Moving into its second generation for the 2005 model year, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class roadster retained its retractable hardtop but adopted a different front end with a large three-pointed star in the center and small grilles on each side. Inspired by Formula One racecars, the 2005 SLK-Class was meant to resemble the automaker's SLR McLaren supercar.
The SLK350 holds a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that drives a six-speed manual gearbox or an optional seven-speed automatic transmission with Touch Shift operation. This engine benefits from variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust valves.
A SLK280 version with a 228-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 and either the six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic debuted in the 2006 model year. Mercedes-Benz also offers an SLK55 AMG edition with V-8 power that turns out 355 hp.
The roadster features an arrow-shaped nose and a long hood. The SLK-Class has a steeply sloped windshield and taut body lines, and its retractable hardtop goes up or down in 22 seconds.
A lowered sport suspension is available. Ten-spoke alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires, and the perforated and ventilated 13-inch front disc brakes have four-piston calipers.
There's also an AMG appearance package that adds five-spoke 17-inch wheels, side skirts, a front air dam with wire mesh inserts, a trunk lid spoiler and a lowered suspension. It's available on either the SLK280 or SLK350.
The roadster's interior features silver-colored switches and trim elements. The sculpted dashboard blends into the door panels on each side. Large chronometer-style gauges dominate the two-passenger cockpit. Trunk space is 6.5 cubic feet with the top down and 9.8 cubic feet with the top up.
For cool-weather driving with the top down, an optional Airscarf neck-level heating system blows warm air from the headrests.
Under the Hood
In the initial SLK350 model, a 3.5-liter V-6 with variable timing for both intake and exhaust valves develops 268 hp and 258 pounds-feet of torque. The SLK280 roadster contains a 228-hp, 3.0-liter twin-cam V-6. Either the six-speed manual gearbox or the seven-speed automatic with Touch Shift operation can be installed. A 355-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 powers the SLK55 AMG, which comes with the seven-speed automatic.
Side-impact airbags, all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system are standard. A BabySmart child-recognition system prevents the front passenger-side airbag from activating.
Acceleration is energetic and refined with the 3.5-liter engine, which seems a more civilized choice than the old supercharged four-cylinder. Automatic-transmission operation can be rude. It can get jerky at low speeds in lower gears and delivers a sizable jolt if you hit the gas pedal while slowing down.
Steering and handling are strong points, inspiring confidence and poised behavior. Better yet, the SLK's ride is easily tolerable for a sports car of this caliber. Sure you feel the bumps, but most are dispensed with rather handily.
The seats are adeptly supportive and snugly bolstered, yet surprisingly comfortable. Space is ample inside, and top-up visibility isn't bad. When parking, however, the driver may have no clue where the pointy front end is located. Wide doors make parking-lot spots a problem.