2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Senior Editor
June 23, 2016

Buying tip

If you like the idea of a manual gearbox in the SLK, look for a remaining 2015 model; they were rare as it was, but it's been dropped completely for 2016.

features & specs

2-Door Roadster AMG SLK 55
2-Door Roadster SLK 300
2-Door Roadster SLK 350
MPG
19 city / 28 hwy
MPG
25 city / 32 hwy
MPG
21 city / 29 hwy
MSRP
$72,600
MSRP
$47,000
MSRP
$59,200

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is more of a weekend-getaway machine than a canyon-carver; but with mini-SL style and some unrivaled tech features, if offers up roadster thrills with fewer sacrifices in comfort.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK is a roadster, just like its chief rivals like the Porsche 718 Boxster and BMW Z4, yet it has a different set of priorities—on everyday drivability and a series of comfort-enhancing technologies over all-out lap times.

Although it's kept essentially the same silhouette over a couple of decades, the SLK has evolved to become a more graceful sports car. It looks the part, too—although between the taller front end, which transitions oddly to the soft, conservative rear two-thirds of the car, and the boxier, more upright interior, the SLK is now definitely showing its age. Although there's still a lot to appreciate in the SLK when seeing it in profile; this third-generation SLK hits a nice sweet spot, as a nice balance between the blocky first-gen SLK and the overstyled second-generation car.

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 acts as a coupe when the top's up.

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The downsides in packaging mostly relate back to the SLK's concept, as a take on a long-hood, rear-wheel-drive roadster, built on the overall dimensions of a subcompact. As such, the interior's snug for tall drivers and for luggage. Outward visibility can also be difficult with the top raised, and there's no rearview camera system on offer.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is headed for a name change next year, to SLC, but the automaker couldn't wait until then to give this roadster one important change: a new base powertrain. This year the SLK gives up its former 1.8-liter turbo-4 and instead gets a version of the new 2.0-liter that's used elsewhere in the lineup. Here it makes 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque—in a model that's now badged the SLK300—and can blast up to 60 mph in under six seconds.

The two other powertrains in the lineup haven't changed for 2016—there's a 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 in the SLK350, and the 415-hp, V-8-powered SLK55 AMG for those who want scorching performance in a pert package. While it's been some time since we covered many miles in an SLK, we find these models to be sharper than the previous-generation model yet a little more comfort-focused than some rival roadsters. The SLK350 gets a 7-speed automatic, while the SLK55 has a special, far-sharper-shifting AMG Speedshift transmission.

The SLK's tight, brilliantly conceived retractable hardtop arrangement is still a high point of the design. With the top up, the cabin is tight and never drafty; yet with the top down, it can get a little turbulent—made a bit better with the mesh divider deployed between the seats. Special windstops even close off the opening in the roll hoops behind each seat to help prevent drafts.

Airscarf is another truly innovative feature in the SLK. With it, warm air is blown gently around your neck, letting you drive top-down in colder weather than you otherwise might. While it's been offered now for many years, there are few alternatives in rival models that do quite the same thing. And to get you the most enjoyment, year-round, the SLK can be fitted with a photochromic glass roof that tints itself on bright sunny days.

The SLK models include all the features expected in a luxury vehicle, like HD radio, Bluetooth, navigation, and real-time traffic—including a version of the automaker's COMAND infotainment interface.

The SLK300 earns EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined versus last year's 23/33/26 mpg rating with the SLK250. The 3.5-liter V-6-equipped SLK 350 manages 21/29/24 mpg, according to the EPA.

8

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Styling

The Mercedes-Benz SLK splits luxury and performance missions, and it manages to look both parts.

The Mercedes-Benz SLK has in the past been more of a softly designed touring convertible; yet in its present generation it's taken a step closer to a bolder, more assertive statement that realizes its roadster potential.

While it's not quite a racy roadster in all its variants, the 2016 SLK has become a more masculine design—in part, by becoming a bit more like the larger SL in design.

One of the most noticeable design cues of the SLK, compared to previous versions especially, is its more massive front end. Alongside the contemporary M-B models, it's fitting in better now, we're still not big fans of the way the blunt-and-square front end transitions into soft, gently tapering rear quarters—it looks a little too much like two styling eras from the automaker grafted together. The bubble-like roof tapers off into teardrop taillights that create the most cohesive view. When the roof is tucked in, the view from behind makes the SLK especially distinctive, with the seatbacks echoed in its metallic twin peaks.

