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'99 Mercedes Benz SLK

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 '99 SLK230

230 Sport Convertible 

San Francisco:  I don't get to test too many sports cars, what with my limited schedule, but somehow I seem to luck out every now and then. This year my luck held and I got to drive a Mercedes Benz SLK 230 Kompressor Sport Convertible for a week. Sometimes life is just too good.

For those of you unfamiliar with the SLK, it is Mercedes Benz's two seat roadster. The 230 refers to the engine, a 2.3-liter, DOHC, four valves per cylinder, four-cylinder. The Kompressor is just what it sounds like, a compressor, or supercharger. Just like they put on hot rods. It isn't the highest horsepower four cylinder engine out there, but at 185 hp @ 5,300 rpm, it does okay for itself. And having 200 ft./lb. of torque from 2,500 rpm to 4,800 rpm certainly helps move the just under 3,000 lb. SLK along quite nicely (M-B says that 0 - 60 mph comes up in 7.2 seconds).

This is the first year that the SLK is offered with a five-speed manual transmission. M-B expects 20% of SLK buyers to opt for the manual transmission, the balance will go for the optional five-speed automatic.

When I first drove the SLK I thought the engine seemed a little weak on take off. You know, not much grunt down low. But the more I drove, the more I realized that was deceiving. Maybe it was the engine's sound, or almost lack of sound that made me think I'd have trouble in San Francisco. But not to worry, I drove the SLK up some of San Francisco's steepest hills and found that it pulled away from a stop with more torque and fewer shakes than my old 5.0 ever did.

And speaking of San Francisco, while I had the pleasure of the SLK's company, I attended a fund-raiser / birthday party for a state senator at the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill. Not wanting to hassle with finding a parking spot, I opted for valet parking. Imagine my surprise and delight when the night was over to find the SLK parked front and center, "no charge." I guess that means that someone values the image of the SLK, doesn't it?

This being winter in the San Francisco Bay area, the weather is what you'd expect for this time of year - cool and wet. As the SLK has a retractable hardtop, inclement weather isn't a problem. If it's cold and rainy, you drive the coupe version. When the sun's out, push a button, and drive the convertible. It's really that easy. (Some of you may remember Ford's retractable hardtop of 1957, 58 and 1959. Forget about it. Mercedes Benz's actually works.)

I really liked the SLK, not so much for its sportiness (although with the Sport package it could be hustled about very easily) but more for how easy and pleasant it is to drive and its looks. I like cars that show their heritage and the SLK does, from the familiar M-B touches on the outside (the grille, 3-pointed star, and "power domes" on the hood) to the retro gauges on the dash with their polished aluminum bezels, ivory faces and red pointers.

Yet the SLK was anything but retro in operation. Even with the massive 17" tires of the sport package (225/45ZR-17 front, 245/40ZR-17 rear) the SLK rode very well. Yes, the tires did want to tramline a bit (follow lateral grooves in the pavement) but for a car with such a short wheelbase (94.5") and with those tires, I found the ride comfortable. (So comfortable in fact that my brother fell asleep in the passenger seat on a late night ride home from Petaluma.)

Was there anything I didn't like? A couple minor points. Like most two-seaters, there was a shortage of storage room in the passenger compartment. And when you put the top down, trunk space suffers. These are problems you'd encounter with almost any roadster. No real biggie. I did miss cruise control. What can I say? I'm spoiled. I like cruise. Sometimes it keeps me from getting tickets.

So how about some numbers? Fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway. Pretty decent. Price is not bad either at $40,000 for the base model (remember, this is a Mercedes-Benz). There are only five options; a 5-speed automatic transmission ($900), heated seats ($595), metallic paint ($600), portable telephone / CD changer combination ($1,595), and the Sport Package ($3,990). All in all, a pretty nice convertible sports car with a unique disappearing top. By Bruce Hotchkiss AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Mercedes Benz Home Page

Byline:  By Bruce Hotchkiss AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  SLK - Sporty, Light & Kompact
Topic:  '99 Mercedes Benz SLK 230
Word Count:   750
Photo Caption:  '99 Mercedes Benz SLK 230
Photo Credits:   MB Public Relations
Series #:   1999 - 13



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