2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-class

David Gluckman
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When Mercedes-Benz redesigned the SLK-class roadsters in 2004, the goal was to make a more macho two-seater that men would want to drive and be seen driving. The new look, with its center-bulge hood, was influenced by the SLR McLaren supercar, which itself takes cues from the McLaren Mercedes Formula One racing car.

With the goal of lengthening the SLK's shelf life for at least the next several years, Mercedes designers have added a touch more machismo to the roadster for 2009. Taking the F1 and SLR inspiration to the next level, the SLK gets a more aggressive front fascia with split lower grille openings. The rear fascia is also updated to mimic a diffuser.

That newfound sportiness is not simply skin deep, however. A new direct-steer system features variable power assistance and a rack that changes ratios depending on steering angle. The revised steering is accompanied by a new three-spoke steering wheel and a more driver-focused cabin. Bluetooth handsfree calling is standard on all of the new generation audio systems, while iPod connectivity is optional. The instruments are also new, and they're surrounded by redesigned bezels. Some of the numerous tiny silver buttons that litter the center stack in the current car have been eliminated or colored black, for a cleaner look. We'll be able to give you a better idea of the design once we settle ourselves into the leather seats at the 2008 Detroit show.

Style and handling are nothing without power, so Mercedes has given the 3.5-liter V-6 more grunt. The engine is now allowed to rev to 7200 rpm, while a new intake manifold, an increased compression ratio, and valvetrain changes all help it make 32 more horsepower, for an even 300 at 6500 rpm. Torque is up seven lb-ft to 265 at 4900 rpm. The exhaust has also been tuned for a more aggressive note, which should be evident during rev-matched downshifts of the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission.

The 3.0-liter V-6 model gets a more displacement-correct SLK300 model designation, replacing the confusing SLK280 name. That engine's horsepower figure remains at 228, though Mercedes claims fuel economy is up, with a similar drop in carbon-dioxide emissions. The 300 is the only SLK available with a six-speed manual, with the seven-speed auto as an option.

If a low-emissions, fuel-sipping V-6 won't peel off your toupe, you can still opt for the SLK55 AMG. Its 5.5-liter V-8 is unchanged, providing 355 hp and putting 376 lb-ft of torque through an AMG-tuned version of the seven-speed transmission.

This freshened version of the SLK hardtop convertible is ready for Detroit's January cold, though it won't go on sale until the weather warms a bit in April. Check back for our full show coverage of the 2008 North American International Auto Show.

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