2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350

Matt Tierney

As a brand, Mercedes-Benz doesn't ooze passion quite like BMW does. But as a car, I'm always surprised, impressed, and smitten by how Mercedes-Benzes endear themselves to me. This new SLK350 is no exception, winning my heart with typical Benz sophistication and refinement while still maintaining an air of driving fun.

The SLK's compact exterior gives way to an unexpectedly spacious cabin that exudes old-school, understated luxury. This Benz doesn't dazzle like a new Audi, but it does boast long-lasting comfort, excellent materials, and impeccable build quality. The goofy Magic Sky Control name redeems itself in the novelty of the technology. Whether the roof is completely transparent or fully dimmed, Magic Sky Control allows for open-air ambiance even when the weather forces you to keep the top up.

The real marvel, though, is that Mercedes has made the new SLK so responsive and simultaneously so comfortable. Tear down a road with the new 302-hp V-6 snarling at the top of the tach, and the SLK delivers unexpected competence in nearly ever facet. The steering is particularly adept, with immediate turn-in and great weighting. Most important, the superb suspension tuning keeps body motions under tight control but never feels too stiff. True, the SLK350 isn't a sharp-edged, back-road bomber, but as a stylish, luxurious way to enjoy driving, it is an excellent car.

Eric Tingwall, Assistant Editor

When this third-generation SLK made its debut at the end of last year, it was unsurprising that Mercedes had again shrunk its flagship sports car's look to create the SLK's design. (In this case it was the SLS AMG; the previous generation cribbed from the SLR McLaren.) My initial reaction to the car's styling was that it was very plain and that Mercedes was making up for putting that pointed schnoz on the previous-generation car. However, the more time I spent with the little roadster, the more the design's nuances revealed themselves.

The SLK has petite proportions -- it's almost two feet shorter than a C-class sedan -- but is no longer a chick car. It has a new sense of athleticism. The design team at Mercedes created a car that has the feeling of forward movement through subtle side strakes, curving hips, and simple taillights. The upright, rectangular grille makes the little roadster stand out in a crowd and proudly declares with a large three-pointed star, "I am a Mercedes-Benz."

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Yes, the SLK has become much more masculine for 2012. But it's not as if making the SLK more masculine was a difficult task. The exterior of the SLK has a much more convincing look than ever before, and there's more than enough performance to satisfy most shoppers.

Despite these improvements, I still can't connect with the SLK on an emotional level. The SLK appeals to a wider array of buyers than a Porsche Boxster, an Audi TT, or a BMW Z4 because it's the most refined car in the group. I don't require a roadster to be as focused on performance as a Boxster or a Z4 to make an emotional connection -- the $23,905 Mazda Miata that we have for the summer provides lots of emotional appeal without being fast or luxurious. Mercedes just insulates the car so well and the suspension soaks up bumps so well that the interior is much more memorable than the actual driving experience. There's nothing wrong with this approach - but I don't have a hard time handing the keys back when my turn behind the wheel is over.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

The 2012 SLK doesn't look like a chick car anymore, but it still feels like one from behind the wheel, especially if you're stopped at a traffic light and gaze around at your surroundings. The cabin just doesn't look or feel very sporty to me (especially with this wood trim). But no matter how you spec an SLK, it doesn't have the sporty edge of its competitors.

I didn't drive them back-to-back, but the BMW Z4 is clearly the sportier, more fun car of this pair. Plus I like the Bimmer's looks better than those of this Benz. The Benz is definitely the more livable of the two, however, whether you're talking cupholders or ride quality.

The SLK boasts some very cool features, including tiny dome lights on the A-pillars. The Magic Sky Control sunroof seems very desirable, but the weather was way too nice for me to drive this car with the roof closed. With the windows fully down, quite a bit of rushing air hit me in the face, so I raised the driver's window six inches or so on my late-night drive home. In the morning, when the temps were warmer, it wasn't as bothersome.

I really like Mercedes-Benz's new interior switchgear: the buttons for the heated/cooled seats, for instance, look like they're wrought of solid aluminum and feel very nice to the touch. Also to its credit is this Benz's strong engine note and quick-shifting transmission. Acceleration isn't phenomenal, but it's more than adequate. Handling is as good as most SLK buyers will ever want. Still, the SLK is no track star, and any German roadster shoppers who want a car with superlative handling should look at the evergreen Porsche Boxster.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

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