Why Mercedes killed its SLK and SLC roadsters

Time to reflect on the impact and legacy of Benz’s baby boulevardiers, the SLK and SLC

Mercedes Benz SLC Main Jpg

We’ll forgive you for forgetting that Mercedes is still selling its littlest roadster. After bursting onto the scene in the late nineties, where it blazed a path by kick starting the entire ‘folding hard top’ trend, the SLK and its SLC successor slowly but surely faded into the background. Left to wither on the vine? You bet.

And now, after 24 years of continuous production, Mercedes has officially pulled the plug with no successor in sight. So how to remember it? We’ll freely admit the SLC has never been our favourite Mercedes. A lack of development dollars means today’s car is easily eclipsed by newer and sharper rivals like the Audi TT and Porsche Boxster. Yet even when box-fresh, the SLC was never the last word in steering feel or on-the-limit balance and response. But then again, it was never pitched that way.

First badged as the SLK (it was rebranded as SLC as part of 2016’s facelift), it has long projected itself as a mini-SL; a relaxed cruiser that trades heavily on its premium badge, striking design and drop-top appeal. That’s not to say there haven’t been some bright spots, or some truly mental versions (see sidebar, below).

These came, naturally, from the mad hatters inside AMG who, after supercharging the original SLK’s 3.2-litre V6, decided to stretch the ‘small car/big engine’ maxim to its limit by squeezing a 5.5-litre V8 into the second-gen car and naming it SLK55. Consider that for a moment, and then remember the SLK is tiny. The first-gen car is shorter and narrower than an NC MX-5. Can you imagine Porsche or Audi stuffing such an enormous donk into the Boxster or TT? Us neither.

Design has always been at the forefront of the SLK’s appeal. Created, mostly, by Michael Mauer (who would go on to lead the VW Group and is now design director at Porsche) under the oversight of Bruno Sacco, the original R170 SLK (an acronym that translates to Sporty Light Short) harked back to the 190SL of the 1950s by using four-cylinder power and riding on an identical 2400mm wheelbase. A stiffer and quicker R171, which also introduced a distinctive F1-inspired nose, followed in 2004, before the current R172-gen debuted in 2011.

It’s testament to how well Mercedes judged the segment that sales have remained relatively strong. Even as recently as 2014, the SLK was out-selling the Boxster and TT by more than two-to-one in Australia. A softening segment and ageing product has since seen sales tumble.

So will we miss it? Not as much as other cars that we have featured in our Driven to Extinction seires. Yet for all its flaws, there was a charm to Merc’s tiny convertible. Little roadsters are fast becoming scarce, so bow your heads, if only for a moment.

Mercedes-Benz SLC side profile

BLACK BEGINNINGS

Of all the cars to kick start AMG’s hardcore Black Series skunkworks, the SLK seems an unlikely candidate. Yet that’s exactly what happened. Power was lifted to 294kW/520Nm, the chassis made more aggro, and the folding roof was ditched in favour of a fixed lid made from carbon. Only 100 were built between July 2006-April 2007, and sadly none made it to Australia. Our first Black was the CLK.

Mercedes-Benz SLK Black

AUSTRALIAN SALES

  • 2010 – 338
  • 2011 – 398
  • 2012 – 701
  • 2013 – 521
  • 2014 – 475
  • 2015 – 235
  • 2016 – 106
  • 2017 – 291
  • 2018 – 167
  • 2019 – 147
  • 2020 – 34 (YTD)

Mercedes-Benz SLC driving

 

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