The all-new 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK is by far the sportiest, best-looking SLK ever, a long way from the stubby, underpowered roadster of 1997. Like the retractable hardtop of the larger SL model, the rear window of the SLK pivots to match the curvature of the top as it’s being lowered, providing more trunk room than ever. With the top up it’s a quiet, weather-tight coupe. Press a button and in just 20 seconds you’re ready for top-down motoring.
Specifically, the SLK’s long hood now seems even longer, thanks to an upright grille nearly identical to the one that leads the SLS down the road—a grille design similar to those found on many other vaunted Mercedes-Benz two-seaters of the last 50 years. You’ve already seen this face on the CLS, and Mercedes-Benz’s design chief, Gorden Wagener, has decreed that it will spread across the lineup.
Set as a 2012 model, the third-generation SLK retains its roots as a sporty compact roadster with its characteristic long nose that incorporates an aluminum hood and front fenders, and a retractable hardtop. The snub nose and center mounted three-pointed-star logo on the front pay homage to its much bigger and much pricier SLS AMG brother, but Mercedes swears the all-LED headlight design is a throwback to the classic convertible roadster, the 190 SL, which was first produced back in 1955. Besides the round projector elements in the headlight housings of the new SLK, we don’t really see the resemblance to the SL. But, despite the tenuous connection, the 2012 SLK with its muscular rear haunches, broad taillights and front fender vents is a progression of design. Not that the outgoing SLK looks bad, it’s just that the new one looks better…in my opinion, at least.
Other than the ultra-sporty design, the body carries a Mercedes-Benz innovation, an option called Magic Sky Control, which is a panoramic glass roof insert that can be lightened or darkened electronically. The new body is distinguished by its headrest assemblies, with polished alloy covers and ventilated centers for air flow.
The entire interior has been updated and upgraded with a great deal more brushed metal on the doors, instrument panel, air vents, center console, new instrument graphics, and a very sporty new steering wheel with five-way controller buttons and paddle shifters.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of folding yourself into an SLS AMG, the new SLK’s interior gives you a pretty good idea of what it looks like. The dashboard layout is virtually identical to that of the SLS, with a center-mounted screen set between crosshair-style air vents. As in the AMG car, the dash forms a simple, straight line spanning the cabin, breaking only for the twin-pod instrument cluster. Also evocative of the SLS are the flat-bottomed steering wheel and the arrangement of the center-stack controls on a rectilinear panel that sweeps down and rearward between the seats.
For the SLK’s first year, two models will be available: the SLK250 and SLK350. The former, smaller-engine SLK250 will come equipped with a direct-injected 4-cylinder making 201 bhp. Matched with a standard 6-speed manual transmission, the SLK250 will go from 0–60 mph in a claimed 6.5 seconds, and achieve a top speed of 155 mph and a combined fuel efficiency of 27 mpg. The SLK350 will carry a completely redesigned V-6 engine with direct injection, piezo injectors and multi-spark ignition. Cranking out 302 bhp, the SLK350 is said to go from 0–60 mph in 5.4 sec. with the same 155-mph top speed, achieving 23 mpg combined.