The first piece of good news about Mercedes-Benz's third-generation SLK is that it no longer looks like the wimpy chick car it started life as fifteen years ago. Not that the first SLK wasn't a smash hit right out of the box; the entire production run for 1997 was sold out. The time was right for a compact, premium roadster. But the 2012 SLK finally looks like it bears the same noble genes that spawned the iconic 190SL of the 1950s and today's SL family.
Chief designer Gorden Wagener is succinct on the subject of the SLK's design: "Our sports car recipe is very simple: Long bonnet [hood]; a passenger compartment that is visually almost on top of the rear axle; and a short, snappy tail end." The SLK's newly aggressive road presence is dominated by a large three-pointed star leading the way from the middle of the wide upright radiator grille split by a horizontal chrome blade. It's the new Mercedes-Benz brand look, and it's a powerful one. It's also a particularly sleek one -- in all, design and aero tweaks to the SLK brought its coefficient of drag down from an already impressive 0.32 to 0.30.
A smaller version of that chrome blade highlights a vent tucked inside body creases on each front fender, leading your eye along the SLK's smooth flanks to new tail lamps. Most noticeable at night, the wide horizontal light clusters are made up completely of LEDs, and wrap subtly around each corner into the body sides. A thin strip of LEDs also runs above each headlamp, providing daytime running lights. LEDs not only flick on a fraction faster and last a lot longer than traditional lamps, they can be set to shine with varying intensity, according to function.
Grounding the macho look of the SLK are fairly huge 18-inch, five-spoke wheels shod with meaty 225/35 tires. Our test car had more serious Continental ContiSportContacts 225/40s on the front and 245/35s in back.