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Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 Roadtest - Lazy in red

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It’s been a fun monsoon. Motorcycles have been plentiful and as a pleasant side dish, I’ve had a defiantly bright, cheerful car for each of the last three months. Long story short, traction control systems have been duly tortured as tyres contend with rain-soaked roads, and for a change, I’ve been completely dry while facilitating said torture. But what happens when they hand me a convertible, the new SLK, no less?

 Now, the SLK happens to be one of the most popular roadsters in the world and is a bit of a trendsetter. For those of you who’ve perhaps forgotten and those who weren’t born then, the SLK invented the party trick vario-roof (methinks it also added the phrase ‘party trick’ to motoring hacks’ vocabularies worldwide), and the sight of it opening and neatly tucking itself away into the boot sent Mercedes-Benz’s competitors scurrying to hammer together their own folding roofs. And after M-B created the folding roof, they set about making more trick stuff around it – the SLK now comes with something called a panoramic roof with Magic Sky Control (sounds like the Japanese came up with that name, eh?) that enables you to turn the roof from transparent to opaque.  

Looks-wise, except for the first one (unless I’m missing something here), the SLK has always imitated its biggest sibling at that time. The earlier one looked like the SLR McLaren and the new one is a scaled-down SLS AMG. However, it remains faithful to the SLK silhouette – the long bonnet, two doors and stubby tail end formula never looked this good.

 

The windshield is raked at an insane angle and I really like that detail. However, from the rear, the SLK does look a bit... big-bodied – it looks a bit bulky and less sporty than the front. I suppose packaging a folding roof into the back does come with its tiny pitfalls. I say tiny, because the SLK never looks unattractive no matter where you look at it from. However, I do expect red roadsters to come with more fetching wheels than the ones on our test car – they look a bit anonymous. A set of 19-inchers would be perfect, really. So how do I like the SLK, in coupe or roadster guise? Well, how about in-between? I mean, it’s quite a show and the closest you can come to a real-life Transformer!

All said and done, looking at the SLK is enough to make you want to get in, and at least for me, it was a comfortable enough process. However, if you’re built like Rohin, the low seats and the low roof might mean aiming your backside at the seat and letting gravity take over, all the while praying that you don’t hit anything. Once inside, you’re greeted with a pretty simple but elegant layout. The meters again bear resemblance to the mighty SLS’s clocks, while the ‘crosshair’ aircon vents are just too cool. I don’t think I’ve ever stared at vents for this long. 

Speak of the unfairness of getting a convertible in the rain, I must admit that most of the time, I had the top up. It was either that or finding myself sitting in a bright red bathtub on four wheels with my clothes on. However, the precious moments of respite when the sun peeked through the clouds, I went for the magic button sooner than Rohin could say ‘drop top’. And it is a wonderful feeling, I must say, driving around in a topless car. You can hear the pleasantly throaty V6, feel the wind mess up your hair and actually feel the silly speeds you’re doing. The best part is, when the rain comes back to join you in the cabin, all it takes is 20 seconds for the top to show the rain the door... er, roof. Brilliant. Pity, that we didn’t get the car on a sunnier day, though. The engine, however, couldn’t be less bothered about the rain. 

 

The 3498cc, 306 bhp V6 displays a sparkling character that is bound to liven up any dull day. It sounds great as well, especially with that trick-top down, and can cure severe depression with just one 0-100 kph run, which it did in about 6.4 seconds. Now, this time was some way off the Mercedes’s claimed 5.6 seconds, but our test stretch has turned into a mixture of gravel and muddy water, so launching the car was a far-from-perfect proposition. Nonetheless, the SLK sings beautifully when you throttle it and will go on to a limited top speed of 250 kph.

The seven-speed gearbox is nicely set up, though in ‘sane’ mode, it does feel a little sluggish. Put it into ‘Sport’, thwack the flappy paddles behind the shapely steering wheel, and it becomes a mini-SLS, all right. It is perfectly composed at any speed, and it attacks corners with lazy confidence of a professional boxer going up against a 15 year-old. Ride quality is great, even compared to some sedans, and that’s a welcome surprise. Only the most suddenly jarring surfaces get across to you, while everything else is kept at bay.

I’ve never really experienced the famed ‘scuttle shake’ that convertibles are infamous for, and I probably never will – these days, manufacturers have figured most things out and the SLK is a case in point – it feels taut and firm, no matter what’s under it. It’s a surprise, then, that the SLK’s steering feels so numb at normal speeds. Of course, it firms up beautifully when you’re deep into a corner with the tyres flirting with the edge of traction, but that too feels a bit... unnatural. Nanny systems at work again, I suppose. 

 

A mention here of the wipers, though – German cars universally seem to come with wipers that are useless above 80 kph in Indian rains. One wonders if the claimed tropical testing is simply a stationary car under a tap. Anyway, one characteristic of the SLK that really took us all by surprise was its ground clearance. The undercarriage refused to acknowledge our terrible roads’ advances and stayed firmly aloof, even at places where our long-term Passat would’ve found it impossible to do so. Fantastic, I say, and it adds to the overall practicality of the car.

The SLK isn’t a hairy-chested, tattooed, beer-drinking, football-playing German brute. Think exotic tan, swept-back hair, wine and a lazy swagger, and you’re getting warm. It’s a classy, almost laidback convertible that has an arsenal of party tricks up its sleeves, and if you’re lucky, might even get mistaken for an SLS AMG. It’s as general purpose and practical as convertibles can get, and that’s something to chew on if you’re considering say, the more hardcore Boxster or Z4. As I watch the rain turn the windshield into a real-life watercolour painting, even as the wipers try their damnedest to shove the water away, I realise there couldn’t be a better car to end the monsoon with. Who said convertibles and rain don’t go together?

 

 

POWERTRAIN
Displacement: 3498cc, V6
Max power: 306 bhp@6500 rpm
Max torque: 37.73 kgm@3500 rpm
Specific output: 84.47 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 198.7 bhp/tonne
Torque to weight: 24.5 kgm/tonne
Transmission: 7-speed auto

STEERING
Type: Rack and pinion with power assist
Turning radius: 5.26 m

SUSPENSION
Front: Multi-link
Rear: Multi-link independent suspension

BRAKES
Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Solid discs
ABS: Standard with EBD

TYRES
(F/R): 225/45 R17 / 245/40 R17

DIMENSIONS
L/W/H(mm): 4134/2006/1301
Wheelbase: 2430 mm
Boot volume: 335 litres (with roof closed)
Tank capacity: 60 litres
Kerb weight: 1540 kg

ACCELERATION
0-60 kph: 3.05 secs
0-100 kph: 6.42 secs
80-120 kph: 4.4 secs
100-140 kph: 5.5 secs
Top speed: 250 kph (limited)

MILEAGE
Overall: 9 kpl

PRICE: Rs 61.9 LAKH
Ex-showroom, New Delhi