A MORE affordable Mercedes-Benz SLK, now rechristened SLC, brings four new turbo engines – but sadly no V8 – and retains the metal folding roof that distinguishes the model from rivals including the Audi TT and Porsche 718 Boxster.
WHAT IS IT?
After 20 years and 670,000 SLKs, Mercedes has performed a facelift on its third-generation ‘compact’ sports car and renamed it in line with the recent, somewhat confusing, change in naming policy. Now it’s C rather than K, apparently to emphasis the roadster’s ties to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, though the now five-year-old architecture and electronics trail the more advanced C-Class.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Repositioning of the SLC (nee SLK) brings lower prices and new engines: a 115kW 1.6-litre SLC180 offered as a six-speed manual or nine-speed auto and un-sporty performance (0-100km/h in 7.9sec); SLC200 whose 2.0-litre pumps out 135kW; SLC300, the same 2.0-litre chipped to deliver 180kW and expected to be the best seller; and a range-topping SLC43 270kW 3.0-litre V6 that replaces the SLK55’s V8 and brings a depressing end to the mighty normally aspirated AMG engines. Keener prices are expected to start at around $72K to match the base (but 169kW) Audi TT coupe. That’s $15K below the old SLK200.
Audi TT, Porsche Boxster, Nissan 370Z, BMW Z4, Mazda MX-5 RF
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The reality is the new SLC is so similar to the SLK that you can see it appealing to the same people as the old car: buyers who want the style and character of a Mercedes-Benz roadster but not a hard-focused sports car.
PLUS: Versatility, lower prices, excellent auto transmission management, performance
MINUS: Boring exhaust note unless in Sport + mode, aging interior, torque often overwhelms traction
THE WHEELS REVIEW
THE 55 V8 has gone and with it the last fast Mercedes-Benz whose name corresponds to the size of its engine beneath the bonnet. Its replacement, the 43, is a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 whose 270kW and 520Nm don’t compare favourably with the 55’s 310kW and 540Nm. Yet, because the V6 allows fitment of Mercedes’ nine-speed auto (two ratios up on the old 55), with closely stacked lower ratios and maximum torque from only 2000rpm (you’d wait until 4500rpm before the V8’s peak), its 4.7second sprint to 100km/h is just 0.1 seconds slower, while fuel economy improves from 8.5L/100km to 7.8L/100km.
Predictably, the V6 delivers more poke more of the time. So much so that on the greasy roads we experienced it’s all too easy to light up the traction control warning light and leave a rubbery trail as evidence of the SLC’s struggle to maintain grip and forward motion, despite featuring a limited slip differential. This is no Boxster. Nor does the V6 sound sporty. There’s no drama at start-up and at idle it is just plain boring. Sport + produces a barking exhaust note, but we’d like a more compelling induction roar and to get rid of the exhaust drone at 1800-1900rpm in the default Comfort and Sport modes.
In fairness the SLC, like the class best-selling SLK, is aimed at customers who aren’t bothered with sharp handling and are more intent on the genuine ride comfort that comes with Comfort mode in the Dynamic Select button. You can choose between Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual, and Sport+ (standard on all SLCs) which gives you angrier noises, stiffer dampers, heavier steering, and faster throttle and sharper gearbox responses.
AMG replaced the other SLC model’s carry-over front suspension with a three-link design that’s basically from the C-Class, and fitted a linear ratio rack and pinion steering that’s somehow both more remote and heavier than the variable rack of the lesser models. In Sport+ the ride is stiff and the chassis feels out of sorts, as if the 43 is trying to be something that was never intended by its original creators. The SLK wasn’t a pure handling sports car – it wasn’t supposed to be – and neither is the SLC.
The SLC’s facelift is fine, so far as it goes. The more steeply raked grille means the bonnet appears longer and resembles its grander SL sibling, and the nose has larger cooling ducts and integral LED daytime running lights, while the LED tail lights have been sexed up. However, it’s in AMG Line trim that the visuals come alive with front and rear aprons, side skirts, larger 18-inch alloys, lowered suspension and a more striking, so-called radiator grille.
Inside, the SLC’s dash has a new 7.0-inch media display and Nappa covered multifunction thick rimmed steering wheel. It’s all beautifully finished and assembled, but thanks to the ranks of console buttons, now looks dated beside newer designs. Air conditioning, digital radio, sports seats (leather on AMG Line) and a wind deflector are standard on Sport edition upwards. There’s extra connectivity for the in-car “Comand” infotainment and you can operate the SLC’s trademark metal roof on the move at speeds of up to 40km/h… provided you start the opening or closing procedure with the car stationary. Despite the hype, in terms of differing identities, this SLC remains SLK.
Model: Mercedes-AMG SLC43
Engine: 2996cc, 6cyl, 24v, dohc
Max power: 270kW @ 5500-6000rpm
Max torque: 520Nm @ 2000-4200rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 7.8L/100km (est)
Price: $135,000 (est)
On sale: September