2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
April 8, 2014

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK is the most conservative choice amongst its competitors, but the mini-SL makes for a charming, compelling choice.

The 2014 Mercedes SLK is the least polarizing of the German roadsters on today's market. That's not to say that it isn't exciting or fun–it's also something you can comfortably drive every day.

It has evolved over the years, and it's become a more focused, more graceful sportscar with just enough urgency to feel like a worthy competitor for other, more performance-centric options.

We won't knock our love for the Porsche Boxster, or fail to mention that the BMW Z4 is now one of the best touring roadsters available. But the Mercedes SLK has its own performance qualities, leaving it in an arms race with the other German models.

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The 2014 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.

The 2014 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.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Styling

The SLK looks athletic and graceful, even on a short wheelbase,

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK has grown into its clothes as an assertive, almost masculine sports car. That's a big deviation from the original SLK, which was intended for a female audience with its soft lines and all-season power-folding hardtop. Now, there's a lot more SL in the design, and this convertible is better for it.

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.

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.

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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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Performance

The SLK 350 has the performance you'll anticipate in a breezy roadster--dial it up to the SLK 55 AMG, or tone it down with the SLK 250.

The SLK is available with a variety of engines, ranging from an efficient turbocharged four-cylinder, to the popular V-6 models, and the range-topping AMG V-8.

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 AMG, 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 AMG 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.

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.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Comfort & Quality

Human space is on the snug side, and under its fold-down top, the SLK's trunk holds only soft-side bags.

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz  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.

The SLK may look a little longer than it actually is; with a wheelbase of 95.7 inches and a total length of 162.8 inches, it's a very short vehicle. That's most obvious with interior space, where there's less room than you might expect for your passengers and cargo.

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.

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.

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.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Safety

The SLK has Mercedes' safety reputation at its back, but not much in the way of crash-test data.

There aren't current crash test ratings available for the SLK, but a long list of safety technologies make it a solid choice for accident prevention.

The 2014 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. You can also equip it with the Attention Assist system, reminding you that it's time to make another coffee stop.

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.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Features

Airscarf warms your neck, and Magic Sky Control protects you from UV rays: does the SLK really want to be a nanny?

The 2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class coddles and nurtures in a way that its competitors simply don't, especially with the top down. Its premium finishes and extensive list of options are more than just a hint that the SLK is essentially a baby SL.

AIRSCARF remains a 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.

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.

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.

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.

For 2014, power seats, satellite radio, a media interface, and a Harman/Kardon surround-sound system are all standard on the SLK 350.

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.

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2014 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Fuel Economy

With the right drivetrain, the SLK sportscar can be as miserly on gas as some sedans.

If you're looking for style and luxury, but you also want fuel efficiency, the SLK 250 is your best bet. It's rated at 23 mpg in the city, 33 mpg highway with the seven-speed automatic.

The SLK 55 AMG, 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.

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 2014 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.

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8.4
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Expert Rating
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Styling 8
Performance 9
Comfort & Quality 8
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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