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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Overview

Two for the Price of One

The SLK is really two cars in one. With its top up, it's a racy coupe, as secure from the outside elements as any fixed-roof competitor. But it takes a mere 30 seconds to transform the SLK into an open-air roadster, ready to spoil you with hours of sun-drenched, wind-whipped driving pleasure. You may be wondering what is it that makes the SLK any different from the dozen or so mid-priced convertibles already on the market? Unlike the Audi TT, BMW Z4 or Nissan 350Z, which shield their occupants by means of a canvas tarp stretched over a metal frame, the SLK employs a fully-retractable hard top. When in place, the solid roof panel renders the little MB impervious to wind buffeting, water leaks and the long-term wear and tear eventually suffered by all soft tops.

The SLK is no one-trick pony. Beyond its advanced hardtop design is a sophisticated and powerful sports car, equipped with the latest advances in engine management, road holding and interior comfort. There are actually three models to choose from, beginning with the SLK230 that is powered by a supercharged four-cylinder powerplant dubbed the Kompressor. Though this engine is by no means anemic, its modest power and noisy supercharger seem at odds with the rest the car's refined image. The V6 powered SLKs are much more playful and include a supercharged AMG model that produces a whopping 349 horsepower (and a whopping $56,000 base price) and the normally aspirated SLK320 which we tested for this article.

Without sounding too much like a Goldilocks story gone bad, we really must say that the middle-child SLK320 seems just right. Its powerful 215-horsepower engine winds up nicely and sings the most harmonious tune as it speeds along. You'll find that the 3.2-liter V6 has loads of low-end torque, all of which is amply managed by the slick six-speed manual transmission. Of course, we know that most SLK's will probably go out the door equipped with the optional Touch Shift five-speed automatic, an option that adds a mere $1200 to the sticker. The SLK's automatic allows you the thrill of shifting your own gears without the need for a clutch pedal; when you once again feel the need to be pampered, you simply slip the shift lever into the D position and transmission reverts to its fully-automatic mode.

On the road, the SLK simply shines like no other. You'll find the V6 revs freely, an eager beast hungry to showoff its performance abilities. As you put the SLK through its paces, you'll marvel at just how grounded this coupe feels. The steering is light and quick and the car responds to your every input as though it were hard-wired to your brain. The suspension settings are calibrated to favor the super-firm; this in turn transmits bumps, breaks and rough pavement to the equally firm seats. A suspension this good usually comes at the cost of a cushy ride, and with the SLK you'll find this to be the case.

It's easy to get carried away driving the SLK, and should you push your luck a bit too far, its nice to know that Mercedes has endowed their little roadster with a wide assortment of electronic driving assists to help keep you from getting in over your head. In addition to the standard anti-lock brakes, you'll find an advanced traction control system and a brake assist feature that can sense a panic stop and apply full braking force before the pedal completes its travel to the floor. There is also an impressive system know as Electronic Stability Control. This system can actually detect the direction the car is intending to go and—should it begin to slide off course—will selectively apply the brakes to one or more wheels until the car resumes its intended path.

The luxury element of Mercedes' long roadster heritage has not been left behind either. The SLK's interior is typically Mercedes smooth, with full analog gauges housed in a neat hooded binnacle and flat center stack containing the radio and rotary ventilation controls. A tasteful blending of real wood, plastic and leather cover most of the interior including the tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Tall driver's will find they have a good amount of head room, thanks in part to the eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat. When the top is in place, there is about 9 cubic feet of luggage space or roughly enough for two pieces of carry-on luggage. Once the top comes down, you must vacate all but the deepest portion of the trunk (there is a electronic sensor that can detect if the top is going to encounter (and crush) some obstacle left in its path.

At just a hair over $45K, the SLK320 comes nicely loaded, so unless you are into bells and whistles in a major way, you can pretty much take it as is and still be completely satisfied with your new roadster.

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