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.