The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show revealed a new style direction–not to mention a neat engineering innovation–for the pint-sized two-seat roadster.
Wearing a redesigned front end clearly influenced by the nearly $200,000 SLS "Gullwing," the SLK now has a blockier silhouette and an arguably more masculine presence. But cooler (and less controversial) than its manlier styling is a new feature called "Magic Sky Control." The SLK boasts the trend of introducing new technology with each iteration: the first generation model debuted the folding hardtop, and the second unveiled the "Airscarf" neck warmer.
The latest innovation on the next-gen car enables the SLK’s panoramic glass roof to switch from clear to opaque at the touch of a button. In contrast to the ultra pricey, five-figure option on Mercedes’s ultra-luxury Maybach sedan, the SLK’s so-called "magic" roof uses technology which impedes up to 80 percent of heat transmission. The tint changes from a pale green, light blocking filter to transparent almost instantaneously, enabling shelter on sunny days and star gazing at night.
The 2012 SLK will be powered by one of two new direct-injected engines: the SLK250 gets a turbocharged 1.8 liter four-cylinder which produces 201 horsepower, while the SLK350 is powered by a 3.5 liter V6 with 302 horsepower. Both engine have also been reworked to provide lustier exhaust notes; the SLK250 uses a "sound generator" to re-route intake noise for more fullness, and the V6 uses re-worked catalytic converters and resonators for a deeper purr.
The SLK250 will be offered with a 7-speed automatic (or a 6-speed manual, which Mercedes officials admit will likely be in ordered in extremely low volumes), while the SLK350 will only be available with the 7-speed auto. Fuel economy estimates are 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway, and 20 mpg city/29 mpg highway, respectively. Expect the SLK250 to hit 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, and the V6 to reach the same speed 1.1 clicks faster. In other news, the new SLK’s width and length have grown 1.1 inches, with the larger footprint offset somewhat by lighter components like an aluminum hood, which make it weigh roughly the same as its predecessor.
Standard features on the SLK350 include a 5.8 inch display, an 8-speaker sound system with HD radio, and Bluetooth audio streaming. Optional packages include "Multimedia" (which adds a 7-inch Comand system with hard drive navigation and real time traffic, in-dash 6-disc DVD/CD changer, and voice control), and "Heating" (Airscarf, heated front seats.) Among the SLK’s copious safety features is the Attention Assist drowsiness detector and Pre-Safe, which can activate the brakes all the way to a standstill when an impending rear-end accident is detected.
For performance nuts who can’t wait for the SLK55 AMG SLK’s debut, the standard-issue SLK can be ordered with a "Performance/Handling" package which adds performance rubber on 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels, a livelier direct steering setup with variable assist, and sport suspension tuning with automatic damping. Also included are steering wheel mounted paddle shifters and Torque Vectoring Brakes, which facilitate turning and stability by braking the inside wheels.
Expect to find the 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 in US showrooms this July, with the SLK250 becoming available early next year.
BASEM WASEF is an automotive journalist, author, and photographer with two coffee table books under his belt, and is a regular contributor to Popular Mechanics, Robb Report, and Maxim among others. When Basem isn’t traveling the globe testing vehicles, he enjoys calling Los Angeles home.