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Benz shifts into sixth gear

The SLK changes include a fresher cabin with a new instrument cluster and a three-spoke steering wheel.

A rare manual Mercedes will open the batting when the updated SLK range hits Australia this year.

The German luxury brand is almost an auto-only operation, but that will change with the introduction of a six-speed manual gearbox for the 2008 SLK.

The two-seater sports car has just had a face-lift and the mid-life update and upgrade involve more than 650 individual alterations, including the gearbox.

“It has always been available, but the reality is that very few people have chosen the manual. We'll see how it goes,” Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman David McCarthy says.

“We will be looking at the specification of the cars we bring to Australia. We will look at the value and also give people a wider choice. Currently we have four models, none of which is manual.”

The most obvious changes to the SLK, like every facelift, are around the nose and tail, but the car also gets a fresher cabin with a new instrument cluster and the three-spoke steering wheel first seen in the new C-Class sedan.

Benz claims significant fuel economy and emission improvements to all three engines, from the 1.8-litre supercharged four to the 3.5-litre V6.

The SLK has been around since 1997 and, even though sales have taken an expected slide over the past 12 months, Benz believes it will bounce back.

“It is time for a freshen,” McCarthy says. “It freshens a car that has actually sold really well for us. It's not a poor seller by any stretch and SLK 350 is very strong."

“It is a normal mid-life update. But, appearance-wise, there are some significant changes, particularly from the front, where it's more aggressive.”

The new look means a new nose, bigger mirrors, a diffuser under the tail, trapezoidal exhaust pipes and a new range of alloy wheels.

Inside, the electronics have been upgraded and iPod integration is part of the package.

For Australia, the SLK 200 will get an upgraded engine with 135kW, up by 15kW, and the V6 in the SLK 350 picks up 24kW and 10Nm, taking it to 224kW and 360Nm with a claimed fuel economy improvement of about 10 per cent.

The SLK now comes with Benz's direct steering system, which varies the assistance, depending on road speed, through a new steering rack.

The first supplies of the updated SLK are expected late in the second quarter of this year, possibly June, and the company is predicting a significant lift in sales.

“We expect we will do significantly better volume with it. The changes refine a concept that, dare I say it, we invented,” McCarthy says.

“Yes, SLK sales are down by about 15 per cent, but we expected that. We did 522 cars by the end of November and the overwhelming majority of those were the 350. With other models in the range we are looking to sell a lot more cars in the coming year.”


Just a tweak

The Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG has had only minimal changes for 2008. The headlamps have a dark tint and there is a new front apron. LED globes are used in the turn-indicator repeaters, and there are larger rear-view mirrors and a new steering system with variable servo assistance.

AMG says the car's seven-speed automatic has been lightly tweaked for quicker shifts and there is a new design of 18-inch alloy wheels.

“The 55 has not really changed. It is mostly appearance items,” Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman David McCarthy says.

But there is better value once cars arrive, despite a price that is unlikely to change from today's $164,474.

From 40-50 SLK 55 AMGs will be delivered in Australia this year.



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