Mercedes-Benz SLK (1997)
This is a very cute car! When we test drove it, everyone would come runningafter us, with all kinds of questions about it.
The SLK drove well and handled well. There's no doubt, this car flies. It'svery tightly constructed, and quite sturdy feeling. Even though it's a verysmall car (even smaller than it looks in pictures), one definitely has afeeling of safety.
This car is definitely a babe magnet. It says, "I have enough money toafford a Mercedes... but I'm not such a stiff that I went out and bought aE320."
The SLK comes with a four cylinder, supercharged engine. The convertiblehard top is a work of art. When you hit the button, the windows go down, thehard top folds in half, the storage compartment in the trunk opens byitself, and the roof glides into its hiding place as the lid to the storagecompartment locks itself closed.
And, although the retractable roof is a thing of beauty, we see twopotential problems with it. One is that since it stores in the trunk,there's hardly any usable storage space left. On the other hand, if you'recool enough to drive an SLK, you travel light. One other potential problem:since the retractable roof actually folds in half, we were wondering, "howlong will it be before this starts leaking?" If this thing starts to leakafter five years, it'll probably cost you nine thousand bucks to getrepaired. Suddenly, your deal of the century at $39,900 doesn't look so good.
Our conclusion, however, was that this top will never leak. Why? Becausethe Germans made it. We were thinking, What if you were in Italy, and youcame up with this idea of folding a roof in half? You'd bring it up at themeeting, and you'd get an immediate, no-holds-barred dope slap. ThoseGermans, though--you just know that they went right to work at the samechalk board that Werner Von Braun was using in the 1930s.
One other note: The car we tested did have some annoying rattles. Whetherthese are endemic to the model, or a result of Tommy's misplaced CaffeParadiso travel mugs, we're not sure.
The SLK comes in just under $40,000--a steal, when you compare it with theMercedes 600SL at more than $100k. Yes, $100,000. Yes, that's dollars,U.S. dollars.
When we parked it in Boston's North End, our buddy Richie, who owns theparking lot, came over and said, "Heyyy, now this is the car for me-- yaknow whad I mean?" Now, you have to understand: Richie's got a small fleetof Cadillacs and other fine vehicles. He's a real connoisseur of the finerthings in life. He took the SLK around the block and loved it. We told himit came in under forty grand, and he was amazed.
So, what is MB doing with a car like this, priced under $40k? Mercedes iscompeting against the BMW Z3 buyers, which goes for 30 grand for thefour-cylinder model. So, we say to Richie, "You know, if it were us, we'dtake the Z3." To which Richie responds, "What are yous guys, (bleepin')morons?"
With this car and the upcoming sport utility vehicle, Mercedes is trying tochange its image. They're trying to expand from theirstockbrokers-and-plastic-surgeons base of buyers, and the SLK might justhelp them toward that goal. But, it'll be a generation or more before theyreally start to lose their reputation as the purveyor of automobiles forwealthy snobs. Bringing this car in under $40,000 is a good start, however.
A final note: what on earth is up with the Mercedes TV ads featuringblack-and-white clips from World War II movies? This is supposed to endearthe Germans to us? "Remember us? Remember Hitler? Buy a Mercedes; you'lllove it." Who's the Einstein who came up with that campaign?
View cars.com model report on this vehicle.