Cheers, then, for the new, standard, 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, which is our first taste of a new family of four-valve V-6 and V-8 engines supplanting the current powertrain lineup over the next few years. (The CLS four-door coupe coming next year will be the first to have the next-generation V-8.) A DOHC V-6 might not seem very exotic in light of the midships-mounted boxer six in the Porsche or even the free-revving in-line six in the BMW, but we predict that the new 3.5-liter Mercedes unit soon will be regarded as one of the best V-6s in the world. Compared with the three-valve-per-cylinder, 3.2-liter V-6 it replaces, it employs variable valve timing to help provide 53 more horsepower and an additional 29 pound-feet of torque, for totals of 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet, figures that handily beat those of the Boxster S, the Z4 3.0, and the V-6-engined TT.
Best of all, the new V-6 has an amazing set of pipes. In concert with dual oval exhausts, it sounds fantastic, especially when its throaty growl is reverberating against the sand-colored stone walls that line many of Mallorca's roads. The Mercedes engineers assessed the acoustic characteristics of most of the engine's 210 separate parts, paying special attention to the air intake, in order to arrive at an overall sound that's pleasingly sporty but never gratingly noisy.
The V-6's superb midrange torque gives the SLK350 considerable cojones for passing on two-lanes and for squirting in and out of holes in freeway traffic. Engage third gear, mash the accelerator, and you're gone-it's as simple as that.
The engine is mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission or to Mercedes-Benz's new seven-speed automatic. The automatic transmission, which can be shifted via buttons on the steering wheel, works extremely well at all speeds, especially around town, exhibiting none of the herky-jerky upshifting that characterized the first-generation SLK230's powertrain. The six-speed, although it is no Honda/Acura precision instrument, is a vast improvement over the tractorlike manual gearshifters that Mercedes has been sending our way since 1999. The shifter now feels about ten times better in your right hand, because the gears are engaged by means of one rod instead of the two that were used in the past. The same rod selects reverse gear as well, whereas the old transmission used a cable, such that you had to pull up on the gearshift lever to select reverse, a quaint maneuver twenty-five years ago but one that is woefully out of touch in the new millennium.
The wheelbase of the new SLK is 1.2 inches longer than that of its predecessor, and overall the car is about three inches longer and wider and about an inch taller, just enough to give occupants a little more breathing room. Curb weight rises by 110 pounds, to 3231 pounds. With a 22-second retraction time, the fully automatic hard top now puts you three seconds closer to a sunburn. Taking a cue from the SL, the rear window rotates forward 150 degrees on its own axis, which allows it to snuggle up more closely with the folded roof pieces, helping to increase top-down trunk capacity by 1.8 cubic feet, to 6.6 cubic feet. Unfortunately, the SLK lacks the SL's feature whereby the entire folded-roof stack can be lifted up inside the trunk for easier access to the cargo space.