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2009 Mercedes SLK 350 Roadster

You won't read this expletive in any Mercedes-Benz newspaper ads. Or hear any of the carmaker's earnest staff here actually utter the derogatory phrase.

Published February 23, 2008
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<p>NICE, France—You won't read this expletive in any Mercedes-Benz newspaper ads. Or hear any of the carmaker's earnest staff here actually utter the derogatory phrase. </p><p>But there's no getting around the fact: its SLK roadster is, well, a <em>chick </em>car. </p><p>The highlights from the mid-cycle refreshing of the 2009 SLK tell the story. Styling for "added sportiness," a new "high-revving" six-cylinder, updated steering for "outstanding agility and tangible fun" — looks to me like the German automaker is trying hard (once again) to break its roadster's hardened stereotype.</p><p>When the two-seat rear-wheel-drive SLK 230 Kompressor debuted 11 years ago, it sent a message to driving enthusiasts that Mercedes's priority was style over substance; form over function — like choosing high heels over high-tops.</p><p>Whatever, the first-generation SLK ended ended up being a sales success for Mercedes. Yet the absence of critical acclaim the German automaker sought was the prime motivation for the more masculine second-generation SLK. It arrived in 2005 with McLaren SLR supercar-like looks, punchier V6s, a real honest-to-gawd manual transmission and the only V8 in its class, in the SLK 55 AMG. </p><p>Once again, sales success ensued. So you would think that Mercedes would be happy with its SLK. But, but …</p><p>Four years on, and here's Mercedes (again) asking if its SLK Roadster is man enough to take on more hard-core roadsters like BMW Z4s and Porsche Boxsters.</p><p>The familiar three-model lineup, with a couple of V6s and a V8 engine, continues for '09. Mercedes-Benz Canada is saying expect "aggressive" pricing when the new SLK goes on sale this April. Translation: don't expect increases over a price range that spans from last year's $60,500 SLK 280 to the $67,000 SLK 350 to the $87,500 SLK 55 AMG. </p><p>For marketing reasons, last year's base model SLK 280 badge now reads 300. Except for an estimated 0.4 L/100 km drop in fuel consumption (to 9.3 L/100 km for the manual and 9.1 L/100 km for the automatic, based on European model estimates), its 3.0 L V6 with 228 hp and 221 lb.-ft. of torque remains unchanged. As does the range-topping SLK 55 AMG's 5.5 L V8, rated at 355 hp and 376 lb.-ft. and 12.0 L/100 km. </p><p>The biggest changes for '09 can be found under the F1 racecar-inspired hood of the SLK 350. Traditionally the most popular SLK in Canada, its heavily revised 3.5 L V6 gains 33 hp over its predecessor, up to a nice round 300 hp. Torque is also up too, by 7 lb.-ft. to 266. </p><p>Six-cylinder SLKs receive a six-speed manual transmission as standard fare. There's also an optional seven-speed automatic with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters that's mandatory on the torque-rich AMG model.</p><p>Mercedes says the brutish 55 AMG is still the quickest SLK at 4.9 seconds from 0-to-100 km/h. But the biggest performance gains come from the new SLK 350. It isn't far behind the V8 model at 5.4 seconds with either stick or automatic, and costs $20,000 less.</p><p>Mercedes clearly doesn't have to be worried about the SLK 350 getting smoked at stoplights by bicycle couriers anymore. It's now equal to a Porsche Boxster S, quicker than an Audi TT Roadster 3.2 by half a second and a BMW Z4 3.0i by 0.2 of a second. </p><p>When compared to last year's SLK 350, you discover the new model's Direct-Steer system is much quicker at turn-in. It takes a few hairpins to learn not to oversteer the large diameter wheel, and there's still not as much feedback or as much fluidity as a Boxster S. But it does make the SLK 350 more involving to drive. </p><p>Driven hard, the SLK 350's body control is rigid, grip from its front 225/45, rear 245/40 17-inch rubber tenacious. The elements have always been there — rear-wheel drive, balanced front/rear weight distribution, rigid chassis — but the SLK 350 now returns a driver's efforts with more feedback than ever. </p><p>And it performs all of this with a ride quality that won't rattle your fillings.</p><p>Now, if you're already a fan of the SLK's cosseting ways, don't get your lederhosen in a knot. For '09, Mercedes has added new standard and optional features that have little to do with lowering lap times.</p><p>There's a new three-spoke steering wheel, driver instrumentation, and trim and upholstery finishes. More interesting for techno geeks and music lovers is a new optional Entertainment Package with MP3-compatible Harman-Kardon Logic7 surround sound system, Sirius satellite radio and new-generation satellite navigation system with voice recognition. </p><p>And, of course, there's always the SLK's signature piece of hardware: its hardtop roof, which still takes only 22 seconds to flip from coupe to convertible. Keep in mind, when the top's erect there are 300 L of trunk capacity; lowered, it drops to 208. Soft luggage for that weekend away is highly recommended.</p><p>For many current SLK owners, the Mercedes roadster's styling alone may have them writing the cheque to Mercedes, whether it drives like Lewis Hamilton's McLaren Mercedes MP4-23 Formula 1 car, or a wobbly shopping cart. Whatever I, or anyone else, may say about its ability to trounce a Boxster S on a race track is likely moot.</p><p>Taken on its own merits, the 2009 SLK 350 Roadster is a well-built and well-engineered car. With its newfound class-leading performance, more-than-competent road handling, updated cockpit features and — of course — that folding hardtop, the Mercedes is the luxury roadster to live with on a day-to-day basis.</p><p>Chick car stereotypes be damned: if anyone argues with you, just hit 'em with your purse.</p><em>Travel was provided to freelance reviewer John LeBlanc by the automaker <strong>editors@straight-six.com</strong></em>