Twenty-four bleary-eyed hours of travel have taken us to a cluster of volcanic rocks just off the coast of Africa. The Canary Islands aren’t the place one typically thinks of when it comes to testing a new car, but the Mercedes-Benz SLK isn’t your typical automobile.
When it made its debut, four years ago, it was one of a trio of new European roadsters that delivered a breath of life for the long moribund American sports car market. In a world filled with look and drive-alike commodity cars, there was no way to confuse the SLK, the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. Of the three, Mercedes’ entry was the most elegant, with its slick, retractable hardtop. But the SLK was also the least sporty, a ragtop more at home at the club than on the track.
For 2001, Mercedes hopes to change that perception, with the introduction of the SLK 320. Along with the original SLK230 Kompressor — which remains in production — the new model undergoes a minor, mid-cycle facelift. The changes are modest and likely to be missed by anyone not closely familiar with the original SLK. Even so, they’re worthy of note. The roadster now has turn signals integrated into the mirrors, a nice safety touch for such a small automobile in a world dominated by massive trucks. There are new marker panels and body-colored door handles.
On the interior, you’ll find a new steering wheel and shift lever, and with the SLK230, the carbon fiber look has been replaced with machined aluminum, a very hot style among European manufacturers these days. Wood trim is standard with the SLK320.