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By Rick Popely
May 2, 2000
Vehicle Overview Mercedes gives its rear-drive SLK roadster a new V-6 engine and gets an early start on the 2001 model year with the addition of the SLK320 model. The new V-6 version joins the SLK230, powered by a supercharged four-cylinder engine.
The SLK230 arrived as a 1998 model and the first modern car with a retractable hardtop roof. With base prices of $38,900 for the SLK230 and $43,900 for the new SLK320, these roadsters are around half the price of Mercedes luxury roadster, the SL, which starts at $82,600.
Exterior The 2001 models get several visual changes, including new front and rear aprons, sculpted rocker panels and body-color door handles. The V-6 SLK320 also has unique five-spoke wheels and a larger front air dam.
Operation of the retractable steel hardtop is unchanged. Pushing a button on the console raises or lowers the articulating top in less than 25 seconds. It stores in the dual-hinged trunk, which opens at the front to accept the roof and at the rear to accept cargo.
Interior Leather bucket seats are standard on both versions of the SLK, and metallic trim replaces carbon fiber dashboard trim on the four-cylinder model. The V-6 model also gets power seats, a telescoping steering column, wood interior accents and a leather/wood steering wheel as standard equipment.
Under the Hood The new 3.2-liter V-6 engine produces 215 horsepower, 25 hp more than the supercharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder. With either engine, the standard transmission is a six-speed manual, and the optional transmission is a five-speed automatic with Touch Shift, which allows changing gears manually by tipping the gear lever left or right.
Electronic Stability Program (a skid-control system), traction control, antilock brakes and side-impact airbags are standard on both models.
Performance The SLK230 is reasonably quick, but the engine is loud and coarse under full throttle not what you expect on a $40,000 car from a luxury maker such as Mercedes. The new V-6 delivers a stronger punch and is quieter, more refined and more worthy of the brand.