Quick Drive: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

By Brandon Turkus

November 08, 2012

—Lake Orion, Michigan
Look, we really like the new Porsche Boxster and every encounter we’ve had with a BMW Z4 has been quite positive, but our soft spot for the current Mercedes-Benz SLK is still very large. Our most recent encounter with the 2013 SLK has only improved our view of the Mercedes-Benz’s smallest two-seater.
Oddly, we’ll start out our analysis of the SLK with a pricing argument. Our SLK350 had a starting price of $55,400. That price compares favorably with the $60,900 Boxster S and the $55,150 Z4 sDrive35i. After doing a bit of damage on the options list, the as-tested price had climbed to $67,020, and resulted in a car with the trick Magic Sky Control, Lighting Package, Multimedia Package, and Sports Package, among smaller goodies. It’s here where the SLK pulls ahead of its competitors. The Z4 lacks items like Airscarf, Magic Sky Control, and air-conditioned seats. The Boxster, meanwhile, is hurt by Porsche’s extensive (and pricey) options sheet. You’ll get a Boxster exactly as you want it, but it’ll like cost a lot more than our SLK.
[Click here to read our review of the 2012 Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG]
Ignoring the competition, $67,000 is still a lot of money. But let’s take a moment and put that price in perspective. Not a few weeks after our time in the SLK, we tested the all-new SL550 (we promise an extensive review of that model very soon). The SL started at $105,500 and tacked on an epic $26,545 in options for a total price of $132,045. Yet, considering that car cost almost twice as much as our SLK, the options and content were strikingly similar. Both cars boasted a sports package and Magic Sky Control, along with MB’s awesome Airscarf system. There was more content on the SL, but not so much that we’d rule out the smaller car.
Quick Drive: 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK350There’s also something to be said of the driving experience in the SLK. With a 3.5-liter V-6 delivering 302 horsepower to the rear wheels, it wasn’t as electric a driving experience as a Boxster or Z4, but it was still a hugely satisfying cruiser that was just as happy to be driven hard. This engine was happiest in the middle of the rev range, where it delivered 273 pound-feet of torque between 3500 and 5250 rpm. Open the taps at speed, and the SLK was more than capable of pushing us back in the comfy leather chairs.
We spent the vast majority of our drive time in Eco mode, and had no qualms about it. The start-stop system was quick, responsive, and unobtrusive, making for a very easy way of increasing mileage. Throttle response was still sharp, avoiding that sandbag-like feel associated with other OEM’s Eco modes, and with an observed fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon we were right in the middle of the SLK’s estimated 21-city/29-highway ratings.
Power was transmitted to a seven-speed automatic that was perfectly happy when left on its own. Shifts were well timed and the gearbox was quick to drop down when we pushed the skinny pedal. Sport mode kicked things up, holding revs longer and shifting slightly faster, but it was manual mode that made for the most fun. Using the well-placed paddles was a pleasant experience that really enhanced the feeling of involvement.
The ride and handling were as balanced as we’d expect of a sporty Benz. The SLK was totally compliant and comfortable when being driven in a straight line, with little vertical motion. Cowl shake was virtually nonexistent, while other secondary motions rarely bother cabin occupants. It feels equally competent in the bends, where body roll comes on progressively. It never feels sloppy, as the lateral motions serve more to inform the driver of what’s going on between rubber and road. It’s a generally planted car, with little sidestepping during mid-corner bumps.
So it’s pretty clear that we really like the SLK. But there’s more to this car than just a pleasant driving experience. It has a more refined character, lacking the shoutiness of a Boxster or Z4. The SLK isn’t as potent a roadster, but it’s got an upper-echelon character that just feels so much more dignified to drive.
If you’re one of the lucky souls that are looking for a potent German roadster, we know the entries from Porsche and BMW are good, but you really need to give the SLK a look.
2013 Mercedes-Benz SLK350
Engine: V-6, 3.5 liters, 24v
Output: 302 hp/273 lb-ft
0-60 MPH: 5.4 sec
Weight: 3417 lb
Fuel Economy, City/Hwy: 21/29 mpg
Base Price: $55,400