Rarely are new cars designed with such soul-stirring lines as
Mercedes' new second-generation SLK. With classic sports car
dimensions, a power retractable hard top and a sprinkling of Mercedes'
own SLR supercar accents, the 2005 design is stunning.
Under the skin, I found the latest technology, with new suspension,
a rollover-detection system, performance "sound" technology and a new
navigation system. The interior boasts form-fitting, supportive
leather seats, a well-laid-out dashboard and even a set of small vents
for keeping your neck warm — not to mention about a thousand comfort
and convenience features. Plenty of power is available from the SLK's
268-horsepower V6 engine, mated to a new seven-speed transmission, but
it has nothing to do with the real reason you'll want this car: the
feel from behind the wheel.
See, I'm not the first guy here at the Tribune to review the
SLK350. Sam Moses had the honor of attending the press launch — held
right here in the City of Roses this summer — but to my own credit, I
was the first to drive it. Just days before the event I was called
upon by the factory guys to do a small favor. The model hired to drive
the SLK had missed his fight out of Los Angeles. I had just wrapped up
my weekly radio show and was headed home to take on the weekend chores
when the phone rang. Well, there is no way in hell I'm passing up a
chance to drive a car no one has even seen, let alone had the chance
to drive in front of a professional photographer from Mercedes.
After a quick stop at a downtown hotel to pick up my co-pilot, I
was on my way. Headed east on Interstate 84, I was already chomping at
the bit to get behind the wheel. Not unwarranted, but frustrating: The
photographer drove first. I really can't blame the guy, but hey — this
was my deal! Once we passed Hood River and grabbed the exit for
Mosier, however, I knew we were in for an afternoon of fun.
The SLK is a relatively compact car, shorter than an Acura RSX, but
the interior space is much better than the previous SLK. With the
retractable roof holding the rain out and the six-way power seat
adjusted, it easily accommodated my 6-foot-2 frame, and the
surprisingly wide cabin has space for a much-needed center armrest
with useful storage both top and bottom. The dashboard has a modern
feel with its large dials and chrome surrounds, and, decked in
leather, the extremely large steering wheel only helps with the car's
sporty overall feel.
What a drive. Instructed from start to finish, I made sure that I
did I as I was told, and that was OK. I drove hard, then slow.
Sometimes I pushed the front end, then purposely turned off the ESP
stability system and slid the rear tires to give the SLK350 that cool
That's what really impressed me about this car. No, it's still not
my choice for "the one" I would have to own if the correct six figures
came around on Megabucks, but it does have some strong arguments.
First is the seamless power. Just stepping on the gas in the little
Benz is not enough. You have to hang on for the full plate of talents.
The SLK has that feel that it knows what it's doing , or — better yet
— made me feel that I knew what I was doing. I have a bit of ego;
everybody does. Mine was held in check while never being kicked when
trying to push the little silver SLK. I was confident and alert. I
always knew what the car was doing by the feel from the seat of my
pants. It was just plain fun — fun to drive, fun to look at and fun to
be seen in. Almost nobody knew what it was, and it was fun telling
The new 2005 Mercedes Benz SLK350 has everything a roadster driver
is looking for: class — I noticed several head-turns of admiration
from fellow drivers; accessibility — sure, 50 grand is a lot of money,
but at this level of luxury drop-top fun, it's a bargain; power —
that's where the new SLK shines, 268 shiny ways and enough said.
So what does it mean? It means if you've been thinking of driving a
classy high-powered German roadster and have no use for a Porsche
Boxster or BMW Z4, this is your ride.