All new for 2005, the Mercedes-Benz SLK features dramatic changes to its appearance and its personality, while retaining the distinguishing retractable steel hardtop. Through this evolution, the second-generation SLK has been transformed into a bona fide sports car that offers more interior space and improved amenities over its ground-breaking predecessor. Two models are available: the SLK350 with a new, 268-hp DOHC V-6 and the SLK55 AMG that packs a 355-hp V-8 and brings chassis upgrades to further sharpen its corner-carving skills. Our tester was a modestly optioned SLK350 with the AMG Sport Suspension.
Taking visual cues from Mercedes' Formula One racers and the SLR supercar, the SLK's bold nose anchors a rising-arch profile that's complemented by a steeply raked windshield, pronounced fender flares, and dramatic body contours. Staggered-width alloy wheels mount 225/45ZR17 front and 245/40ZR17 rear tires on the SLK350, while the SLK55 AMG goes plus-one, and wears 225/40ZR18 and 245/35ZR18 rubber.
Avant-garde style and nearly 12 percent more room highlight the SLK's cabin revamp, although entry/exit remains more a process than a single motion. Once inside, you'll find supple leather upholstery--premium Nappa in the AMG model--set off by aluminized accents and silver-painted seat frames made of lightweight magnesium. While overall control layout is good and legibility of the gauges and displays praiseworthy, the plethora of knobs and mini-buttons in the SLK's central dash stack is less than user-friendly, with or without the optional navigation system.
The SLK has a proper Mercedes-Benz feature set, from a full range of power assists and a multifunction display accessed by selector buttons on its three-spoke steering wheel to dual-zone climate control, an anti-theft system with TeleAid Stolen Vehicle Recovery feature, and the ubiquitous programmable SmartKey. Its baseline AM/FM/CD audio package can be upgraded to a 380-watt harman/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound system. Dialing in an ideal driving position is quick and easy, courtesy of torso-hugging eight-way sport seats and a tilt/telescoping steering column, all power adjustable in the AMG car. All-season al fresco fans will love the new AIRSCARF option that uses vents in the seatback to blow warm air on your neck and shoulders. Still a one-touch-and-hold operation, the SLK's steel top now goes up or down in just 22 seconds.
Storage space remains modest, and it consists of a non-locking glovebox (that virtually disappears when you add a CD changer), small covered console bin-within-a-bin, flex pockets in each door, and a secondary enclosure on the rear bulkhead. The dash-mounted pop-out cupholders appear to be vestigial afterthoughts. Better news out back, where the trunk will swallow a reasonable 9.8 cu ft of luggage with the top up, or just 6.5 cu ft with it stowed.
Like every Mercedes, the SLK's passenger protection starts with a robust structure and loads of electronic handling/braking/stability assists. Also standard are "smart" front airbags, a driver's knee bag, side and thorax bags, seat belt tensioners/force limiters, fixed steel roll bars, and automatic collision notification by Tele Aid whenever an airbag deploys.