Top-down driving is enhanced considerably by a new technology that has been in development for several years. Amusingly called Airscarf in Europe and boringly renamed Active Vented Headrest for America, it consists of a heating element and a fan hidden inside the seatback, connected to a duct leading to the headrest. Press a three-level switch on the center console, and a steady stream of warm air is pumped through small vents in the headrest onto your head and neck. In combination with the conventional heated seats, a wind net over the roll hoops, and the overall aerodynamic design of the car, with air directed off the windshield and over the occupants' heads, it makes for a very cozy cocoon and expands top-down driving opportunities in chillier weather. Bald men will still need a hat, however.
Design editor Robert Cumberford weighs in with his professional opinion on the SLK's styling in the accompanying design analysis, but it is obvious even to the most untrained eye that Mercedes endeavored to increase the SLK's butch quotient considerably. There is no easier way to do that than to mimic the SLR McLaren supercoupe's styling, replete with a somewhat phallic, Formula 1-inspired nose cone overlying the hood, punctuated at the grille by a three-pointed star the size of a soup bowl.
For a muy macho Mercedes, you'll have to wait only a couple of months after the SLK350's debut for the SLK55 AMG, which we have not driven yet. It will feature the first V-8 engine in its class, a 5.4-liter unit making 362 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, mated exclusively to the seven-speed automatic. "The SLK32 AMG was fun, like a go-kart," says AMG head of product development Hendrik Hummel, "but the engine was too powerful for the car. For the new SLK, we knew from the start that we were going to do a V-8, so the SLK55 will be much more dynamic."
The SLK350's base price will be in the mid-$40,000s when it hits U.S. dealerships in September. Mercedes-Benz USA hopes to sell about 10,000 a year and to increase male ownership from the current 48 percent to 60 percent. We predict there are a lot of guys out there-Boxster and Z4 owners among them-who will for the first time lust after the SLK as much as their wives.