Then she showed up at my office one day, transformed by a stunning new look and obvious confidence. She had a week to kill before heading home.
Though our time together was brief, I’ll always hold dear those seven days I shared with her, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350. Along the curvy mountain roads drenched in California sunshine and while parked on the rippling concrete that is Interstate 405, I quickly forgot about the SLK I’d once known, the one with slow steering and sedate looks. Replacing that fading memory is an appreciation for the new SLK, with its striking appearance and more.
That “more” is all-inclusive: more horsepower and torque, more overall passenger volume, more trunk capacity, length, width, wheelbase, and fuel capacity. There’s more rubber wrapping larger wheels, and more response from the new rack-and-pinion steering system. Let us not overlook the more muscular, chiseled styling of the 2005 SLK-Class – gone is the subliminal “This is a chick car!” banner plastered on previous generation SLK models. The result is a car that “more” shoppers will be inclined to buy.
In the collective mind of Mercedes-Benz, more is obviously better. Leave that silly “less is more” philosophy for the other guys. After a week behind the wheel of a 2005 SLK350, we couldn’t agree…more.
For 2005, the SLK-Class lineup consists of a V6-powered 350 model and a V8-powered 55 AMG model. The four-cylinder 2.3-liter model, known as the SLK230, ended production with the 2004 model year. For 2006, a new SLK280 with a lower base price and a smaller V6 engine will be offered.
Pricing for the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 roadster starts at $46,970, which includes a $720 destination charge. Among the standard features are a 3.5-liter V6, a six-speed manual transmission, 17-inch wheels, a power retractable hardtop with a glass rear window, and heated rearview mirrors with integrated turn signals. Inside the cabin are standard leather seats, a nine-speaker sound system with a CD player, an exterior temperature gauge, an automatic climate control system, a manual tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and silver accent trim. Also included as standard fare is a Tele Aid telematics system with 12 months of free service.
There are numerous options for the SLK350, such as a glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer, heated seats, run flat tires, a hands-free telephone, metallic paint, and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Also available is a neck heating feature called AirScarf. An AMG Sport Package adds unique 17-inch AMG wheels, a sport suspension, front and rear air dams, side skirts, and steering wheel-mounted transmission controls (if equipped with the automatic transmission). An AMG Sport Suspension Package is also offered, as is a Comfort Package featuring power seats and a steering wheel with memory. A Trim Package puts wood on the steering wheel and shift knob, and a Lighting Package adds xenon headlights, cornering lights, and headlight washers. The Entertainment Package pumps 380 watts out of an 11-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system, and also includes the glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer. Included in a Premium Package are rain-sensing windshield wipers, speed-sensitive steering, a remote-controlled power top, among other features. Finally, special edition packages offer unique exterior colors with upgraded Nappa leather seats, poplar wood trim, and unique floor mats.
If performance is more your thing, consider dropping at least $61,220 (including the $720 destination charge) for a 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG roadster. Under the hood is a 5.5-liter V8 engine fronting a seven-speed automatic transmission, and inside the wheel wells are unique 18-inch alloys. Also standard is the SLK350’s AMG Sport Package; Nappa leather seats; aluminum interior trim; power, heated driver and passenger sport seats with AirScarf; a power tilt and telescoping steering wheel; a remote-control power top; a rear spoiler; and exterior mirrors with memory, with an automatic-dimming feature on the driver’s side.
Packages for the SLK55 AMG include the Lighting Package, Entertainment Package, Premium Package, and the special edition packages. Individual options include the hands-free telephone and the glovebox-mounted six-disc CD changer.
Our tester was a 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 with an estimated price of $50,995, including destination (no window sticker was available for our car). With all of the fun we had with the V6 model and its manual transmission, the extra $10-15,000 for the SLK55 AMG seems to be a needless expense. To keep the costs down, skip the expensive AMG Sport Package and all of its superficial fluff – for a mere $200 you can get the true nugget of that package, the sport-tuned AMG suspension, as a stand-alone option. We’d also shell out some coin for the heated seats and AirScarf neck warming feature, and don’t forget the Entertainment Package with its 380 watts – with the top down at speed, the standard sound system just doesn’t cut it.
Nuts and Bolts
Regardless of whether it’s the 350 or 55 AMG, buyers of the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class roadster will be rewarded with an abundance of power, a taut suspension, and aggressive brakes.
