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The title - I must admit - is not my brainchild, it is the header of some Austrian motor magazine describing the brandnew Mercedes convertible - the SLK 350 (R171).
Since I retired recently I was looking for a "playmobile" for my golden years as there exists already a big Bavarian V8 limousine. My research on convertibles started more than a year ago and comprised vehicles such as the Porsche Boxster, the Audi TT and the Z4 from BMW.
In autumn of 2003 after extensive testdrives I thought I was ready to order - the Z4 would be the one that met my requirements because it was as good as the Porsche but the price was € 10k lower. Just then I discovered pre-release pics of the SLK which was due to appear at the Geneva saloon in March 2004. I was fascinated by the SLR like design and the new 7G automatic transmission. Still these features didn´t put the new SLK ahead of the Z4, the determining feature for me was the improved vario-roof, an electric folding metal roof that sinks into the trunk, which makes the car an all-year-round coupé-convertible.
Its predecessor, the R170 (introduced in 1996) was the first small convertible which featured this folding metal roof, soon Peugeot followed with the 206 CC and nowadays each saloon presents new models from different manufacturers with this must-have gadget.
Knowing that this R170 model was a bestseller back in the nineties with waiting lists running up to two years (!) I was eager to get one of the first built cars and placed my order in January, delivery was told to be the third quarter of 2004.
SLK 350 V6 3.5 litre engine 272 HP, torque 350 Nm acceleration 5.5 sec (0-100 kmh) top speed 250 kmh (e.l.) alu wheels with Pirelli zero rosso 17", 225/45 front, 245/40 rear with sport suspension 7G automatic transmission (saves gas compared to the MT, also saves tax in Austria!) COMAND (sic!) navigation with European DVD Harman/Kardon soundsystem (11 speakers, Dolby Pro Logic) Thermotronic Automatic Air Conditioning Bi-Xenon beams Leather seats, heated with memory and the innovative Airscarf (hot air blown at neck of the passenger out of the headrest) Rain sensor, remote roof opening, theft protection, etc. What I missed to order is the parking distance control which pays off due to the limited sight when maneuvering into small slots.
The base price in Austria is € 52k (incl. 14% vehicle tax, 20% VAT). With the specs the end price was a little less than € 67k after hassling for a meagre rebate of 3%.
As soon as the small 200 Kompressor demo models were at the dealer I drove both manual and automatic versions with sport suspension for first impressions regarding roadholding. It was impressive to steer around narrow turns, it felt almost like a ride in a GoKart, but people suffering disk problems will have to avoid sewer lids and other obstacles like tram rails and "sleeping policemen" due to the stiff suspension.
The waiting time for the 350 took another four months but at the end of August I was lucky to pick up the car on a perfect day. Instruction time at the dealer was short because I had done my studies with the online manual long before. So it was top down and off I went, but just around the corner I had a look at the petrol level which was barely reserve, to fill up I had to put in some 65 litres of Eurosuper 95.
Usually I take out new cars on a rough winding cobblestone road to the Kahlenberg, but on this occasion I just picked up my wife and drove out of Vienna on small country roads. The sound of the all new V6 engine was thrilling - no wonder, Daimler Chrysler engaged special engineers to "create" a sporty sound! A pleasant surprise was the automatic shifting of the 7G AT with absolutely no lags in between and I´ve been spoiled by a superb BMW transmission for almost a decade….
As mentioned above the acceleration is impressive, passing other vehicles is shortened to seconds and on the other hand fantastic brakes (front discs are perforated) provide instant deceleration.
After this laudatio one could suspect that this brilliant car has no flaws at all, but there is simply no new car that can call itself perfect: weaknesses can be found with the trunk, but this one doesn´t really count - nobody ordering a small convertible would expect large room when there is a roof to be folded and stowed away, so be humble and allot yourself with two bordcases to be fitted in.
Another annoyance can be found on the left rear fender, a cheap antenna that truly is not the ultimate solution. Yes, there exists a neat short one from big brother SL, but after installing it you have no radio reception to talk of. A betterment is foreseeable with the facelift in 2008 when DC introduces a 19 cm antenna.
What I scream about most is the plastic material the dashboard is made of: whenever you touch that stuff with bare fingers you leave white prints that can be removed only with microfiber cloth, a similar disappointment is the net that should reduce back draft. The material is almost non-transparent and the fastening is something else. DC has finally introduced a plexiglass version for a hefty € 300 but there is a slight problem at night when instruments and display show reflections...
One more hint: watch out for possible damage to the spoiler, due to the short wheelbase you very easily could scratch it when climbing over tiny obstacles like garage door plugs....
10k miles update:
first, the bad news....well, there were two electronic flaws - one with the SRS system (had been fixed in Perpignan, France and certainly at no cost) and a second with the Airscarf, but instantly reprogrammed with the Star Diagnosis (again - no cost), another problem seems to be the quality of the driver´s seat leather, this is going to be exchanged soon under warranty. Same with a new windshield when they forgot to install a new rainsensor. Aside from these minor problems there is still the same extreme fun when riding this car top down as I had back when I did the first test drive.
The navigation system had its merits looking for hotels in towns like Granada, Toulouse, Grenoble and Bolzano, I wouldn´t want to miss it.
17k miles update: the first assyst with filter changes, breaking fluid and 8 litres synth oil cost me some 500 Euros. Also new rear tires (Dunlop Sport Maxx) were needed while the front ones are good for another 6k miles.
A fantastic new device named vario-roof-comfort-module (MSpeed, € 289) has been installed to allow opening the roof at speeds up to 35 mph and also true remote opening from up to 130 feet distance! It really is a show when unsuspecting bypassers watch in amazement when the roof suddenly folds with nobody near the car ;-)
Summing up I can say that the SLK is a perfomance car that has no match at present when compared to the likes of Porsche, Audi, Nissan and BMW. Its best features include the vario-roof, the 7G transmission and the V6 engine. Disadvantages are the relatively high price for such a small roadster, service and insurance costs and - when putting all the 272 horses to work - a fuel consumption above 13 litres and more. My overall consumption is around 11,3 litres but occasionally I manage less than 9 litres at cruising speeds aroung 50 mph...
Further info on technical matters, online configurator and other detailed information can be retrieved at www2.mercedes-benz.co.uk
Update (final): the car goes as a trade-in to the Jaguar dealer in Vienna, we needed a larger sized convertible and opted for the XK 4.2, the review on this one is due shortly...
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