Given the snowstorm presently enveloping much of the Northeastern United States, this may seem like an unusual time to roll out a new roadster. No matter -- some new tricks incorporated into the updated 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK allow both driver and passenger to enjoy views of the heavens above, regardless of the weather.
Those charged with shaping the SLK’s exterior form continue to be inspired by exotic machinery, but it does appear their influence has evolved. While the last model, which debuted in 2004, copped a few design cues from the McLaren-built SLR, the 2012 SLK is undoubtedly influenced by Mercedes’ new SLS AMG supercar. The tapered snout and split upper grille are no more; instead, the SLK wears a blunt, squared-off front fascia, complete with a broad, expansive grille in keeping with the company’s latest design ethic.
Although the general profile of the new SLK differs little from its predecessor, a few small touches do help set it apart. Fenders are a little more square than before, and new front fender vents, inspired by those on the 1957 300 SL roadster, neatly transition into crisp character lines. An uninterrupted lower air intake is certainly attractive, but is replaced by the previous three-section grille when the sport package -- which also throws in aggressive side sills, a new rear diffuser, and larger wheels -- is added.
As has been the case since the model’s inception, a retractable folding hardtop is an SLK hallmark, but this time around, buyers have more than one choice in the matter. A conventional metal roof continues to be standard equipment, but a new folding glass roof, similar to that offered on the larger SL Class roadster, is now optional.
The true piece de resistance, however, is an optional panoramic roof equipped with what Benz calls Magic Sky Control. A solution containing magnetic particles is embedded within the glass. Normally, the particles are scattered, blocking most light from permeating the pane. Once an electric charge is applied, however, the particles align themselves, allowing the roof to change from opaque to translucent at the touch of a button.
The SLS influence continues within, as the SLK’s cabin has been completely reworked to resemble that of the gullwinged supercar, albeit in three-quarter scale. A long, wide center console gently flows into a short center stack, while four large vents all but dominate an otherwise unobstructed dashboard. The addition of Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND multimedia interface just below the shifter simplifies control arrangements, while accent lighting on both the door panels and center stack provides some additional ambiance at night. The neck-level Airscarf heating system remains an option, much like the new Airguide wind diffusers, which rotate out from the rollbar hoops.
The cosmetic makeover is certainly refreshing, but Benz hasn’t forgotten about the mechanicals wrapped beneath the new sheetmetal. For the first time since 2003, the SLK will be offered in four-cylinder form. The new SLK250, which replaces the SLK300 and its 3.0-liter V-6, uses the same twin-turbocharged 1.8-liter I-4 found in the 2012 C250 sedan. Predictably, it’s rated at the same 201 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque, and mated to either a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional seven-speed automatic.
The SLK350 returns for 2012, and its 3.5-liter V-6 has been refreshed for the new model cycle. Thanks to a few revisions (including the introduction of direct fuel injection), the six-cylinder now produces 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
Although the SLK250 won’t arrive stateside until early 2012, the revamped 2012 SLK350 is expected to reach dealers beginning this summer. Look for additional information and finalized pricing data to be released shortly before the cars roll into showrooms.