The 2005 SLK350 is powered by an all-aluminum, 3.5-liter, dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 that puts out 268 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 258 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,400 rpm. Managing that power is a six-speed manual transmission, though a seven-speed adaptive automatic transmission with a manual mode is optional. The EPA suggests that, when equipped with the manual transmission, the SLK350 should return 18 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 21 mpg in mixed driving. Swap in the automatic transmission and those ratings drop to 16 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg in mixed driving. Over the course of several hundred miles on the streets, highways, and back roads of southern California, our six-speed test car achieved only 17.9 mpg. Premium fuel is required.
Surprisingly, a move up to the 355-horsepower 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG, available only with a seven-speed, SpeedShift automatic transmission, garners the same EPA results as the automatic-equipped V6. However, all that horsepower is surely hard to ignore, something that would ultimately prove harmful to real-world fuel efficiency. Ponying up the power is an all-aluminum, 5.5-liter, single overhead cam, 24-valve V8 that reaches peak horsepower at 5,750 rpm and provides 376 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm.
A fully-independent, multi-link suspension allows the bounty of engine power to be used in the twisties as well as on the straight-aways. The front suspension uses MacPherson struts, and stabilizer bars are bolted on front and rear. The 2005 model ushers in the use of MacPherson struts as part of the front suspension, replacing the double wishbone setup used in the previous generation SLK. Stopping power for the SLK350 is provided via 330-mm ventilated discs up front and 290-mm solid discs in the rear; the SLK55 AMG features 340-mm ventilated front discs and 330-mm ventilated discs out back. Both SLK-Class models come with antilock brakes, electronic brake assistance, traction control, and stability control. Connecting all the hardware to the road are high performance tires. The SLK350’s 17-inch wheels are shod in 225/45R17 Pirelli P Zero tires up front and 245/40R17s on the rear; the SLK55 AMG wraps its 18-inch wheels in 225/40R18 tires up front and the rears get 245/35R18 tires.
It was only by coincidence that the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 was under our care at the same time as a Honda S2000 tester. Given the differences in price and targeted demographics, a full-fledged comparison made little sense. However, it did provide two of our editors with a terrific opportunity to skip out of the office for an afternoon, and to run each of these two roadsters to their maximum potential.
It would be accurate to say we were taken aback a bit by the Mercedes. Even with more than 3,200 pounds to motivate, the SLK350’s V6 provided plenty of punch. Power delivery was linear, and good golly, you’ve gotta love that torque. So much torque, in fact, that the driver can leave the shifter in third gear, and easily modulate the throttle in the straight stretches and in the tight corners. Downshifting to second is only required on the most aggressive turns. And this was on a somewhat steep, uphill run. When we found a chance to open it up, the V6 remained composed, so much so that we didn’t know we’d reached redline territory until the rev limiter activated. With the SLK350’s grille reflecting in its rear bumper, that high-revving Honda, even with similar horsepower and weighing hundreds of pounds less, was screaming for relief.
Unlike the silky feel of the V6, the six-speed manual transmission is clunky and sloppy. Depress the clutch pedal, and the shift knob feels eager to pop out of gear (though it never did), the gates between gears prevent smooth and quick shifts, and one of our editors complained of a springy feel to the clutch. Clearly, a tighter, more accurate shifter would be a better match for the praiseworthy engine. Like the one in the Honda S2000, for example.
Ranking better than the transmission but short of the admirable engine, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK350’s brakes performed well overall, though there was too much pedal travel before braking took effect. However, once the brakes engaged, slowing power was impressive, impervious to fade even after long bouts of aggressive driving. And, to be sure, that’s how the SLK350 likes to be driven.
Thanks in part to the new rack-and-pinion steering system, handling feels more precise and communicative than the previous generation SLK, though large potholes and bumps do tend to stir things up. There is a small dead spot on center, but with the optional speed-sensitive steering (included in the Premium Package on the SLK350; standard on the SLK55 AMG), that goes away as the steering becomes firmer at higher speeds. Drivers will notice some understeer in fast corners, but it’s minimal. Chances are the SLK350 will make you feel like a better driver than you really are, namely because of the sophisticated suspension and the stability control system that keeps the SLK pointed in the right direction.
With its stiff ride, firm seats, and enveloping cockpit, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is for those willing to forsake typical Mercedes ultra comfort in the name of sport.
Dropping into the seats reveals a strong hint at the SLK’s sportscar nature. These are chairs you fall into, rather than sit on. Subsequently, getting out can be a challenge, and pant legs will get dirty as legs are flung out over the door sills in an exit attempt. Whether deliberate or by chance, the door and steering wheel provide the required leverage for extrication.
Between the dropping in and the busting out is time spent in bucket seats, bolstered with ample side cushions and accented with adjustable headrests. Our tester featured manual adjustments (including tilt and height); power seats are optional. Seat bottoms are of adequate length and are fairly wide, but the flat seat back feels rigid after a few miles. The leather on the seats feels durable.
