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First look: SLK raises its hardtop again

Racing lines: The silver arrow nose of the SLK echoes Mercedes-Benz's racing involvement.

Benz's SLK roadster reinvigorated for 2004

8 Jan 2004

THE Mercedes-Benz SLK, the convertible that triggered the retractable hardtop craze when it was launched in 1996, has been officially revealed in second generation guise.

The factory’s pics have been issued not long after brochure shots of the car were listed for sale on the internet auction site ebay, although they were soon withdrawn when Mercedes-Benz discovered them! The new SLK boasts a Formula One-inspired front-end look, an upgraded interior and a new range of engines all underpinned by a modified version of the latest W203 C-class platform.

The SLK will be unveiled in the metal at the Geneva motor show in March and will go on-sale in Australia around August-September.

It will be the star local launch for Benz in 2004, before a stellar 2005 when the new A-class, M-class and CLS coupe all go on-sale here.

Mercedes-Benz Australia plans to take all three versions of the SLK so far revealed – the SLK200 Kompressor with a 120kW four-cylinder 1.8-litre supercharged engine first seen in the C-class, the SLK350 with a new 200kW/350Nm 3.5-litre V6 and the SLK 55 AMG.

That’s right Benz’s tuning division has stuffed a 265kW/510Nm 5.5-litre V8 engine into the SLK, but the bad news is it probably won’t turn up until somtime in the first half of 2005. Benz claims a 4.9 second 0-100km/h time for the AMG model.

The technical interest doesn’t end there, with the new 7G-tronic seven-speed automatic transmission mated to a V6 engine for the first time in SLK. The four-cylinder buyers will make do with a five-speed auto, and may also have the choice of a six-speed manual transmission.

The 7G-tronic is just becoming available now in five V8 models on-sale in Australia – E500, S430 and S500, CL500 and SL500.

Pricing for the new SLK range will go up, but MBA says it will only be marginal and it will reflect a substantial increase in equipment and technology the new car has.

That means the entry-level model should stay below $90,000 and the 3.5 below $120,000.

That pricing will make the SLK more expensive than its closest rivals, the BMW Z4 and Audi A4 cabrio.

The AMG version of the SLK will rise the most in price, reflecting the change from V6 to V8 power and will come in somewhere between $160,000 and $170,000.

MBA hopes to sell 300-400 SLKs in 2004, more than 700 in the second year, and then holding at 500-600 for the next three to four years. This would be a far more steady performance than the first generation, which peaked here at 793 sales in 1998, but managed only 184 sales in 2003. Worldwide, 308,000 first generation SLKs have been sold.

Externally, SLK buyers will get a car subtly more aggressive than its predecessor, with the ‘silver arrow’ front-end design linking it to both the McLaren-Mercedes formula one program and the Mercedes-McLaren SLR supercar. Benz claims a 0.32 coefficient of drag.

The body size has grown by 72mm in length and 65mm in width, while wheelbase is 30mm longer. The two-seater’s roof now opens or shuts in 22 seconds, while luggage space is 300 litres (VDA method) with the roof up and 208 litres (an improvement of 63 litres) with it down.

Inside Benz claims a completely redesigned and upgraded interior. An intriguing new feature is Airscarf, a neck-level heating system that delivers a flow of warm air from the headrests at the touch of a button, enabling SLK occupants to keep the roof down even when there is a chill in the air.

As has been the Benz trend of late, standard equipment levels are high, with head-thorax sidebags, adaptive front airbags and two-stage belt force limiters, automatic climate control and Bi-Xenon headlights with cornering light. The Comand control system is there too – but not everybody wishes it were.

Underneath all this, the W203 platform has been upgraded for more sporting performance with attention paid to suspension and brakes. A big step forward for SLK is that it picks up rack and pinion steering, replacing the less direct worm and roller system.

The new V6 engine is worthy of note because it re-introduces four-valve head technology to Mercedes-Benz vee engines, replacing the three-valve units preferred for the last decade or so. Expect this engine to flow into other models, replacing the existing 3.7 V6 as updates and generational changes occur.

This is the first time that Mercedes-Benz has produced a V6 engine with variable camshaft control on intake and exhaust sides.

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