IS MUCH TO BE learned from this, the third all-new generation
of SLK roadster, about how Mercedes is slowly repositioning itself in the world. It is bigger more comfortable, beffer equipped and, crucially for those like me who have never truly fiffed into either of its predecessors, substantially more spacious inside. So far so good, then.
But what you notice more than all of the above is the sheer quality of the thing. Twenty years ago Mercedes construction standards were unapproached by any of the other mass manufacturers; then came a slide to the point where not only did Audis and BMWs seem beffer built, Volkswagens did too. Now Mercedes appears to be back where it belongs: the SLK is not just good-looking with a lovely interior, it has that vault-like feel I remember from W124s of old. What is all the more remarkable is that Mercedes has achieved this using a concept as architecturally flawed as the roadster. I just wish the car weren’t so straight-laced. Until the AMG version arrives later this year, the 5LK350 is as punchy as they come, and with over 300bhp there is no shortage of shove. But the enthusiasm you’d expect to be shown is notable by its absence. This SLK is a fast car, but not a fun one. It knows its biggest market is in the US where many people live not hours but days from fine driving roads and spend the majority of their lives crawling along urban
freeways or cruising at 65mph on arrow-straight lnterstates. There you don’t need a car with steering full of feel and near-telepathic response to every command, so Mercedes doesn’t provide them.
I think the SLK is a welljudged product from a company that knows its customer intimately. Sure, I’d rather have a more cramped, noisier and less comfortable Porsche Boxster every hour of every day of the week, but that won’t bother Mercedes, for the SLK is not aimed at me but a rather more sensible, not to mention wealthy, constituency of punter.