Months before the 2001 model year actually began, a V-6 engine became available in Mercedes-Benzs rear-drive two-seat roadster, which is fitted with a retractable steel hardtop. Several styling changes also can be seen on the SLK series, which remains available with a supercharged four-cylinder engine that gains 5 horsepower this year. A new six-speed-manual transmission has replaced the former five-speed unit. New door mirrors feature integrated turn-signal flashers. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights now join the options list, and the rear suspension has been modified. Even better for consumers, the SLKs price was cut significantly.
Introduced in 1998, the SLK230 was the first modern car to have a retractable metal roof, an idea that harks back to Fords of the late 1950s. Both the four-cylinder SLK230 and the V-6-equipped SLK320 now have a standard Electronic Stability Program (ESP) to control the risk of skidding, as well as Mercedes-Benzs Tele Aid emergency assistance system. The expanded functions of Tele Aid now include vehicle diagnostics, remote door unlocking and alarm monitoring. The SLK competes against the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster and costs about half as much as the Mercedes SL500 with V-8 power. As reported in Automotive News, Mercedes-Benz sold 12,930 SLK models during 2000.
Face lifting for 2001 includes new front and rear aprons, body-color door handles, sculpted rocker panels and revised two-color taillights. A new rear stabilizer bar has been installed, along with a bigger fuel tank. The new SLK320 has a unique front air dam, metal plate doorsills and five-spoke wheels. As Mercedes-Benzs smallest model in the United States, the SLK is just a little bigger than a Mazda Miata; the SLK sits on a wheelbase that measures 5 inches longer than the Miatas.
Push a button on the console, and the articulating metal roof raises or retracts automatically into the dual-hinged trunk space. The trunk opens at the front to accept the roof or at the rear to fit a small amount of luggage. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights are available for the first time as part of an option group that also includes headlight washers and heated seats.
Leather bucket seats for two have been redesigned for 2001. Standard equipment includes dual-zone air conditioning, an interior air filter, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows and locks, heated power mirrors and a Bose cassette stereo system. In addition to the V-6 engine and wood interior trim, the SLK320 has eight-way power seats and a telescoping steering wheel, both of which are available as options for the SLK230.
Under the Hood
The supercharged 2.3-liter dual overhead cam four-cylinder engine in the SLK230 is rated at 190 hp. Moving up to the SLK320 brings a 215-hp, 3.2-liter V-6. Both engines can team with either the standard six-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed-automatic unit that incorporates Touch Shift for manual gear changes simply by tipping the lever to the left or right.
Side-impact airbags, all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are standard. A BabySmart child-recognition system keeps the front passengers airbag from activating if a small child is seated in that position.