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SLK a work of art

It is definitely one of the better looking sports cars on the market boasting a tasteful blend of styling cues from Benz classics with plenty of cyber in the mix.

This is the second generation SLK and it retains the same formula as the first 1996 model.

The hallmark metal Vario-roof remains but is a better design and operates faster than before.

The new SLK also has a sharper sporty edge to it with more performance, finely honed handling, increased safety and more luxury.

The chassis comprises a significant amount of hi- tensile steel and the design delivers a rigid platform.

Three models will be available; the SLK200 Kompressor and SLK350 initially and an SLK55 AMG next year. They are priced at $86,900, $112,900 and "TBA" respectively but six speed manual transmission, offered as a "delete option" reduces the price by more than $3000.

The three cars have supercharged four cylinder, 3.5-litre V6 and 5.5-litre V8 engines in ascending order.

Power outputs are 120kW, 200kW and 265kW.

Mercedes-Benz Australia has been allocated 350 SLKs in the initial shipment all of which are accounted for but supply will free-up next year.

It is impossible to adequately convey what it's like to drive a car such as this in print. You need to feel it from the seat of your pants which is exactly what I did last weekend during couple of fine days in a run of cold, early September days.

I drove the SLK200 Kompressor in 5-speed automatic and six speed manual and also the SLK350 in 7-G Tronic automatic transmission.

The 350 is a sensational thing to drive with the ability to spring from 0-100kmh in about 5.5 seconds. Power comes from a new, naturally aspirated, DOHC, 24 valve V6 that will filter through the Benz range in time. It is an excellent engine, better again than the previous V6 in this capacity from Benz.

And with the 7-speed auto hooked up behind, strong performance is always on tap.

I can see no reason for wanting a six speed manual with this 7-speed auto available. It allows the driver to have full control of the car just like a manual and also offers sequential shift mode in a side to side action of the gearstick. Nor can I see the need in for the 55AMG model. How much performance can you possibly need or want than that delivered by the SLK350?

Even the SLK200 is a treat to drive, quickish, neat, comfortable and responsive.

Interior styling is a reflection of the technical exterior and is attractive and functional. The seats are firm, too firm for some, and there is adequate room inside though tall drivers might be happier with more legroom.

A small boot space is provided because that's where the roof folds. It's enough for one medium suitcase, two smaller ones or a bunch of soft luggage. Roof deployment takes a scant 22 seconds and being metal, it gives the SLK two characters, – sports car with the roof off, sports coupe with the roof for a slightly more sophisticated feel.

Benz equips SLK with plenty of features but also offers an extensive list of options.

Airscarf, an innovative head warming system built into the headrests, costs an extra $1350.

The two engines I tested return better fuel economy than their predecessors as well as delivering up to 25 per cent more power.

On a day to day driving basis, any of these cars would be easy to live with. They can be as tame as a kitten and as wild as a leopard. Access is easy, all have climate control air conditioning and premium sound systems. Then of course is the extra security and safety of the metal roof.


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