It's very hard to draw an elegant coupe or roadster in such a short wheelbase—or considering the European pedestrian-safety laws that now require taller front ends—but Mercedes-Benz has done an impressive job here. 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 shared with the SL-Class lineup. As a whole, this third-generation SLK hits a nice sweet spot; it's a vast improvement, a nice balance between the blocky first-gen SLK and the overstyled second-generation car.

The high-performance SLK 55 makes the most of the SLK's boisterous side. And for 2016, a new AMG Carbon Styling Package gives it more of a dark, technical look to match more expensive performance models up the ladder, like the AMG GT. You can also get AMG bodywork as an option on the SLK300.

Inside is where the SLK is looking its most dated next to the rest of the current lineup. You won't find any of the overt swoopiness and freestanding screens of most of the brand's other recently updated models; instead it's a more squared-off, upright look, with various buttons and switches, plus an LCD screen for audio displays. Meaty metallic ribs flare from the flat-bottomed steering wheel, and metallic tubes house clean analog gauges. Versions with the screen-based COMAND system get a knob controller that rests just under the driver's right wrist.

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9

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Performance

A stronger base engine assures quick, confident performance now in all the SLK's forms.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is headed for a name change next year to SLC, but the automaker couldn't wait until then to give this roadster one important change: a new base powertrain.

This year the SLK gives up its former 1.8-liter turbo-4 and instead gets a version of the new 2.0-liter that's used elsewhere in the lineup. Here it makes 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque—in a model that's now badged the SLK300—and can blast up to 60 mph in under 6 seconds. Fuel-efficiency has also improved with this new engine, to EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined.

There's a catch. The new engine includes a new 9-speed automatic transmission, which replaces the former 7-speed; but the former manual gearbox, which had been the only manual still offered in M-B's U.S. lineup, is gone.

The two other powertrains in the lineup haven't changed for 2016. We haven't driven the new SLK300, but we anticipate that there will be much less of a difference between it and the engine that we used to give our solid recommendation to: the 302-hp 3.5-liter V-6. This V-6, which is only available with the 7-speed automatic, cuts the 0-60 mph time by just 0.4 seconds—although we should add that this model has neither the emotional appeal from the driver's seat, not communication to the steering wheel, of rivals like the Porsche Boxster or BMW Z3. You'll leave the SLK350 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, perfect for highway slogs.

The SLK55 AMG remains the model for those who appreciate brute-force performance. It's less graceful, but brilliant in its own right. The SLK55 is stuffed to the gills with a big 5.5-liter V-8, making 415 hp and sending its intentions reverberating through a mean-sounding exhaust. Acceleration times to 60 drop to just 4.5 seconds, and this model sounds like it, with a crackling, snarling exhaust note. The SLK55 AMG still has a pervasive firmness to its ride, which is definitely firmed up, but its shocks have been tuned to demand less from the driver and more from the car. This version has a 7-speed automatic, but it's the specially tuned AMG Speedshift unit—really a willing partner in its manual mode, with large shift paddles and quick response.

Again, while we haven't yet driven the SLK300, we've otherwise pointed to the V-6 SLK350 model as the best performance package in the lineup. Mercedes-Benz has made SLK's multi-link suspension to its limits with a sharper feel than in the prior version. It can be outfitted 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. This system leaves nearly an inch or so of play on center for a relaxed attitude on the highway, yet works in the aggression and a much quicker ratio as you go a quarter-turn in either way.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Comfort & Quality

The 2016 SLK offers plenty of long-legged ride comfort, although the trunk is the limiting factor for weekends.

Small roadsters do tend to be rather tight inside; and provided you enter with those expectations, you'll probably find about what you were expecting in the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK lineup.

With a wheelbase less than 96 inches and a total length of 163 inches, it's a very short vehicle—definitely subcompact-sized in its overall footprint, and with the elongated roadster hood, even smaller in terms of actual cabin space. If you're new to this kind of car, you'll find remarkably little space for passengers and cargo.

But it's all relative; if you're comparing the SLK to a model like the Mazda MX-5 Miata, the interior will feel generous. 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 footwell space is there, but the seats are positioned a bit close to the dash. We very rarely say this about a German car: Those with long legs will have some geometry to figure out.

