2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

I think I'm in love with AirScarf. Call me crazy, but I drove around on a 72-degree day with the top down and the seat heaters on and warm air wafting around my neck, and I loved it. I couldn't stop; it was like some weird, quasi-futuristic Warm Suit, or a glimpse into what my life would be like as a hot-flashing woman. Probably the best convertible feature ever invented, although I'm not convinced that the blower motor is strong enough to keep up an actual fall or winter day. But call me a sucker for gadgets: I still think it's cool.

Rusty's right-the SLK's recent revisions make it less of a hairdresser's car and less of a poser-mobile, but I still felt a bit too much like Paris Hilton's dog (or a frost-tipped Nick Lachey) while driving it. Style counts more than substance here, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, both the Porsche Boxster and the aging BMW Z4 offer a bit more of both.

Still, the Mercedes trumps the rest of the segment in comfort and long-distance usability, even given its small trunk. And the updates make a tangible, noticeable difference. The revised steering offers much better feedback and mid-corner response, and the new engine sounds a heck of a lot better-meatier and more guttural-than the old one. Unsupportive seats, a sluggish transmission, and a slightly porky chassis are the most noticeable downsides. And while the SLK's interior feels both robust and durable, its materials and surfaces lack the crafted, soft-touch charm that you get in a Boxster or Z4.

Sam Smith, Associate Editor

New Car Research

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