2002 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
High performance comes to the SLK-Class.
Right out of the box, the Mercedes-Benz SLK won North American Car of the Year honors. That was in 1997, and the little German roadster has gotten better and better ever since.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK underwent a major makeover for the 2001 model year with redesigned exterior, interior and with the addition of an optional V6 engine. For 2002, Mercedes-Benz has launched the SLK32 AMG, a hot-rodded version that offers 349 horsepower.
Yet the SLK maintains its reasonable price structure. This four-season sports car was introduced in 1997 with a base price of $39,700. Five years later, the base price for the 2002 model is only $39,400.
All SLK models are two-seat roadsters with an amazing full power folding steel weatherproof top.
For 2002 the SLK is available in three versions:
The SLK230 Kompressor, powered by a 192-horsepower supercharged four-cylinder engine, is priced at $39,400. Standard equipment includes state-of-the-art safety equipment as electronic stability control and side-impact airbags. Heated mirrors and a Bose sound system come standard, along with high-performance tires and front and rear fog lights.
SLK320, with a 215-horsepower normally aspirated V6, is $44,800. It adds the V6 engine, wood trim for the interior, power seats and a telescoping steering wheel.
New for 2002 is the SLK32 AMG for $54,900. In addition to its hot-rodded, supercharged V6 engine and AMG SpeedShift automatic transmission programming, the SLK32 AMG gets a special aerodynamic body kit, heated seats, monoblock alloy wheels and Z-rated high-performance tires.
New for 2002 is a redesigned Sport option package ($4,200) for the SLK230 and SLK320 that includes side sills, a front air dam, rear fascia, projector-beam fog lights and AMG alloy wheels.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK has an aggressive front spoiler and grille design and a smoothed profile that makes the car look lowered to the ground. At the same time, a heftier-looking rear bumper and taillamp combination give the car a more substantial stance. Handles, moldings and mirrors are all painted the same color as the body for a more unified look. Large turn signal repeater lamps built into the rear view mirror housings let other drivers know of your intentions.
Under this sexy skin is a frame that was thickened and reinforced for the 2001 model year to provide even higher levels of offset frontal crash protection.
For those who want to drive a car like no other, Mercedes-Benz offers its special Designo ($4,464-$4,743) customizing options that involve special paint and leather colors.
The SLK's interior features machined aluminum trim for the SLK230 and a beefy steering wheel, although wood trim, in either brown eucalyptus or black bird's-eye maple, is available.
The wood trim is standard on the SLK320, along with its own special leather-and-wood steering wheel design. Power seats and the telescoping steering wheel are standard equipment on the SLK320, along with special aluminum step plates on the doorsills emblazoned with V6 emblems.
A year ago, Mercedes redesigned the seats to offer more comfort to more customers. They provide more lateral support to keep you in place is fast cornering. The SLK320 comes standard with electric adjusters that provide a greater range of adjustment than manual ones. From our vantage in the 95th percentile, we found the seats much more comfortable than the old ones.
The seats have electronic systems that can tell when there is a passenger present, and can tell when a child seat has been installed, automatically disabling the right-side air bag system.
Taller and larger drivers may find the SLK cockpit on the small side with the power top in place. But 25 seconds after you pull back on the red button, the top is completely stowed away under its steel cover in the trunk and the car is transformed into an aggressive roadster.
On the other hand, you may have to rearrange your luggage when the top is stowed away in the trunk. The SLK leaves just 5.1 cubic feet of luggage space when the top is stowed. Even when the top is up, there's just 12.3 cubic feet of cargo space. That's small by sedan standards but comparable to the trunk space found in the BMW Z3 and Honda S2000.
The first thing you notice about the SLK320 is the wonderful sound when the engine starts. Mercedes designed the exhaust system to give the V6 version a distinctive, throaty exhaust note that adds measurably to the fun of driving the car without being too loud.
The 6-speed manual transmission is far, far superior in shifting ease and feel to the old 5-speed manual, with the added bonus of one more gear for much quieter, smoother and easier highway cruising. The transmission is almost perfectly suited to the power and torque characteristics of the engine, and we would recommend it over the automatic for sheer driving fun. The automatic is no slouch in this department, however; the automatic's TouchShift manual shifting mode is very quick and precise.
The SLK320 is terrific fun to drive, in part because it is short and relatively light. The 3.2-liter V6 delivers a lot of power, while the six-speed gearbox guarantees you're in the power band.
The supercharged 4-cylinder engine in the SLK230 runs out of steam pretty early, but the SLK320's V6 just keeps going, and sounds less labored doing it.
In either case, you get anti-lock brakes with Mercedes' Electronic Brake Assist, traction control, and Electronic Stability Program, all of which will keep a driver out of trouble in wet, snowy or muddy conditions or when cornering at very high speeds on dry pavement. (Experienced drivers can switch ESP off for autocross and racetrack events, but all other systems are constant.) Front and rear stabilizer bars keep the car from lolling around in corners.
Front and side air bags are standard in all models. Also standard is TeleAid, an emergency communications system that puts you in touch with a help center via cellular telephone and pinpoints your location via the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system.
With three models, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is competitive in both price and performance with such competitors as the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z3, Audi TT and Honda S2000. It also provides the security and four-season benefit of having a power steel top.
SLK230 ($39,400); SLK320 ($44,800); SLK32 AMG ($54,900).
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