Once planted and on your way, noise from the Pirelli PZero 225/45R17 tires becomes evident, whether the top is up or down. We liked the raspy sound of the exhaust, so didn’t oppose hearing it sing inside the cabin. With the exception of those tires, driving with the hardtop fixed overhead creates an interior that is almost serene, surprisingly so for a roadster.
While it may have been quiet in the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, visibility was limited with the top raised, even by convertible standards. The rear roof pillars limit the view, and the large passenger headrest effectively nullifies any benefit from the rear side quarter window. Exterior sideview mirrors are large enough to be useful, and the rear windscreen can be removed to allow for clear sightlines through the interior rearview mirror. Funny thing about that rearview mirror – the windshield frame sits low, so that mirror sits low. Problem is, the cupholder sits at the top of the dash. Put a tall cup in the cupholder, and together with the mirror, you’ve got a big forward-view obstruction.
Get yourself a plastic door-mounted cupholder from Wal-Mart, drop the top, and visibility improves. High seatbacks and sizeable roll bars are somewhat restrictive, but drivers are nonetheless granted a decent rearward view, and when coupled with the SLK’s short rear end, checking for traffic and executing lane changes are simple affairs. Overall, Mercedes-Benz engineers claim that visibility has increased by 12 percent in the 2005 SLK-Class (vs. the 2004 model), due in part to narrower A-pillars. At speed, the interior is free of any significant wind buffeting, and the heating air conditiong system performs well in maintaining the desired temperature.
As far as roadsters go, the SLK offers a respectable amount of cargo volume when the top is raised. With 9.8 cubic feet, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is comparable to the Porsche Boxster, which offers 9.9 cubic feet of cargo space, though a bit less than the Chevrolet Corvette convertible and its 10.4 cubic feet. However, trunk space is drastically reduced in the SLK when the retractable hardtop is lowered, which stores in the front half of the cargo hold and is covered by a large plastic panel occupying even more space.
Storage areas inside the cabin are numerous, yet none are very large. The glovebox is small and is rendered virtually useless with the installation of a CD changer. Two interior storage nets are standard, and each door panel includes a lower storage pocket. A center armrest features two-level storage. There is a small ashtray located on the center dash, and a fold-down cubby with a parking card strap and sunglasses holder is placed between the seats. On top of the dash are two retractable and adjustable cupholders that will accommodate large beverages. Unfortunately, they are located directly above the radio and climate controls, making both systems susceptible to drips and damage.
We’d be fine with that bit of water damage, so long as it made the sound system easier to use. The rotary knob and steering wheel controls for volume are simple enough, as are the clearly marked radio station seek buttons. However, finding the scan function jumbled in with the COMAND system is a tedious process. In the name of convenience, buttons are placed on the steering wheel for changing radio stations; however, one must first go to the COMAND screen, tap through the menus looking for the radio, and only then do the steering wheel buttons work. Yeah, that’s convenient. For all of that effort, the reward is only average sound quality, regardless of the decibel level. We’d opt for the optional Entertainment Package and its 380-watt Harmon/Kardon sound system.
While operating the radio is more difficult than it needs to be, other interior controls are mostly simple and logical in their design. We grumble a little about the placement of the cruise control stalk on the left side of the steering wheel because it is often confused for the turn signal stalk, but we think that Mercedes owners acclimate to this design quickly. Power door switches are on the doors as we expect, and the power top button is located on the center console.
Lowering the top is a painless process that requires 20 seconds of your time. To open up the sky, the SLK must be running and the emergency brake engaged. After that, a simple touch of the power top button lowers the top – there are no latches or handles to mess with. All of the windows lower with the top, yet unlike the glass in front, the rear quarter windows can’t be raised independently. If you’re the type who likes to drive your convertible with the top down and the windows up, realize that the rear windows don’t play that game. Raising the top takes 21 seconds, not including a few extra seconds to prop up the side windows.
A quick look at the 2005 SLK-Class suggests that the designers at Mercedes-Benz were thinking the same thing as all the rest of us: The previous generation Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class was a total chick car. There. We said it.
This redesigned model features a leaner, more muscular look with a sharp bodyside crease that accentuates the raised rear end and crests at the wide rear wheel flares. The wedge-shaped headlights are swept back, and a prominent new nose, complete with an oversized Mercedes chrome emblem, splits the grille. A raised section runs along the center of the hood, tying the new SLK’s design with that of Mercedes’ race cars and the SLR McLaren super coupe. This element seems to be out of place on the otherwise attractive design, but at least there won’t be any mistaking the 2005 SLK-Class for anything else. There’s still some of that “chick-ness” to the design, although now that chick looks like she’s been hitting the weights. Build quality on our test car was excellent.