There's not much 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.

The SLK's tight, brilliantly conceived retractable hardtop arrangement is still a high point of the design. With the top up, the cabin is tight and never drafty; yet with the top down, it can get a little turbulent—made a bit better with the mesh divider deployed between the seats. Special windstops even close off the opening in the roll hoops behind each seat to help prevent drafts.

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, it's quieter, with a more closed-in feeling.

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, or you'll forget to put it in place, so you might have to get out and fiddle with the trunk before going roof-free.

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2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Safety

A generous set of safety technology helps provide some assurance in the absence of crash-test ratings.

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a tiny roadster, and from such a low vantage point, outward visibility can be a little challenging sometimes.

That's really the downside of this model, from a safety and security standpoint. Although the SLK hasn't been tested by either of the major U.S. safety agencies (because of its low sales volume), Mercedes-Benz has a long history of over-engineering its cars and not skimping on safety. Furthermore, the SLK includes a long list of safety technologies that offer solid occupant protection and should help with accident prevention.

The standard-feature list is impressive with dual front, side and head airbags with a driver knee airbag; anti-lock brakes; traction and stability control; and active head restraints. All models also include the Attention Assist system, which monitors driver inputs and will recommend a break when it senses you're becoming drowsy. And a suite of telematics helps with roadside emergencies, mobile app utilities, and remote vehicle access.

As long you keep the top down, there's no need for a rearview camera, but the rest of the time it would be a useful addition. Mercedes does offer a system of front and rear parking sensors that also enables automated parallel-parking maneuvers, with the driver only required to operate the gas and brake pedals.

For 2016, Mercedes-Benz has made blind-spot monitors, which used to be only offered as part of the Driver Assistance Package, as a stand-alone option as well. With the full package, you get forward collision warnings, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, and the blind-spot functionality, alerting the driver by rumbling the steering wheel.

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9

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Features

The feature list offers items that sound like day-spa splurges: Airscarf to gently warm your neck, and Magic Sky Control for skin protection.

Compared to nearly every other small roadster you might be considering, the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK feels like more of a luxury vehicle inside.

Simply put, the SLK coddles in a way that its competitors don't—especially when its top is down. With premium finishes and premium features, plus some noteworthy tech and active-safety features, it's a baby SL in many respects.

Mercedes-Benz SLK300 models get new badging to match their upgrades under the hood (to a new, more powerful turbo-4 and 9-speed automatic transmission), although little else has changed on the feature list versus the previous SLK250. Across this very well-equipped model line, all SLKs come with power windows, locks and mirrors; climate control; and leather seats. The standard sound system has eight speakers, a CD player, HD radio, a USB port. and Bluetooth audio streaming.

The V-6 SLK350 steps up to power seats, satellite radio, and a Harman Kardon surround-sound system. Meanwhile, the SLK55 AMG adds Solar Red ambient interior lighting, an IWC clock, Nappa leather upholstery—as well as the big AMG V-8 plus a long list of performance upgrades.

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.

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.

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 Airscarf 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. About the only thing missing from the infotainment systems is a top-notch voice-control system.

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

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2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK Class

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK remains one of the more fuel-efficient convertible picks with its base engine.

The former turbocharged 4-cylinder version of the SLK was the pick for those wanting the best fuel-efficiency; and the new 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK300, with its updated 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 and 9-speed automatic transmission, does even better—despite being significantly quicker than that outgoing model.

The SLK300 earns EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 28 combined versus last year's 23/33/26 mpg rating with the SLK250. The 3.5-liter V-6-equipped SLK350 manages 21/29/24 mpg, according to the EPA.

All SLK models get start-stop technology that automatically stops the engine at stoplights, in some conditions, and restarts it as you lift back off the brake pedal.

The SLK55 AMG, on the other hand, is a different beast altogether. With EPA ratings this year of 19/28/22 mpg, the SLK55 AMG is 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.

You might think of the V-6 SLK350 as a good compromise—delivering good fuel economy, as well as modestly better performance all around. Although we suspect that with a narrower performance benefit than before, a lot more people will be choosing the SLK300 over the SLK350.

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8.2
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 9
Comfort & Quality 7
Safety 8
Features 9
Fuel Economy 6
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