2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
December 21, 2012

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK is the least polarizing of the roadsters, but there's enough urgency to go with its elegant, mini-SL charm.

Of all the pricey German roadsters, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK is probably the least polarizing. That's not to say that this isn't one of the most exciting yet elegant drop-top two-doors you can get, and one that you can drive every day.

The SLK has evolved nicely over the years, with more focus and grace, and just the right amount of intoxicating sports-car urgency combined with true mini-SL gravitas it never possessed in its earlier lives.

We won't mask our love for the new Porsche Boxster, or neglect to note that the current BMW Z4 is now the better touring car for the closet speed freak. But the Mercedes SLK has its own visceral pace and pulse; it holds its own in the corners, and proves that it's still a three-way arms race.

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The 2013 SLK Class is offered in three quite dramatically different personalities. At the base end there's the SLK 250 and its 201-horsepower, 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine; we still haven't driven variants with this engine, but we've found it plenty perky in the C Class--and it's the only way you can get an SLK with a (six-speed) manual gearbox. What most are probably going to find the best compromise between price and performance in the lineup is the SLK 350 and its 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. But those who always need to have the best and fastest will head straight to the sizzling V-8-powered SLK 55 AMG.

Over extensive drive time in the SLK 350, we've found it easy to get used to this model's rhythm and drivability. With any of these automatic models, 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 top is, quite simply, what the coupe-convertible SLK is all about. You lose some trunk space compared to soft-top rivals, but what you get instead is a tight, refined interior that's long-distance quiet and comfortable, and essentially a coupe with the top up. Unfortunately, the interior's still snug for tall drivers and for luggage. Outward visibility can also be difficult with the top up, and there's no rearview camera system on offer.

The 2013 SLK models have it covered in other respects, with all the infotainment features expected in a luxury vehicle, like 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 and beckons you to put the top down on a chilly-but-sunny day.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Styling

The SLK is graceful, classy, and athletic on the outside—although our favorite view is from the driver's seat.

While the original SLK was penned to appeal to women drivers, with its minimally detailed body, its lightness and lack of aggression--and above all, its four-seasons folding hardtop--the current SLK has taken a completely different direction in its design, growing more masculine, its dash studded with techy buttons and its nose dipped low. And you don't need to squint to see that the larger SL was a strong influence.

Although it's difficult to draw elegant cars on such a short wheelbase, we think Mercedes-Benz mostly succeeded here. That said, it's a challenge to meet new European pedestrian-safety laws that require much taller front ends. The SLK somehow manages to carve out some elegance from that restricted canvas, with details cribbed from the SLS AMG gullwing and some other styling cues foretelling next year's new SL Class lineup. We've grown happier with the look since we first saw it: it's a vast improvement over the under-detailed first-gen SLK, and the overdetailed second-generation car.

We're getting used to the more massive front end introduced in this car, as well the recently refreshed C Class, and although it's fitting in better now, we're still not big fans of the way the blunt-and-square front end mates up with the soft, gently tapering rear quarters. The bubble-like roof tapers off into teardrop taillamps that create the most cohesive view. When the roof is tucked in, the view from behind makes the SLK especially distinctive, with its metallic twin peaks of the seatbacks.

The cockpit's lost most of the metallic studded buttons that confused drivers, but it's traded them for more conventional black switches that still need to be learned before that first long road trip. The center stack reverts to a softly rounded, aluminum-clad look, capped by an LCD screen for audio displays. Versions with the screen-based COMAND system get steering-wheel-driven controller that rests just under the driver's right wrist, while meaty metallic ribs flare from the flat-bottomed steering wheel and metallic tubes house clean analog gauges.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Performance

The SLK 55 is the open-air rocket ship of the lineup, while SLK 350 models have enough to satisfy all but those who live for track time.

With the introduction of a four-cylinder model (actually late in the 2012 model year), the SLK Class now has a full lineup of versions, with a choice between four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines.

Base four-cylinder versions get a 201-horsepower, 1.8-liter four, offered with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic transmission. While we haven't driven the SLK with this engine, we've noted in the C250 Coupe that it provides perky, economical performance, with plenty of mid-range torque on tap and little, if no, turbo lag.

