Jeff Thisted: Luxury roadsters are part of a small and exclusive club, and the all-new Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class excels by delivering the best in safety, performance and technology.
Shawntey Hinton: The 2012 SLK-Class comes with a retractable hard top that folds into the trunk. Now this makes it heavier than softtop convertibles like the Porsche Boxster, but the extra weight can help to protect you from all four seasons.
Jeff: The SLK's top opens or closes in under 20 seconds. The electric glass roof goes from transparent to opaque with just the push of a button.
And there are other eye-opening tech features that make the SLK an amazing machine. Like Mercedes Benz's standard Attention Assist that learns your driving habits when you first set out on a trip and monitors your steering behavior along with speed and lateral movement. When it senses changes, Attention Assist will warn you that you appear to be getting a little drowsy behind the wheel. A beeping sound occurs, and an image of a cup of coffee in the gauge cluster lets you know it's time to take a break.
Shawntey: Now the model we're driving here is the SLK350, with a 302-horsepower V6. Now that means, the SLK can go from 0 to 60 in just 5.4 seconds.
Jeff: Yeah, but you know what's missing in this car?
Shawntey: What's that?
Jeff: A manual transmission. I mean, the seven-speed automatic with the paddle shifters just doesn't do this car justice.
Shawntey: Well, Jeff, later this year Mercedes will address that with the SLK250. It will have a smaller 4-cylinder engine and come with either a six-speed stick shift or the automatic.
Jeff: Fuel economy or power? Yeah. It's going to be a tough choice between the SLK250 and the SLK55 AMG that's coming out later this year. Mercedes is sticking a 415-horsepower V8 in this thing.
Shawntey: Ooh, that's huge.
Jeff: Yeah, it's going to be pretty impressive. But no matter which model you choose, this thing corners like it's on rails. It isn't just a luxury compact; it's actually a true sports car.
If you do want more straight-line power, definitely wait around for the AMG model, but the 350 right here has got just the right balance of performance and agility.
Shawntey: And adding to that balance: the great fuel economy.
Jeff: Yeah, it's all about fuel economy.
Shawntey: Get this: The SLK350 gets 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway. Now the Z4 28i with its inline-4 beats that, but the SLK matches the Boxster, which is the best-handling car of the group.
Jeff: The SLK350 isn't cheap. It costs more than the Z4 or the Boxster and can get pretty expensive when you start adding in options.
Expect to spend around $60,000 with goodies like navigation, the Harman Kardon sound system and the AIRSCARF system that warms your neck so you can comfortably drive with the top down even in colder weather.
Shawntey: The SLK is the most lavish of the group with a wealth of features that will sway the luxury buyer in you, but the Boxster is the performance king of the group. Even so, the SLK is still a blast to drive.
Jeff: If top-down motoring is your thing, and you want a year-round daily driver that'll turn heads, the SLK350 is the way to go.
It's not as aggressive as the Porsche Boxster, but it's definitely more comfortable, making it the right mix of performance and comfort.