15 Sept 2012

Driven - Mercedes-Benz SLK 55 AMG Roadster

Matt Hubbard reviews the Mercedes SLK 55 AMG

The Mercedes SLK has an image problem.  It was something I was aware of before being given the keys. When I told my wife, friends and colleagues I would be driving the SLK they all said the same thing - girl's car.

And to be fair most SLKs I've seen on the road tend to be driven by the fairer sex.

Think about it (from a male perspective).  You are looking for a second car - a driver's car for a bit of fun at the weekend.  BMW Z4, Mazda MX5, Porsche Boxster.  But not the SLK.  And not for any reason other than everyone would say you've got a girl's car.

I don't see a problem with this but Mercedes should because this image effectively reduces their potential buyers pool by half.

The car I was given to drive was the SLK 55 AMG Roadster.  A small convertible with an enormous 5.5 litre V8 with 421bhp and that does 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds.  I took a photo and emailed it to my wife.  Her response:

'Girl's car.'

I could not understand it.  Look at the photos.  It is squat and muscular.  It is short, rear wheel drive and has a fire-breathing engine.  From the rear it even looks menacing - two pairs of twin exhausts poking out, an F1 style diffuser, muscly haunches.  From the side it looks purposeful - creases and bulges in all the right places, a subtle bodykit, big wheels.  From the front it looks angry with its flared nose, low lip and lights angled in such a way as they are saying - 'You looking at me?'

Without the image I would choose this car, on looks alone, over the competition.  It is, as they say, fit for purpose.

Inside is typical sporty Mercedes.  Not S Class luxury, more SLS lite.  Aluminium, steel, leathers, thick steering wheel and a lovely little clock at the top of the dashboard.

The absence of knobs and switches was refreshing.  Land Rover, and others, seem to have a policy of pebble-dashing the interior of their cars with knobs and a switches galore - often without explaining what they do.  The interior of the SLK is a delight.  Steering wheel, pedals, gearstick, heating and AC controls and Mercedes easy to work seat and mirror adjusters on the door.  Everything else is controlled by the knob, just beside the gearstick.

The engine is started with the electronic key and fires up with a lovely Germanic thrum. Not invasive but reminding you of it's presence.  This car doesn't advertise itself as much as the SLS.  It is a little more subtle than that.

The driving experience is wonderful.  You could cruise all day in it.  You could drive across continents in automatic.  The light steering, excellent seats, deep-set pedals, good visibility - all engender a warm glow.  This is driving for pleasure.  An hours commute would be something to look forward to rather than a chore.

And in an instant it will transform into a full-blooded sportscar.  Fast - like a punch in the back of the head.  Steering with feedback and virtually no understeer despite the V8 at the front.  Manual gears if desired.  A little oversteer if the electronics are left on, a lot if they are switched off.  As the speed picks up so the wind noise increases - much more so than the SLS, but never uncomfortable.

The SLK is a wonderful car for driving in.

The only fault I could find was that the metal roof will only fold up or down at a standstill.  When I picked the car up the roof was in place.  In traffic I pulled the aluminium lever to lower it.  Then the traffic moved and I edged forwards.  The roof stopped, halfway, and refused to move any more until I pulled over and completed the sequence.

The Mercedes SLK hasn't improved it's image in recent years.  But it is a great car.  Despite the assertion from my wife that it is a girl's car I would buy one.  If only I could find the £54,965 to do so.