its AMG edition, the SLK55. With 355 horsepower on tap, and a seven-speed automatic with paddles for shifting. Even more than other SLKs, this edition has tightly controlled ride and handling, and breathtaking acceleration. Benz says the SLK55's 0-60 mph time is 4.9 seconds.
For a two-seater, the SLK has ample leg and head room. It's comfortable and quite luxurious in its feel, maybe the best in this niche. The seats are generously sized and have plenty of lumbar support and bolstering. The trunk is limited; it's only 6.5 cubic feet large when the hardtop is folded away under its lid.
Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has crash-tested the 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK. It's well-equipped with safety features, however. Head-and-thorax side-impact airbags and a knee airbag are standard, as are anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control.
Standard equipment is fairly plush, with leather seating, a CD changer and cruise control all included. Options include SmartKey push-button start, with built-in remote hardtop folding; a Harman Kardon sound system; a navigation system; the COMAND screen-based interface; and burl walnut trim. Also available are iPod connectivity and HD Radio-and AIRSCARF, which gently blows hot air around your neck from behind the headrest area, making cold, sunny days so much more enjoyable with the top down.