2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

To me, the SLK's recent revisions have helped it become less of a "hairdresser's car," as it's sometimes derogatively called in the UK. Sure, the subtle tweaks to the interior and exterior styling play a part in this, but a bigger improvement lies in Mercedes-Benz's new "direct-steer" rack, which greatly enhances the sportiness of the SLK. Michigan roads aren't great for sampling this new system, but the improved steering was plainly clear when I drove this car in the mountains near Nice, France, in spring 2008, when M-B launched the '09 SLK family. The upgraded 3.5-liter V-6 (with 32 more hp and 7 more lb-ft of torque) doesn't hurt either, and it sounds pleasantly muscular. Overall, Benz's most compact roadster is attractive, nimble, and easy to drive. Still, if I were going to spend $50K on a roadster ($60K as tested in this case), I'd almost certainly go straight for a Porsche Boxster, which is more fun to drive, more masculine, better-balanced, and also offers a slick stick-shift gearbox.

This particular SLK350 test car features a strange wind blocker that looks like someone stretched pantyhose between the rollhoops. Wind management doesn't seem to be improved enough to warrant the weird aesthetic treatment. SLKs typically excel in cabin comfort anyway, though, thanks to the optional heated seats and AirScarf, which blows heavenly warm air onto your neck. Every convertible should have such a convenience.

I drove the SLK to the grocery store last night, and the decent-size trunk easily swallowed my booty. Still, with the top down, the trunk is difficult to access because the hard top parts significantly cut down on the size of the trunk opening. Hardtop convertibles such as the Volvo C70, for instance, have a handy button that allows you to raise the top mechanism several inches for loading/unloading.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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