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Merc revamps sports stars

Fuel prices and economic uncertainty have not stopped Mercedes-Benz from rolling out a new set of sports stars at the top of its line-up. It has just tweaked the droptop SLK and SL, as well as the four-door CLS coupe, as it applies showroom pressure on BMW, Audi and Lexus rivals.

The changes are mainly minor, although the latest SL looks far more aggressive in the nose (and is also $4000 to $8000 more expensive) but Benz is looking closely at the potential for turbodiesel power in the trio.

According to president and CEO, Wolfgang Schrempp, the company has shown off such engines in Europe and these are now being evaluated for Australia. The company already delivers more than 20 per cent of its Australian vehicles with turbodiesels.

In 2005 it unveiled an SLK 320 CDI tri-turbo concept at the Geneva Motor Show with 213kW and 630Nm and economy of 7.5 litres per 100km. At the same show it displayed a twin-turbo 4.0-litre V8 diesel SL that could charge to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds.

In Europe, Mercedes also sells a CLS 320 CDI with a 165kW/540Nm V6 turbodiesel that delivers 7.6 to 8.1 litres per 100km.

The newcomers arrive at a time when the luxury car business is tightening, but Mercedes-Benz Australia managing director Horst vonSanden remains bullish. He hopes the Federal Government will give some ground on the planned hike in the luxury car tax but admits it isn't easy.

“There's no denying it's giving us some grief,” he says. But von Sanden, like Schrempp, is looking to turbodiesels to give Benz an edge.

“We're very happy with our turbodiesel line-up, from the BClass upwards,” he says.

Later this year it will introduce a 2.0-litre turbodiesel A180CDI that uses as little as 5.0 litres per 100km. The engine is already fitted to the BClass. For the time being though, the company is focused on the new petrol-engined trio.

The three-model SLK range kicks off at $86,780 for the 1.8-litre SLK200 Kompressor, $112,380 for the 3.5-litre V6 SLK 350 and $164,900 for the 5.5-litre V8 SLK 55 AMG.

A new six-speed manual transmission is now available in the SLK200K and Mercedes expects the take-up to be about 25per cent with the SLK 350 being the volume seller.

Visually, the SLK gains a modest nip and tuck, with four different frontal treatments, tail-lights and improved interior trim.

Five distinct SL models are now available. They start at $223,000 for the 232kW/360Nm V6SL 350, which rises to $468,000 for the 450kW/1000Nm V12 SL65 AMG.

The three-model CLS range starts at $143,900 for the 200kW/350Nm V6 CLS 350, $182,400 for the 285kW/530Nm V8 CLS 500 and $257,800 for the 378kW/630NmV8 CLS 63 AMG.

The three updates are planned to give a worthwhile sales improvement, as last year Mercedes-Benz Australia sold 570 SLKs, 501 CLSs and 104 SLs.