Convertible tops have gotten pretty sophisticated over the last several years to the point that retractable hard tops are now available on entry-level convertibles, but some automakers are still finding ways to remain innovative. When the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class made its debut in 1997, it was known for its class-exclusive folding hard top, but when the upcoming third-generation SLK-Class makes its debut, it will feature a new inventive feature built into the two-piece hard top: the Magic Sky Control panoramic vario-roof.
Similar to how the Volkswagen Eos offers a unique ambiance with its large glass roof panel, the 2012 SLK-Class will have a large glass panel that has the ability to electronically and automatically tint. The Magic Sky Control roof affords the cabin an airy atmosphere when the driver chooses, but if the weather gets too hot or sunny, the driver can quickly change the transparency of the glass panel to make the interior more comfortable. The Magic Sky Control roof is made possible by small electrically charged particles embedded in a polymer inside the glass. Depending on what level of transparency the driver desires, the particles align in a certain way to either allow light to come in or block the light although it doesn't appear the roof can become completely opaque. Even with in the most transparent mode, the Magic Sky Control roof still blocks harmful UV and infrared light.
In a surprising move, Mercedes-Benz released pictures and information about the new Magic Sky Control roof being tested in Death Valley, but while the exterior is masked to keep the new design a secret, the unique roof panel is easy to see. The key tool used to test the new roof is called a star pyranometer which helps measure the solar energy entering the car measures in watts. In the blazing 104 degree heat with the top down, this tool measured a sun load that was 20 times greater than the amount recorded when the electrochromic glass is at its darkest. Mercedes-Benz engineers have tested the Magic Sky Control roof at temperatures up to 120 degrees and as low as minus 40 degrees.
Looking ahead, the Magic Sky Control roof technology could easily make its way onto future Mercedes convertibles including the Mercedes-Benz SL-Class and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Cabriolet or even on rear side windows for more privacy on cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Although Mercedes-Benz tried as hard as it could to mask both the exterior and interior of the new SLK-Class, it is clear that the car will feature a design similar to what has been incorporated into the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and the all-new 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class. While the previous styling mimicked the SLR McLaren, the new SLK-Class should receive the upright grille treatment found on new Mercedes cars along with squared-off headlights. It also appears that the new design will ditch the soft body lines of the current model in place of a more aggressive styling including the more pronounced, hard-edged rear wheel arches. Inside, the 2012 SLK will add rounded HVAC vents similar to the SLS, while keeping a gauge pod somewhat similar to the current SLK design that has been around since 2004.
The new Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class will be introduced at some point early next year as a 2012 model with a likely venue being the 2011 Geneva Motor Show.