Most people will likely skip that, though, and go for the strong 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6--only available with the seven-speed automatic. A grunter, this V-6 has a typical tenor that either dazzles you or leaves you wanting for a straight six-- or best of all, a flat one. Mercedes posts a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds and limits the SLK 350 to a top speed of 155 mph. That puts it solidly on the same playing field as the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4, though there's not quite the same emotional appeal, either in its exhaust note or in its communication to the steering wheel and the driver's seat. You'll leave the SLK 350 in its Sport mode most of the time, since it wakes up the tranny with the smoothest blend of fast gear changes. In Eco mode the shifts are long and syrupy.

While we suspect the SLK 250 it probably the more balanced pick, the V-6's gusto pushes the SLK's multi-link suspension to its limits with a sharper feel than in the prior version. The SLK 350 can be outfitted either with either a conventional independent suspension or with user-selectable shocks, and all versions have electrohydraulic steering with Direct Steer, which amplifies steering inputs according to the rotation angle of the steering wheel. The hybrid steering system leaves the usual Mercedes play of an inch or so on center for a more relaxed attitude on the highway, and works its way into aggression by the time you're a quarter-past in either direction.

Go for the Dynamic Handling package, and the adjustable shocks make the SLK more tossable than it's ever been. While the SLK has been known in past iterations to have some bite, this SLK breaks loose softly and gradually, where it's easily brought back on line. Deep potholes still can jar, though. The deeply talented torque-vectoring brakes can clamp onto an inside rotor automatically to tighten cornering lines, and make the 18-inch, 35-series rear tires pretty obedient.

If you want brute force more than anything else, head straight for the SLK 55, which is stuffed to the gills with a 5.5-liter V-8. With 415 hp, this top dog sends its intentions reverberating through its mean-sounding exhaust. It's capable of 0-60 mph times of under 5.0 seconds, and it sounds like it. Tightened and screwed down even more, the SLK 55 still has a pervasive firmness to the ride, but its shocks have been tuned to demand less from the driver and more from the car--a much better balance for top-down cruising. In this version, you'll get a crisper transmission--the seven-speed Speedshift clutched automatic--and it's a willing partner especially in manual modes, with its large shift paddles and quick response. It's less graceful, but brilliant in its own right.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Comfort & Quality

There's enough soft-side luggage space, and swell fit and finish, but the SLK's seating space is still a little snug.

The Mercedes-Benz SLK has styling that tends to make it look longer than it is; the SLK rides on a wheelbase of 95.7 inches, and measures just 162.8 inches in all, which makes it a very short car. And what this means is that cabin space is quite tight, and it's hard to disguise some of the inherent ride qualities of such a short vehicle.

Most passengers will fit fine, but our taller editors—basically, all of them—think the SLK could use an inch or two more leg room, and more seat travel. The sport seats themselves fit perfectly snugly, but you'll sit close to the dash. We've also noticed the passenger footwell doesn't have as much space, which can make very long drives a little tiring. Very tall passengers will have some geometry to figure out.

However, relative to some other small roadsters (like the Miata), interior space is excellent. There's not much space to spare, nor is there much room in the trunk with the folding top down—and you can't put it down without first aligning the trunk dividing partition properly—but there's enough space for a weekend retreat for two. A backpack-sized space lies under the flat floor; lift out a formed plastic bin and hide valuables, or flip it on its other side for a shallow well that adds a cubic foot or a little more to the equation. In all, there are 10.1 cubic feet of stowage with the roof up, but only a scant 6.4 cubes when it's out of sight.

A flexible cargo lid inside the trunk has to be latched in place over some of the cargo hold before the top can be moved; it's a good safeguard, but it's possible that potholes and bumps will dislodge it. Otherwise, raising or lowering the top is just a button press away--though you do have to be at a full stop for it to operate, or at least we did. Once the top is up, the SLK is much more coupe-like; that is to say, quieter, more closed-in feeling.

The SLK's cabin is tight and never drafty with the windows up and the climate control set; but with the top down, it can get a little turbulent—made a bit better with the mesh divider between the seats.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Safety

Mercedes-Benz's strong safety heritage has the 2013 SLK's back.

