The Mercedes-Benz SLK350 is the subject of our fourth 2012 Car of the Year focus. Does this jaw-dropping but niche (and very expensive) car stand a chance of winning? Mamba’s motoring editor, and member of the judging panel, Brent Ellis tells us.


At the announcement at the Joburg Motor Show last October, I was quite surprised to hear that the all-new Mercedes-Benz SLK350 had made the list of 2012 Car of the Year (COTY) finalists. Such a niche-style car is rare for this competition. It is at least a formidable finalist, and after testing the SLK200 just before this 350 arrived, I fell in love with the third incarnation of the iconic premium roadster. Is there any chance that it could take the COTY title and, that aside, is it at least a car worth buying?


The looks will surely cement that decision to a large extent. The black test unit you see in these photos was fitted with the optional (and pricey) AMG sports package, which brings with it aggressive new bumpers, 5-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, interior design highlights (like the beautiful red stitching) and lowered suspension. I love the look, especially with its xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights, which add a great deal of aggression to the appearance. In standard guise the SLK looks a lot more feminine, with rounded edges and a less menacing face. If I had to buy one, it would get the AMG treatment without a doubt.

The sporty and snug interior is a great place to sit, and features many design cues passed down from the flagship SLS AMG supercar. Aluminium detailing and leather surfaces abound, and with the red stitching I adored the whole ensemble. The sports seats are supportive and firm, and feature Merc’s AIRSCARF system – heating fans in the head rests are there to warm your neck in winter (and they really work well). It’s textbook Mercedes though, and anyone familiar with modern three-pointed star products will feel instantly at home in the new SLK. The driving position is also sporty, with a low seating position and a long view out making you feel cosseted and snug.

Comfort and Features

At this price level, you’d expect the SLK to be loaded with features but, and this is typical of Mercedes-Benz, a long and expensive extra features list is one of the few items that comes with the car as standard. You’ll also get the likes of auto-on bi-xenon headlights with LED indicators, LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights to match, a nifty draft stop system (a proper wind deflector is optional but the plastic flaps do a good-enough job of keeping your hair in its place), rain-sensing wipers, AIRSCARF, a brilliant audio system with a media interface for USB, iPod and other peripheral device integration, auto climate control, heated seats, remote roof operation and an interior lighting package.

Comfort levels are good, despite the harder ride and sportier seats in this AMG version. The interior is reasonably spacious – remember this is a two-seat roadster – and the boot, while it might not be terribly massive, is at least big enough for a large suitcase and some shopping, with the roof down. If the roof is up the boot is of course a lot more generous, but I reckon that with clever packing a couple could easily take a weekend trip away with the SLK and still enjoy some top-down cruising – I know I would.

Ride and Handling

Cornering can be done with great confidence even at higher speeds and, with the traction control on, the tail will happily slide out a little to add some fun to the equation – without allowing you to spin out into a barrier. Turn it off though and the SLK350 turns into an animal – with so much power on tap you need to have a lot of space to play in or be a trained driver to take such liberties.

With the roof down especially, the SLK350 is totally divine to drive. There is just enough wind intrusion (which can be varied according to your liking with the draft stop system) and the sound is utterly fabulous. Deep and masculine to begin with, and becoming throaty and high-pitched as you work through the rev range. My favourite bit was around the 4000rpm mark, where the sound was just so glorious it gave me shivers at times.

Performance and Economy

The SLK350 is powered by a new-generation, more “eco-focused” 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, which (according to Merc at least) has been engineered with BlueEFFICIENCY principles in mind for environmental responsibility. Yeah, whatever – with 225kW and 370Nm being shoved through a 7G-TRONIC PLUS automatic gearbox (with manual shift paddles and three drive modes) to the rear wheels, this is anything but an economical car. And I’ll be damned if anyone who buys one drives it with eco-consciousness in mind. The power is good for a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 5.6 seconds and top speed is limited to 250km/h.

And believe me, it’s addictive. I returned average fuel consumption of 15.9-litres per 100km and, while some might say that’s not that bad for a car like this, it sure is way off Merc’s claims of 7.1-litres per 100km. You couldn’t achieve that in this car even if you pushed it wherever you went! Carbon emissions are claimed to be 167g/km however, and that is where the difference comes – brilliantly low for a car like this!


As the inventor of most modern safety systems, Mercedes-Benz has gone all-out on the SLK350. Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, ABS (anti-lock brakes), EBD (electronic brake-force distribution), ESP (traction control), BAS (brake assist), adaptive brake lights, ATTENTION ASSIST, NECK PRO head rests, an electronic handbrake, tyre pressure monitoring and PRE-SAFE (the car is actually able to brace itself for a crash). Remote central locking and an alarm are also fitted.

Popular Options

This is sadly where every Mercedes has a sore knee in my books – the list of optional extras for this car is lengthy, and you can easily add a considerable amount to the sticker price. Those options I think most people would go for include COMAND satellite navigation (R22 600), PARKTRONIC parking sensors (R8000), a Harman Kardon sound system (R9500), keyless go (R5000) and, if you’re anything like me, the AMG sports package (R32 000).


As standard, the SLK350 retails for R734 100, including a 2-year/unlimited mileage warranty and a 6-year/120 000km stepped maintenance plan. Yes, it’s that expensive, and that’s why I don’t think it deserves the COTY title – few people are able to afford such a car, and many will argue that such a large amount of money could be better spent on something with more doors and seats. That said though, I didn’t at any point feel that this car was “too expensive” for its own good. It offers great performance, stunning looks, a gorgeous sound track and a thrilling driving experience.

I’ve often remarked that once one looks at cars above the R600 000 mark, the people who tend to buy them don’t really care how much they cost. Monthly repayments aren’t an issue because let’s be honest, if you’re shopping for something this expensive you are hardly battling. It then makes sense that, if you are shopping for this or one of its rivals like the Nissan 370Z Roadster (which is considerably cheaper and I think better to drive), a BMW Z4 or a Porsche Boxster, you will rely on your brand loyalty rather than value for money (between the Germans at least). Will the SLK

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