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Published on Sat, Aug 5, 2006
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
By JOHN GRAFMAN
Talk to anyone who is fairly familiar with California body boarding and surfing, and bring up the subject of the Wedge. They will just look at you and smile. The grin comes from having an understanding of something special.
The man made jetty that extends from the coast outward forms the breakwater for Newport Beach harbor on one side. On the flip side of the jetty it creates a deformation of the swells that can double or triple the size of inbound waves. The jetty compresses the water forcing a moderate five-foot wave into a bone crushing fifteen-foot monster. Squeezing more into a given space creates an increase in energy. None of this is lost on us as we explore the Mercedes Benz SLK 350.
Shoehorning more into a little space works at the Wedge as well as in the diminutive SLK 350. This is the basis for the two-seater. Less is more. LA Car previously drove this on a coned course at Qualcomm Stadium's extensive parking lot. At that time we noticed that this sports car nearly held its own against its bigger brethren, the SL. The SLK is not 100 percent equal to the bigger car, but neither is its price.
The car feels far more solid than its size suggests. It has a very, well, Mercedes feel to it. Even rough terrain doesn't seem to rattle it. Given that the hard top convertible stows in the trunk along with all of the various actuators and moving parts, I am thinking the guys in engineering were doing some serious overtime in developing this. The car provides a very connected feeling along with good driving characteristics that allow for good times on the track and on the street.
From the hard top stowing in the trunk to the new 3.5 litter motor with 268 horsepower, the packaging of this, the smallest Mercedes (sold in North America) is impressive. At the same time as much as we might like to sidestep this issue, even the smallest of individuals will find they need to wedge themselves within the tight quarters. Although I find myself on the small side of average for an adult male in the USA, I do find this just a bit uncomfortable, like when you outgrow your pants by just a slight amount. This isn't to say I can't get in and out; it's just abnormally close confines.
The Benz does however feel a bit more roomy than say a Honda 2000 in some dimensions, but this is about as far from a Maybach as one can get and still come from the guys with the three pointed star. Just how the typical German is supposed to fit inside the SLK, I have no idea.
Also un-German is the oddball plastic sunvisor that screams low budget. The use of leather and most of the other parts are convincing enough, but a few out of place items diminish the image of what a Benz is all about. Even the hard to reach power seat buttons have been relocated from the interior door panel to an out of sight and out of reach placement on the lower portion on the side of the seat.
The engine however is really a credit, and I think this just might be one of the best motors on the market. It provides smooth power, the type you normally would expect out of an eight-cylinder motor. The engine begs to play harder. As the rest of the car is up to the challenge, I am easily persuaded to play harder with the machine.
Again, I am wedged into a bad spot. In order to reach the pedal correctly I have the seat somewhat forward. That in turn forces my right arm to be in a position that is not really compatible with the shifter. In order to grasp the gearshift I must lift my elbow, as there is a strange layout with the center console relationship that mucks up the whole affair. I would guess that some individuals fit just fine in this, but I am not one of them.
I do find that the door armrest seem to be closing in as well. Perhaps I am larger than the intended market for this car. The last version of the SLK became known as a chick car. Perhaps the reason is due to the fact that they simply fit in it better than most males.
This is annoying as the latest version of the SLK has the fun to drive component that is sure to please all sexes and ages. It's sort of like keeping a dog from his bone, just how happy is he going to be?
Aside from not fitting as well as I thought I would, the car is remarkable. This is a city friendly car if ever there was one. Parking this on a packed summer day down by the coast where any available spot is postage stamp size, the Benz shines. Not only can it slip into a shoebox, with the top down it is extraordinary simple to navigate.
Sure I played with the top operations a little, and it is very simple to operate. Press the lever that activates the top either forward or back to correspond to the raising or lowering of the two section hard top. But, why not just leave it down whenever possible? The trunk still can swallow a decent number of shopping bags. If it is a bit nippy out, the Benz offers not just seat heaters as do many cars, but this provides Mercedes own Air Scarf. A vent near the neck channels three heat settings of warm air to keep the upper area of the body warm as well as the tri-level seat warmers do at keeping the buns toasty.
This is no Lotus. The extra weight the Benz totes, which doesn't seem to dent performance, does in conjunction with the bigger motor suck up more fuel than we prefer. A health appetite for petrol provides EPA highway mileage of just 25 mpg.
The SLK 350 can turn 0-60 times of roughly five and a half seconds. The AMG version can knock that number down further as one would expect. Well, as with the Wedge, every action has a reaction. Push more water into a given area means bigger waves. I for one can justify this in the name of being a sports car. This wasn't designed to be an economy car, and it's not.
While Mercedes is now offering a smaller motor along with the robust 3.5 liter V6, the trade off begins to water down the persona of the SLK. I guess it comes down to whether you want to be the big kahuna, or just another grommet.
Find out more at www.mbusa.com
Price: Base $46,950, as tested $57,015
Engine type: 3.5 Liter 90-degree V-6, Aluminum Head, DOHC
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb.-ft @ 2,400-5,000 rpm
Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive
Transmission type: Six-speed manual and optional seven-speed automatic with Touch Shift manual shift control
Suspension: Front: Strut with two-piece control arm and anti-dive geometry, coil springs, gas shocks, stabilizer bar Rear: Independent five-link with anti-squat geometry, coil springs, gas shocks, stabilizer bar
Wheels and tires: Front: 17x7.5 alloy, 225/45/WR17 Rear: 17x8.5 alloy, 245/40/WR17
Brakes: Front: Vented/perforated discs 330mm diameter, four-piston calipers Rear: Solid discs 290mm diameter, two-piston calipers
ESP Stability Control, ASR Traction Control
Overall length: 160.7 inches Overall width: 70.4 inches Overall height: 51.0 inches Curb weight, lbs: 3,295 (Automatic), 3,255 (Manual)
EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 19/24 (Automatic), 18/25 (Manual)
Top Speed, mph: 155
0-60 mph: 5.4 (Manual), 5.5 (Automatic)