Car Review: 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350

Highlights: The third-generation SLK features Mercedes-Benz trademark Magic Sky Control roof, which allows the tinting of the panel to be changed, using the same technology found in today’s automatic dimming rear view mirror.

Also the SLK350 is available with Mercedes-Benz signature AIRSCARF system, which is great for cool evenings when the top is down. A heater built into the neck-level of the seat heat blows warm air around the occupants.

Test vehicle’s MSRP: $67,195 (Before Options, $55,675)

Seating Capacity: 2 occupants

Standard Safety Features: a high strength steel-reinforced cabin with front and rear crumple zones; two-stage dual front airbags; drive and passenger knee airbags; head airbags; thorax airbags; ABS; electronic stability control; diver drowsiness monitor; dual integrated roll bars; and a tire pressure monitoring system; a single zone climate control system; dual cup holders with a flexible bottle holder; and dual light vanity mirrors.

Standard Equipment: 18-inch high-performance tires; a retractable power operated  hardtop; leather seats with sun-reflecting coating; power memory seats; electronic cruise control; automatic dimming driver and rear view mirror

Standard Audio: an 8-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with HD radio

Bumper-to-Bumper Warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles

Powertrain Warranty: 4 years or 50,000 miles

Bluetooth Compatibility: Standard

MP3 Capability: Optional

ipod Capability: Optional

Standard Engine/Horsepower: 3.5- liter, 302-horsepower

Standard Fuel Mileage: 20-city/29-hwy

Other SLK Models: SLK250 (coming soon with an all-new 4-cylinder turbo and the option of a manual transmission), SLK 55 AMG

What’s New: The redesigned SLK now has a more masculine look, mimicking its big brother, the soon-to-be-released 2013 SLS roadster with its wide mouth grille. The pint size roadster is also powered by a new 6-cylinder transmission which is matted to a more fuel-efficient 7-speed transmission.

Pros: The folks at Mercedes-Benz have managed to pack a lot into this pint size roadster. For instance, every SLK is equipped with an Attention Assist system, which has built-in sensors to monitor the drowsiness of the driver. When the system sense erratic steering corrections by the driver, the system literally kicks into gear, displaying audible (and visual) messages on the instrument panel. 

Also the SLK we reviewed was outfitted with over $12,000 of options. These options included everything from a headlamp cleaning system to a 10GB music register to a 7-inch screen navigation system to heated seats to sporty 18-inch AMG 5-spoke wheels.

Moreover, our 3.5-liter, 6-cylinder with its baritone growl packed a lot of punch. It took us just a matter of seconds to zoom from 0 to 100 mph on Atlanta’s open highways at night. In fact, Mercedes-Benz says that the SLK350 can zoom from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. With this type of armed ammunition, we can only imagine the trouble the high-powered SLK 55 AMG will encounter.

Furthermore, the cozy, two-seater was just perfect for two adults. There was enough leg, hip and head room in the roadster to make this one sweet ride, whether cornering or cruising around the city. Yes, as one can tell, the SLK350 really rates high in our book, especially as it relates to the fun factor.

Cons: This little Benz lacked some features that we have come to expect from non- premium brands like Hyundai and Kia. The SLK350 lacks a back-up camera. Not only is this feature not standard, but it’s not available as an option. And, we were stunned to find out that satellite radio is considered an option, as opposed to a standard feature. This issue was also true for the BMW Z4 too.

Moreover, while the SLK offered heated seats for those chilly evenings, we were surprised that ventilated seats that cooled weren’t on the option list for those extremely warm summer days, especially when the top is tucked away in the trunk.

Furthermore, we thought the German engineers could have cut costs by eliminating the memory seats for the passenger. By dropping this feature, surely they could have swapped this out for a standard satellite radio subscription for at least 1-year or better yet, add a rearview camera.

Oh yes, we were extremely disappointed that we won’t have a chance to test this vehicle out in warmer weather so that we can adequately review the vehicle with the top folded away.

The Verdict: The redesigned SLK now evokes the passion we felt, when we were behind the wheel of the current-generation BMW’s Z4 a few years ago, with its long doors and short rear end.  Just like the BMW, the 2012 SLK blends the past with the present with its more athletic design. Unlike the BMW, the SLK can be outfitted with a number of high tech features to set it apart from the crowd.

Buyers in the market for this pint size, spacious roadster who find the price to be a little too steep should wait for the upcoming 4-cylinder SLK250. It’s expected to be priced in the low $40’s.

Competition:  BMW Z4

Jeff Fortson is an auto analyst and editor of a car-buying website for women