The interior failed to impress us as much as the exterior, in terms of design and construction. The interior featured generous use of flat black materials, accented by metallic finishes on the door handles, the center dash, the gauge rings, and various controls. We liked the fact that the interior lacked any hard angles, though the maze of curves on the door panels and dash cap were too busy for our tastes. A little subtlety would work well here. The rubberized material on the dash, doors, and center console felt pleasant to the touch. Quality leather was located on the door inserts and armrests, and a matching grain pattern was featured on the doors, dash, pillars, and front console.
Overall build quality for the interior was acceptable, with a few exceptions. Low-grade plastic was used on the outer edges of the dash, flimsy plastic was found on the lower seat frames, and there was a cheap feel to the instrument panel controls. The parking brake handle consisted of multiple pieces of low-grade plastic (think of the toys in a $0.25 gumball machine and you’re just about there) with visible casting seams. Oddly enough, the shifter knob, despite being one of the most touched pieces of the interior, was also comprised of several pieces that were starting to loosen. These are all minor quibbles, but they take on extra significance when found in a $50,000 luxury car.
Accompanying the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class’s new styling and engines is a special focus on safety, from a safer crumple zone to numerous airbags.
For 2005, the SLK’s front crumple zone has been lengthened, thereby providing more protection in the event of a front-end collision. Should a rollover occur, a sensor triggers dual-stage pretensioners and front airbags. Integrated roll bars are standard, with reinforced A-pillars offering even more support. The A-pillars, both constructed of high-strength steel pipes and steel plates, were initially tested by dropping the SLK-Class on its roof from a height of 50 centimeters.
Added protection comes from the airbags. In addition to the usual driver and passenger front airbags, the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class features a knee airbag, and dual seat-mounted side airbags with head and thorax protection. Taking just 30 milliseconds, these airbags reach high enough to cushion the head against a hard impact, and low enough to protect the chest and neck areas.
When the airbags deploy, occupants will appreciate the SLK’s Automatic Collision Notification and Emergency Response, two of the features included with the standard Tele Aid telematics system. Included free of charge for the first 12 months of ownership, Tele Aid also includes concierge services, roadside assistance, security system notification, stolen vehicle tracking, remote unlocking, reservations, navigation, and traffic information.
Take a quick gander through the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class brochure, and before long the word “muscular” will be permanently imprinted on your brain. Even without the blatant use of that term, new styling and added grunt are quite indicative of where Mercedes is going with its reinvented roadster. That front beak is a tad unattractive and the interior quality is a few letters shy of spelling luxury, but those who can afford the price of admission will enjoy an energetic engine that plays well with an athletic chassis. Just be aware of that thoroughly unqualified manual transmission.
Despite those few shortcomings, the 2005 SLK is a major improvement over its predecessor. More power, more style, more fun – the SLK proves that, indeed, more is better.
Test Vehicle: 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
Price as Tested (estimate): $50,995 (includes $720 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 268 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 258 at 2,400
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Curb Weight: 3,231 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 18/25 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.9 mpg
Length: 160.7 in.
Width: 70.4 in.
Wheelbase: 95.7 in.
Height: 51.1 in.
Legroom: 42.5 in.
Headroom: 37.9 in.
Max. Seating Capacity: 2
Max. Cargo Volume: 9.8 cubic feet
Competitors: Audi TT, BMW Z4, Chevrolet Corvette, Chrysler Crossfire Roadster, Lexus SC430, Lotus Elise, Porsche Boxster
From a price perspective, how does the 2005 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class compare with the 2005 BMW Z4 and 2005 Porsche Boxster? The 268-horsepower SLK350 is about $12,000 more than the 184-horsepower BMW Z4 2.5i, and about $2,400 more than the 240-horsepower Porsche Boxster. The 355-horsepower SLK55 AMG is about $19,000 more than the 225-horsepower BMW Z4 3.0i, and about $7,500 more than the 280-horsepower Porsche Boxster S.
Are there any other notable changes between the new SLK and the previous model? There are few points to note. The SLK350 adds about one hundred pounds, but when coupled with the extra horsepower, the power-to-weight ratio actually decreased. Fuel range is extended thanks to a gas tank that carries an extra 2.6 gallons. But, probably most importantly, they did away with the standard cassette player. Bummer, dude.
How did the SLK fare against the Honda S2000? It’s an apples to oranges comparison, but for what it’s worth – the SLK spanked the S2000. Excellent question!
Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz North America