Road Test: 2012 Mercedes SLK350

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The 2012 Mercedes Benz SLK350 is an awesome car.

The question is whether that awesomeness is worth $65,000.

2012 Mercedes 350 SLK

Let’s start with what makes it so great. The SLK has been restyled for 2012 and I definitely prefer the new look. The grill has gone back to the classic style that made the original Gullwings so iconic. Gone is the hood that stretched down over the Mercedes star and gave the car a long nose look (I was never a huge fan of that look). The new grill is both modern and retro at the same time (which says a lot about the design back in the 50s).

2012 Mercedes SLK350 side view

The overall shape isn’t radically different. With the top up it still looks as if someone chopped something out of the middle and glued it back together. Personally, I think the styling works better with the top down. Looking at the SLK from the side, the design seems to have a little more upward rake which makes it slightly more aggressive. I read a review where someone called the body vents behind the front wheels “superfluous”, but I kind of like them.  Call me crazy, but I think the new look isn’t as soft as the old one and I like that.

SLK hardtop opening up

The SLK isn’t just a convertible, it’s a retractable. The hard roof folds back into the trunk, and this one works very well. My daily driver is a convertible with a classic soft top, and the retractable makes a huge difference. The SLK’s had no wind noise or creaks. When it was up, you felt you had a hard top, and when it was down, you felt like you had it all.

My test car had the retractable glass top, and while that might be great for 95% of the world, I could never handle it living in Phoenix. It’s a permanent glass top so there’s no way to stop the brutal sun from blasting through on a 115 degree day. For the same reason I quickly swapped out my Corvette’s glass top, I would avoid buying the permanent see-through on the SLK. Mercedes does offer Magic Sky Control which will automatically darken the glass but that adds another $2,500 to the price.

Inside the 2012 Mercedes SLK350

I like the new styling inside as well. The seats have a sportier look and felt great. I fine-tuned the adjustments on my driver seat to the point that I actually had to take my wallet out of my back pocket because it felt me so well.

The dash also had a slightly retro look with chrome rimmed vents that remind me of an old sports car. The tech stuff didn’t overwhelm you. The speedo and tach are offset with a message center in the middle. I have to admit, I never quite figured out the climate control system, but then I never opened the owner’s manual to understand how it worked.

2012 Mercedes SLK350 pulling away

My test car had the 302 horsepower V-6 engine. That’s about 50 more than last year’s model. There is a four-cylinder available that has 201 hp and an AMG version that has 8 cylinders and 415 hp (which I think serious overkill for this car). While the power on my test car was great, I noticed slightly annoying habits. First, it took a moment for the throttle to respond, almost as if it had turbo lag (the V-6 has no turbo). Second, when you take your foot off the throttle, the car actually seemed to decelerate, almost as if it was compression braking. That seemed odd considering the new seven speed transmission. I would loved to chat with a Mercedes engineer for few minutes to understand my impressions. Maybe I was just doing something wrong?

A couple of other minor annoyances. The turn signal and the cruise control stalks are both on the left side of the steering wheel and I was always using the wrong one. The sun visor was very tiny (can I help it if I get a lot of sun in Arizona?). I’m not sure why they felt compelled to hide the convertible button in its own housing on the center console. Seemed like a waste of effort.

Did they really need to hide the convertible control?

Picky issues aside, the overall driving experience was great. I never felt the old SLK was a sports car. The 2012 model definitely fits into the luxury sports category. Hopefully it will be able to break out of its car-for-the-trophy-wife image, and develop a following worthy of its performance.

Gotta love that 50s Mercedes Grill

But it’s time to get to the bottom line: the price. The V-6 SLK starts out at $54,000. My test model was $65,805. Even if I knocked a few option packages off, it would still likely end up around $60k. Is it worth that much money? After all, plenty of other cars deliver great driving experiences for less. But it is a Mercedes, which still carries a fair amount of cache. And if $60k won’t give you acid reflux at night, this is one car that won’t leave you disappointed.

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