Mercedes-Benz penned the first SLK with a mission in mind. However you want to couch the language, it was a pure appeal to women drivers, with its minimally detailed body, its lightness and lack of aggression, and above all, its four-seasons folding hardtop.
The second time around the block, the SLK grew far more masculine, its dash studded with techy buttons and its nose dipped low. It changed the car's appeal, and that's the thread the third-generation SLK picks up as it refines the basic look and adapts it to new regulations.
It's difficult to draw elegant cars on such a short wheelbase. It's also 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. There's no denying the massive front end, though--it's tall, and the horizontal grille establishes a new brand identity, but looks blunt and square, where the rest of the car softly tapers to a conclusion. The roof blisters over the body's wedge in a bare little bubble, same as ever, and tapers off into teardrop taillamps that create the most cohesive view--the one from behind. It's best when the roof is tucked in and the metallic twin peaks of the seat backs stand up at attention.
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. The screen goes high-resolution in vehicles equipped with COMAND, the wheel-driven controller that rests just under the driver's right wrist. Meaty metallic ribs flare from the flat-bottomed steering wheel, which has its own set of buttons for secondary controls like voice, audio and navigation, and metallic tubes house clean analog gauges remixed with some LCD readouts for the usual trip and gear functions.