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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Overview

Rain or Shine, Always a Good Time

The SLK is one of Mercedes' most attractive offerings; it is small and sporty, yet offers room for two six-foot adults and a trunk to stow their overnights. The SLK also has the rare ability to be either a hardtop coupe or an open-air roadster with just the touch of a button.

As you may have noticed, there are a number of retractable hardtop coupes hitting the market, but the SLK was the first mass-produced model to get the formula right. Unlike a soft-top convertible, a hardtop roadster can be driven year round without fear of the elements collapsing the roof upon your head. The SLK has much going for it, beginning with its smartly-styled long hood and short deck design that makes it look like a miniature version of the sleek SL. The look is pure Mercedes and would have most thinking the price of such a car must be at least $50K plus. If that is your guess, you'd be wrong—at least if you were looking at the base model. The SLK230 starts at just over $40K and is powered by a supercharged four-cylinder engine. One step up is the V6-powered SLK320 starting at about $45K and finally there is the high-zoot SLK32 AMG that features a supercharged V6 and a price tag starting at $56K.

For our test, we decided on the middle child SLK320. We think that the extra $5K is not a deal breaker when you're looking at a $40K car; and besides, the extra power and additional features fit the car's personality to a tee. The V6 is so much smoother and quieter than the raucous supercharged 2.3-liter 4 cylinder and it has loads of torque necessary for speedy freeway entries or quick passing maneuvers.

The standard transmission in the SLK is a slick-shifting six-speed manual. Yes, we know that shifting your own gears is great when you're out playing and lousy when you're stuck in the daily commute of rush hour traffic, but this is the cross true driving enthusiasts must sometimes bear. If you don't want to deal with the manual, you can opt for Mercedes' flawless Touch-Shift five-speed automatic transmission. The beauty of the SLK's automatic is that it too allows you to shift gears at will; you just don't have to deal with a clutch pedal. Drive both versions before you decide as the cars really do have vastly differing personalities.

The centerpiece of the SLK is its retractable hard top. An ingenious design splits the hardtop roof just above the rear window allowing the top to fold in two much like a collapsible lawn chair. With the push of a button, the rear deck lifts up, the roof folds and stows itself in the trunk and then the deck seals itself tightly, all in less than 30 seconds. To reverse the process you simple push the same button, the roof seals itself into place with no assistance required from you. You should note that with the top down, trunk space is reduced to little more than a storage tray.

When the top is in place, the SLK is as quiet as any hardtop coupe in the Mercedes lineup. Even at highway speeds, wind and road noise are kept to a minimum thanks to a well-insulated overhead lining; you'll find that headroom is also surprisingly good.

On the road, the SLK drives hard, with a somewhat rough ride that can be downright head bobbing over rough surfaces; the up side is that this same suspension delivers one heck of a driving experience. Since most of the road surfaces you'll encounter are probably going to be smooth (and hopefully winding) the SLK's firm suspension should not pose a problem. This is an excellent touring car after all, with a heavy steering wheel that responds instantly to input and a level cornering ability that boarders on rally car quality. The SLK comes standard with a host of electronic stability and traction programs all designed to help keep you in control of the car no matter what the road conditions.

After the retractable hard top, you'll likely find that the most impressive feature of the SLK is its generous list of standard features. Inside the handsome cockpit you'll find a firm yet supportive set of leather bucket seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, TeleAid onboard communications system, Bose audio with cassette deck, illuminated entry, cruise control and eight-way power seats. On the options list you can check off Xenon headlamps, heated seats, an AMG sport package, CD changer and integrated cell phone.

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