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class doesn't have any U.S. crash-test ratings to stand behind it, but Mercedes' reputation for top-notch safety sure does—that, and perhaps the Attention Assist system, reminding you that it's time to make another coffee stop.

In addition to that, the 2013 SLK boasts dual front, side and head airbags with a driver knee airbag; anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control; mbrace telematics; active head restraints.

As long you keep the top down, there's no need for a rearview camera system; but the rest of the time, it's one sore omission.

And as with most luxury convertibles, the SLK's relative rarity on the market may keep it from ever being tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Features

The innovative features in the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK are all about coddling, even with the top down; it tints your roof glass for you, and blows warm air on your neck.

One of the key differences between the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class and other roadster and convertible models, including other high-end small German roadsters, is that it coddles and nurtures—even with the top down. With luxurious finishes and with features that surpass any other convertible, the SLK holds true to its from-a-distance tease of being a mini-SL. 

Whether you go with the base SLK 250 or the SLK 350, all SLKs come with power windows, locks and mirrors; climate control; an eight-speaker AM/FM/CD player with HD radio, a USB port and Bluetooth audio streaming; and leather seats.

Across the model line, you also get Mercedes' hardtop convertible roof, which was designed in-house and remains one of the best of any on the market. It opens via a pull lever in an egg-shaped enclosure. Pull the tab and the compact hardtop tucks away in 20 seconds. A mesh air blocker does what it can to cut buffeting, but the SLK's short body means that you get a bit more turbulence than in longer convertibles.

For 2013, what used to be part of the Premium Package—power seats, satellite radio, a media interface, and a Harman/Kardon surround-sound system—is also now standard on the SLK 350.

Separately, a Trim package wraps the shifter and steering wheel in walnut; a Lighting package adds active bi-xenon headlights and cornering lights. The Heating package adds the wonderful AIRSCARF jet of air for your neck (more below), and heated seats; the Sport package gets its own AMG-style 18-inch wheels and distinct body add-ons, as well as ambient interior lighting. A Multimedia package tops it off with COMAND controller and hard-drive navigation with real-time traffic; a six-DVD changer, a 10GB hard drive and an SD card slot for audio. About the only thing missing from these systems is a top-notch voice-control system.

Other standalone options include push-button start, parking sensors, automatic dual-zone climate control, and a panoramic glass roof. One other option we strongly recommend is the Magic Sky Control roof, which photochromically tints its glass panel from nearly opaque to fully transparent, spanning almost the entirety of the main roof panel. It's a tech-fancy feature that's been talked about for a couple of decades, and it's not only here but works as well as you could imagine; switch it to clear and the cabin brightens back up.

Airscarf remains the other truly innovative feature in the SLK—and while it's been offered now for many years there are few alternatives in rival models that do quite the same thing; simply put, warm air is blown gently around your neck, letting you drive top-down in colder weather than you otherwise might.

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2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Fuel Economy

Gas mileage is good for a sports car; get the SLK 250 and it's better on gas than some mid-size sedans.

Late last year Mercedes-Benz introduced a turbocharged four-cylinder version of the SLK--the SLK 250--and it's the model to get if you like the SLK's style, luxury, and features but want good gas mileage. EPA ratings for this model range up to 23 mpg city, 33 highway, with the seven-speed automatic transmission.

Otherwise, the mid-level SLK 350 delivers good fuel economy, considering the performance that it delivers. The SLK 350 earns an EPA-rated 20/29 mpg, thanks to its small size and its standard seven-speed automatic. These models for 2013 now get start/stop technology that automatically stops the engine at stoplights, in some conditions, and restarts it when you lift back off the brake.

The SLK55, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether; but with EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 28 highway, it's better than you might think--thanks in part to cylinder-deactivation technology that shuts off fuel to four of the eight cylinders under light running loads.

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December 8, 2016
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class 2-Door Roadster SLK 250

I didn't know I was such a important person until I bought my sik ;)

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Just a joy to drive. Took a five day trip to Arizona with enough room for our luggage. My wife and I drove up to 14 hours a day neither of us any worst for the wear. I'm 6 ft. It's funny how strangers come up... + More »
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