LIKE SUNBURNT SCALPS and convertibles, duality has always been synonymous with the SLK. Thanks to its trademark folding metal roof – now with a 6kg lighter magnesium frame – Merc’s littlest sports car can be cosy coupe one minute and breezy roadster just 20 seconds later. And for this third generation, the designers have added some duality to the styling too. The sculpted rear end gets a pair of seriously curvaceous haunches that are ever-present delights in the side mirrors, while the front end is a curious mix of sharp and blunt, courtesy of a stretched-out aluminium bonnet, slab-sided wings and a jutting, SLS-inspired grille. Is it a completely cohesive design? The jury’s still out, but you have to agree the new SLK is a composition of desirable details and that, crucially perhaps, it has more masculine appeal.
Perceived interior quality hits new heights and it’s all very reminiscent of the SLS in terms of architecture, air vents and instrument design. Clearly Mercedes is keen to trade on the success of its range-topping halo car. And with absolutely zero danger of the SLK stealing sales from its gull-winged bro, why not?
In keeping with SLK tradition, the new car again debuts useful kit. Last time around, it was the neck-heating system called Airscarf which turned out to be much more than just hot air. Gen three introduces ‘magic sky control’. Yes, I know it sounds a bit Puff the Magic Dragon, but in theory it’s a must-have feature. Basically it employs an electrical current to darken or lighten the panoramic glass roof at the push of a button. Rather sheepishly I reported that I couldn’t find the button in my car, only to hear, with much relief, that my test unit was option number two of three roof types, meaning tinted glass roof but no magic. Roof type one – the base version – is a body-coloured, all-metal lid. Also new are two clear Perspex triangles Mercedes calls Airguide. Neatly positioned behind the roll-over bars, they simply pivot into place when required, acting in much the same way as a conventional draught stop, but without all the usual assembly and disassembly palaver. Just how vandal-proof are they, I wonder?
The more pertinent question, I suppose, is ‘have the clever fellows back at M-B HQ managed to engineer some duality into the way it drives?’ By that I mean can it convince as both corner-carving driver’s tool and boulevard poseur in a way the old car couldn’t quite manage? Merc invited us to the volcanic island of Tenerife with its nerve-wrackingly narrow and tormentingly twisted mountain road network to find out.
I’m in an AMG Sports-equipped 350 seven-speed auto, complete with top-line Dynamic Handling package, which includes adaptive damping, variable steering ratio and so-called torque vectoring brakes that do their best to mimic a limited-slip differential. You cannot spec the SLK in a sportier fashion than this. Standard cars get basic steel suspension, but you can opt for the shorter springs and stiffer damping of the Sports suspension if you can’t quite stretch to full Dynamic.