June 27, 2011

Mercedes SLK 350

Greetings from the land of horrible Internet!  We've been vacationing in the Rockie Mountains for the last couple of days and have been struggling to find an Internet connection to get this week's post up.  Thank you for your patience.  We have never cussed at more hybrids than we have in the last two days.  It's gonna be a long week. 

To the good stuff!

                This is a redesign of the 2011 model.  The front end that used to look like a McLaren SL has been changed out for the retro-styling of the SLS nose and grill.  We think this is a vast improvement over the old front end that was reminiscent of the male reproductive organ (hehe, yes, we’re twelve).  The interior also was on the receiving end of this redesign with improved materials and electronics.

The interior was on the scale of a great masterpiece.  The off-white and black interior made it feel like a scene from Casablanca.  The air vents were straight from the 60’s gull wings that still make us feel nostalgic and classy. 
The media center/navigation was extremely easy to use with the control knob located on the middle console.  We loved the warning from the manufacturer telling you not to operate the media center while driving because it’s distracting.  There are quite a lot of buttons with the media center and we don’t have a clue what most of them actually do.  This car came with the lane change sensor, which we tried to activate, but just couldn’t fake being asleep enough for it to go off, despite intentionally drifting into oncoming traffic (The salesman was not a fan of this…). 
                The seats were comfortable, even though there was back sweat.  Driving convertibles on warm days makes us sweat a lot, but what other kind of days demand convertible travel.  We always wonder why people buy convertibles and then don’t open them on gorgeous days.
                The instrument panel looks like it’s straight out of the SLS.  There are fewer buttons than the SLS, but we won’t ever complain about that.  The roof and the window controls are concealed in an armrest in the center.  We spent most of the ride with our elbow resting there and totally forgot about both switches.  There is only one switch for the windows, so your passenger will have to live with whatever you decide about the windows being up or down (Don’t you love how we assume the driver is in charge?). 

The redesigned front end of the SLK is a big deal.  This was a major road block for us liking the older models.  The new nose is gorgeous, like Catherine Zeta-Jones in her prime.  Again similar to the Camaro & Mini redesign, auto makers are bringing back old designs and updating them.  The SLK shows flashes of Mercedes history with modern accessories.
The engine noise was geared more to sport coupe than luxury convertible.  With this symphony of engine, exhaust, and wheel spin who needs Hoobastank or Enya (both can be found on a couple of Every Man’s staffers’ iPods.  Shame on you guys…)?
                The roof is quick when opening and closing.  Around 20 seconds, but felt quicker than that.  We trapped a moth in the car when we put the roof up (We’re that good!).  At the next light, we came to a stop, pulled the switch, and it popped right open by the time the light changed (Again, Friends of the Environment, that’s us.).  The roof had a panoramic sunroof, which basically means you’re surrounded by glass with the roof and windows up.  There is an option for a roof that will vary its opaqueness at the touch of a button.  Mercedes has deemed it “Magic Sky Control.”  Very science fiction cool!  Those Germans have such imaginations…

The performance of the SLK was hot and cold.  This roadster was powered by a 3.5L V6 turning out 302 hp and we could feel it.  Once we figured out the transmission situation, we could really get this roadster to fly.
This was yet another sport convertible equipped with paddle shifters that disappointed us.  The lag time on these were better than the IS 250’s, but was just short of a decade in-between shifts.  There are 3 modes for the transmission: drive, sport, and manual.  Manual means you get to use the paddle shifters.  Drive is the standard seven (7!) speed automatic transmission and Sport means the tranny (hehe, still twelve) will start in 1st gear off the line (shouldn’t all cars start in first) and hold each gear longer than normal.  We actually forgot about Sport mode.  After hating Manual mode, Drive was as welcome as a breath of fresh air when you drive past a sewage treatment plant.  The 7-speed auto was quick.  Off the line, we could see where Sport mode starting in first would be helpful, but the rest of the gears and shifts made up for any being a little slow off the line.  We loved being thrown back in the seats like a plane at take-off.  We checked to make sure our tray tables were in the upright and locked position!
                We got the SLK on a small two lane back road and unleashed the “beast”.  The V6 turns out 302hp and we saw all of them here.  Before we could blink we were doing 70mph in a 35mph zone, not on purpose, since the acceleration was so effortless.  The road had some tight corners that the SLK handled nimbly and with minimal effort.  The sections of the road that were bad and pot-holed were felt everywhere in the car.  Few, if any, of the bumps were smoothed out before they got to us.  The ride wasn’t even close to the smooth ride of the IS250, but if we added wings this car would never hit the bumps. 
The steering was responsive and didn’t get “light” on any of the curving dips that we went around.  The traction control light was blinking at us often.  Every time we accelerated away from standing still, the computer would get involved so we didn’t shred the tries.  It did help us leave a gravel road with very little wheel spin, which was surprising.  We mashed the accelerator repeatedly and barely spun the wheels.  It was impressive.   
                The torque for this car seemed to be the highest in 2nd and 3rd gears.  We would creep off the line and then leap to 50 or 60mph in 2nd before getting to 3rd.  This probably would have bothered us on a longer test drive, but didn’t discourage us from flooring the accelerator as often as possible. 
                The 7-speed gear box was interesting and is a contributing factor the SLK’s reasonable mpg’s for a 302hp car.  In the city it averages 20mpg and 29mpg on the highway.  We like these numbers and feel that the acceleration and economy are two strong points in the SLK’s corner. 

                This was the most expensive convertible we’ve driven in this series.  This particular SLK retailed around $60,000, $20,000 more than the Lexus.  The Mercedes lot was full and there will be some very well-off customers lining up for this ride.  It is still a lot of money for only two seats and six cylinders, but we would love to add this car to our collection.  Spring and early fall days would only add to the amazing experience that is the SLK 350.  We were assured numerous times last week by the Lexus salesman that Mercedes couldn’t touch the quality of Lexus’ interiors.  That is not true.  This was a beautiful car that performed very well, felt well made, and looked amazing.  The sportier suspension caused the ride to be rougher, but the rest of the car more than made up for it.  We feel that the type of ride this car delivers can be had for less money and we will keep looking for it, but if we could afford it, we would!

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