Expert review written by the Kelley Blue Book vehicle review editorial team.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK is the roadster that re-started the world’s enthusiasm for retractable hardtops. With each successive generation, the little 2-seater’s styling gets a bit more aggressive, and the all-new 2012 edition of the SLK is the most macho and best performing version yet.
You'll Like The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class If...
If part of your self-description includes driving the best-looking convertible of the season with the richest looking interior, then it’ll be easy to see yourself in the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK.
You May Not Like The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class If...
If you play basketball or first base for a living, or if you’ve done time as a shopaholic (you need to carry a lot of stuff in your car), then why are you even considering a 2-seat convertible whose hardtop folds into the trunkspace?
The Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is all-new and much improved for the 2012 model year. In February, 2012, Mercedes will be adding the turbocharged 4-cylinder SLK250 at the bottom of the lineup, and the SLK55 AMG model at the top, and more performance and sophisticated style throughout.
While the 2012 SLK might not be as pure a sports car as some of its competitors, that has a positive payoff when it comes to comfort and convenience. The SLK bathes you in the warm milk of a luscious interior that is Mercedes-Benz deluxe in every way. One highlight is the thick-section, 3-spoke steering wheel that is flat-bottomed to help clear your thighs. The main gauges are two big analog circles that flank a screen that displays a wide variety of driver-selectable information. The console features a pair of cupholders and the twist-and-push electronic controller that can move in eight different directions to select and operate audio and navigation features – not quite as easy as pushing a dedicated button, but once you get the hang of it, it works. One thing the console lacks is a parking brake lever. Instead a small handle to the left of the steering wheel applies and releases the electronic parking brake. The parking brake also acts as a genuine emergency brake if it is applied continuously above three miles an hour.
Mercedes suggests the exterior design of the 2012 SLK is both futuristic and retro, and as oxymoronic as that sounds, it is accurate. There are classic M-B touches and enough new stuff to make a contemporary statement. Of course, the exterior can festooned with optional bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights. It wouldn’t be a German luxury car without them. The passenger compartment is said to be reminiscent of an airplane cockpit, but we’ve never seen a cockpit as well-designed and ergonomic as the SLK. Nothing is startling new about the passenger compartment, and some might find the accommodations tight, but it is beautifully crafted.
Mercedes-Benz has worked hard to build sports car credibility into the new SLK, which is the third generation of the car. Each edition of the SLK has upped the performance ante as Mercedes-Benz engineers try to put to rest the longstanding notion that the SLK is more a personal-luxury car than a sports car. Certainly the SLK has all the slick moves of a performance machine with outstanding acceleration, confident roadholding and taut, responsive steering. And we were impressed with the SLK’s overall handling. Thanks to its well-tuned suspension and substantial tires on 18-inch wheels, the cornering stick and stability were impressive.
With a starting price of $54,800, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is among the most expensive vehicles in its class, but it is utterly stuffed with so much content we cannot describe it all here. All we can guarantee before pricing is announced on the other two SLK models for 2012 is that the SLK250 will cost less than the SLK350 (around $45,000-$48,000) and the SLK55 AMG will cost a lot more (well over $60,000). The Mercedes-Benz SLK’s key competitors include the BMW Z4, Audi TT Roadster and Porsche Boxster. In base trim the Boxster is less expensive than a 2012 SLK350, but it offers just 255 horsepower versus the 302 horsepower of the SLK. The 3.4-liter version of the Boxster ups the horsepower to 320, but it costs about $7,000 more than an SLK350. In terms of overall ownership cost, we expect the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK models to be about on par with the Porsche Boxster and others in its segment. To get a better idea of what SLK buyers in your neighborhood are paying, check out the Fair Purchase Price on kbb.com.
The SLK seats aren’t just extremely comfortable – we’d like to have one in our family room to watch football in – but they are also covered in sun-reflecting leather that dramatically reduces the rate at which the seats heat up when the car is parked with the top down. They are 8-way power adjustable, offer memory and power lumbar adjustment, and each seat incorporates a side air bag in the seat back as well as NECK-PRO active head restraints that move forward in serious rear-end collisions.
Standard on the 2012 SLK is a new infotainment system with a 5.8-inch color display located at the top of the console. It includes Bluetooth capability, FM phase-diversity twin tuner, HD/AM/weatherband, MP3-compatible CD drive and a USB port in the center console. The optional COMAND system ups the ante with a larger 7-inch color display, hard-drive-based GPS navigation, 10-gigabyte music storage hard drive, and for those who haven’t left the 20th Century a 6-disc CD/DVD changer. The navigation system offers 3D maps and the ability to show alternate routes before you choose one. An optional SiriusXM feature provides real-time traffic information and weather forecasts.
The Iconic Retractable HardtopSince the SLK started the retractable hardtop craze with its first-generation model, you can bet that Mercedes-Benz engineers were challenged to top themselves in this version, and they’ve done just that. Buyers can select from three different power-operated roofs – standard is body-colored polycarbonate, optional is a panorama roof of tinted see-through polycarbonate and the one that’ll get your neighbors talking is the Magic Sky Control roof whose transparency you control electrically. Electric current motivates nano particles in the roof to align uniformly allowing light to pass through. When the current is off they disperse randomly like slackers tinting the panel.AIRSCARF & Air GuidesIn a bid to make top-down driving in the SLK a more pleasant experience in cooler weather, M-B engineers designed the AIRSCARF system that literally blows warm air on your neck as you drive. That system is accompanied by Air Guides that help manage the airflow into the cabin, another effort to keep you toasty when topless.
Under the Hood
When you’re going up against big hitters like the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4, 201 horsepower seems a little underwhelming. So the 2012 SLK250 has got its work cut out for it whether you stick with the 6-speed manual transmission or opt up to the 7-speed automatic. Powering the SLK350, on the other hand, is a new 60-degree 3.5-liter V6 featuring direct injection and multi-spark ignition. Working together with the 7G-TRONIC automatic transmission, the V6 generates 302 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s enough to rocket the SLK from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.4 seconds. New from AMG, the SLK55’s V8 features both fuel-economy measures like cylinder shutoff and scary-big power including 398 lb-ft of axis-bending torque. 1.8-liter turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder201 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm229 lb.-ft. of torque @ 2,000-4,300 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy (estimated): 23/313.5-liter V6302 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm273 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3,500 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/295.5-liter V8415 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm398 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpmEPA city/highway fuel economy (estimated): 22 (city/highway combined)
The original Mercedes-Benz SLK was a big hit, largely on the basis of its retractable hardtop roof, something the auto industry hadn’t seen since the Ford Skyliner of the 1950s. Each successive version of the SLK has been given a more serious edge, and this time around a new V6 engine and muscular styling make the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK the most aggressive SLK ever. At the same time, the SLK seems less of a pure sports car than the Porsche Boxster, but many SLK buyers will simply say, "Who cares?"