The manual transmission certainly increases the SLK’s driver-engagement factor, and we appreciated the shifter’s tight throws and the clutch’s precise takeup. We’d christen the transmission a success were it not for the outdated engine it’s mated to. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder turbo’s boost is slow to build, making rev-matched downshifts tricky and lending the powertrain an air of sluggishness. We might be Savers of the Manuals, but this manual’s savior is a different engine. Subbing in the 2015 C-class’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four would be a good step in the right direction. (This may happen when the SLK is updated within a year or so, but we understand that the manual may be dropped at that time.)
It’s a shame about the engine, because the SLK’s chassis surprises and delights with a playful tail-happy attitude. Disable the stability control, vector the SLK’s nose into a tight corner while dabbing the brakes, and the back end whips around in a decisive, easily controlled manner. Our test car came equipped with the optional Dynamic Handling package ($990), which includes adaptive dampers with Sport and Comfort modes, as well as the Sport package ($2500), which brought 18-inch AMG wheels, a body kit, and red ambient cabin lighting.
Hampered slightly by axle hop off the line, the SLK nonetheless hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and circled our skidpad to the tune of 0.95 g. That zero-to-60 figure is 0.9-second off the 302-hp SLK350’s pace, but the skidpad result is stickier by 0.06 g. The SLK’s steering is perfectly weighted and effort builds smoothly as cornering forces increase, although nuanced road feel is left out of the equation. The brakes are reassuring in spite of a pedal that could be firmer, and the binders halt the little roadster from 70 mph in just 160 feet.