We were in Suttgart, Germany, this past weekend as Mercedes-Benz took the wraps of its all-new 2012 SLK Roadster. While completely redesigned, there's no mistaking the two-seater for anything but a Mercedes-Benz – and that's exactly what the designers had in mind, says the automaker. Gone is the SLR McLaren-inspired front hood, replaced with an aluminum unit capped by a more traditional upright radiator grille. Reappearing after an absence are the side grilles on the front quarter panels, reminiscent of those on the Benz roadsters in the 1950s (and SLS AMG, more recently). Slightly longer and wider than its predecessor, it's an attractive package. Plus, it cheats the wind with a slippery drag coefficient of just 0.30 (the outgoing model had a 0.32 Cd).
The big news on the hard-paneled automatic drop-top ("Vario-roof") is the innovative and uber-cool "Magic Sky Control" center panel. Unlike opaque solid steel roofs or heavily tinted glass panels (both are offered on the new SLK), the German engineers have come up with a optional trick glass panel utilizing LCD-type technology that goes from mostly clear when voltage is applied, to mostly opaque when it loses its charge. (Getting technical, it drops measured sun "intensity" from about 1050 watts with an open sky to just 200 watts when closed in "clear" mode. Switch it to "opaque" mode, and the intensity drops to about 45 watts.) While it cuts UV, infrared and visible light significantly, the panel never goes completely opaque. The roof transition takes only a few seconds (it is quicker from dark to light), initiated by a quick tap of an overhead switch.
Initially, the sole engine choice for our shores will be a direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 (SLK350) rated at 302 horsepower. Later, a turbocharged and direct-injected 1.8-liter four-cylinder will debut (SLK250), making 201 horsepower. We'll likely have to wait a bit longer for the SLK55 AMG, but it promises to be an enthusiast's delight. We'll get a closer look at the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK next month at the Geneva Motor Show.