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The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK still may be the least honed, least intense of the trio of pricey German roadsters, but it's ripened over its 15 years and three generations. New for 2012, the latest SLK has pretty much steamrolled over any trace of its dainty past and hot-paved it with real, substantial, and sometimes intoxicating sports-car urgency.
Argue if you want in favor of the Porsche Boxster's no-compromises chassis, or the BMW Z4's now-outed closet speed freak. The SLK holds its own: it grips and grunts with its own visceral pulse, and proves that it's still a three-way arms race in its very small, very exclusive club.
Thus far in the 2012 model year, we've driven two flavors of SLK--the eventual mid-range SLK 350 and the sizzling V-8-powered SLK 55 AMG. There's a turbo four-cylinder SLK in the pipeline, too, but it's likely tagged for a 2013 model-year intro. In either SLK, you'll find ever more sharpening to the performance edge--we wouldn't yet call it the equal of the Boxster or Z4 just yet, but the steering's adopted electric variable ratios to tie it more closely to your nerve endings. The suspension can do the same, if you want--and that gives the SLK unexpected ride softness when you need it, without the pothole jarring of a very stiff-riding machine when you don't.
If it's pure acceleration you're after, of course, the 415-horsepower SLK 55 AMG is the only choice. It's easy to get used to the 302-hp V-6's rhythm, though, and with either, there's a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic pushing force to the rear wheels in a mostly smooth way. Massive, biting brakes are in store, either way, and new torque-vectoring control works with the SLK's stability control to tighten cornering, giving this latest edition a lot of tech weaponry to tackle corners.
The SLK didn't grow very much this time around, and the interior's still snug for tall drivers and for luggage. There are no safety scores as of yet, and oddly, there's no rearview camera at all on the features list. However, the SLK is as comprehensively equipped as any Mercedes and better by a long shot than its German compatriots. On top of HD radio, Bluetooth, navigation and real-time traffic, the SLK can be fitted with a photochromic glass roof that tints itself on bright sunny days--and there's AIRSCARF, which blows a warm, gentle breeze on your neck to keep top-down season going another few weeks.
The top, after all, is what the coupe-convertible SLK is all about. And it's just as good at lowering the roof as it is at raising it.