You need boobs or a buffed bod to get away with casual cruising in a drop-top. My wife assures me I have neither, which is why I tend to keep the lid on the SLK 250 up.
She has a point though - most people who splash $100,000 on a two-seat roadster are image conscious. If that’s the case, Mercedes-Benz has their measure. The SLK roadster is as pretty a mechanical picture as you can paint for the money.
The 250 is the pick of the pair of 1.8-litre turbo engines that start the SLK line-up. At $92,450 it is $3000 dearer than BMW’s rival Z4 28i and $11,000 dearer than the all-wheel drive Audi TT 2.0 quattro. It’s still $15,000 under a Porsche Boxster or its SLK 350 stablemate, though.
The SLK 250 rolls off the showroom with an infotainment system including satnav and web browser and voice control, a seven-inch hi-res screen, bi-xenon headlamps and heated and powered seats.
It takes just 20 seconds to transform from classy to cool as the roof tucks in to the boot. That will chew most of the cargo space, so on weekends away, plan on getting to the hotel and unloading the luggage before you go topless.
The engine is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo matched to a seven-speed auto. The auto is a switch-hitter. The default economy setting heavily favours frugality over fun. That leads to a long wait between burying the right foot and eliciting a response from the engine but is also key in helping the car achieve a claimed 6.7 litres/100km.
Great for boulevard cruising; frustrating when trying to get on the throttle mid-corner. Sports mode eliminates the lag and is the preferred option for those making moves. Better still, go for manual mode and change gears via the wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
There’s a touch of SL and SLS about Merc’s baby roadster. The fact it’s more than $130,000 cheaper makes it the standout of the two-seater range. The single horizontal bar that carries the Benz emblem on the front brings enough aggression to the front end to jab the “girl’s car” image in the head and the profile is pure roadster curves.
Inside it has an edge on its German rivals. It looks premium and, with the manually operated wind-blockers behind the seats, there is very little turbulence when you are exposed to the elements.
It hasn’t hit the ANCAP wall but Merc doesn’t build anything that won’t earn a five-star rating. In the case of the SLK, there are six airbags, the usual assortment of computer-enhanced and accelerometer-monitored braking software and a chassis that is harder than an ATO auditor.
This car raises the roof for top-down driving. Body flex is impossible to find at legal speeds and it combines outright fun with luxury motoring. The steering isn’t as sharp as the Z4 but compensates by being more relaxed around town. Ditto with the suspension. It is firmer than your average German sedan but there’s no jarring over potholes.
A 0-100km/h time of 6.6 seconds isn’t going to set acceleration records but that isn’t what the 250 is about. It is about caressing corners, clipping the apex and then using the 350Nm to cannon to the next turn. Or shooting the breeze on country roads, then parading down seaside promenades. It is built for a purpose and does the required tasks purposefully.
If you have an appetite for luxury roadsters, the SLK 250 will sate it. Easy to park, easy to pose in and easy to drive, it shaves the rough edges off outright sports car to bring refinement to alfresco driving.
Mercedes-Benz SLK 250
Price: from $92,450
Warranty: three years/100,000 km
Resale: 57 per cent
Service Interval: 12 months/15,000km
Crash rating: not tested
Safety: six airbags, ABS, TC, ESC, EBD
Engine: 1.8-litre turbo four-cylinder, 150kW/350Nm
Transmission: seven-speed automatic, RWD
Dimensions: 4.15m (L), 1.82m (W), 1.31m (H)
Thirst: 6.7L/100km (95 RON), 155g/km CO2