It’s hard to imagine an owner of the new-for-2012, third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 sports car engaging in track day antics, reefing this elegant roadster around tight tire-shedding curves or slashing through fast ones poised on the near molecular level marbles of knife-edge traction.
They could, as the SLK 350 is both very fast and very capable, but most likely won’t. Even Mercedes-Benz appears to place more emphasis on its style – the new-look front end with large central three-pointed star is a direct visual link to the SLS AMG and CLS – and its sporting flair, all-weather driving enjoyment, creature comforts and neat gadgets than its pure go-fast capabilities.
What SLK owners will be more inclined to do is use it like a flip-top Tardis, the Time And Relative Dimension In Space device employed by Dr. Who when he wants to get away to someplace different for a little time-out from the daily grind.
And the SLK has some decided advantages in this role as weekend-time transporter to other-dimension destinations. Unlike the Tardis, which dematerializes on route and then rematerializes at its destination, the SLK is always a very real and enjoyable part of the getting-there process.
Legging it out of town and along the four-lane you and your passenger sit snugly in leather-clad seats in a quiet – just a hint of throttle-on motor noise – climate-controlled and now roomier and more luxurious environment while being entertained by Harman/Kardon-generated surround sound.
As with other new Mercedes models, an obvious effort has been made to make the interior more visually attractive. Instruments have a precision look and silver bezels, the info/navi screen is high and easy to see, and the console trimmed in aluminum (dark burl walnut and gloss black ash are available).
Escape on to Ontario two-lane highways and, if it’s a sunny day, you can pull over and at the press of a button stow its top in the trunk. You can also do this with the key fob while standing casually beside the car, which is cool. With the top stowed, this leaves just enough room (181 of the 286 litres of space in there) for a weekend’s worth of luggage.
You might then enjoy a drive, as I did, along the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River shoreline, through Kingston and on to the Thousand Islands town of Gananoque and a B&B break.
The test car wasn’t equipped with one, but you can order a version of its panoramic glass vario-roof that has a sort of sci-fi feature called Magic Sky Control that, at the press of a button, changes its tint from light to dark (the base car roof is painted metal).
On secondary roads, you become aware of actually driving the SLK. The 302 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque generated by its new 3.5-litre V-6 is sent to the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic. A manual gearbox is no longer offered.
If you need some real punch to pass, select sport mode, which quickens transmission response, and all you need is right there with a quick pump on the throttle pedal. Zero to 100 km/h takes just 5.6 seconds and letting it rev to the 6,400-rpm redline produces a sharply rising but still civilized V-6 howl.
The multi-function, thick-rimmed, flat-bottomed and substantial feeling steering wheel – like a craftsman’s tool not a flimsy video-game controller – transmits input directly to front wheels and tires which translate it into immediate and fluid changes of direction.
At legal speeds, the SLK corners virtually dead flat and, while ride motion livens up over the often less than smooth pavement on secondary highways, the actual comfort level changes little.
Attention to airflow and wind-deflecting devices to mitigate it mean there’s little in the way of disturbing wind blowing around the cockpit and sound levels are low while cruising at scenery-watching speeds.
A nice bonus – that helped contain costs on our weekend getaway – was that after 170 km of this type of driving the fuel usage readout was indicating 7.2 litres/100 km. Official fuel economy ratings are 10.3 city and 6.9 highway, a big improvement over the previous model’s 11.1 city/7.9 highway.
The getting-into-an-SLK-price is $66,500 and a premium package – vario-roof, Parktronic, Airguide (wind deflectors), Airscarf (which blows air around your ears), a clock, some additional trim and the Harman/Kardon audio system – added $3,400 to that on the test car.
If that’s a tad rich for your budget, you can wait until early next year when the SLK 250, powered by a turbocharged, 1.8-litre four making 201 hp/229 lb-ft of torque will hit showrooms priced quite a bit less. On the other hand, if you feel the need to spend more, you can wait for the AMG version.
2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK 350
Type: Luxury sports car
Base Price: $66,500; as tested, $69,900
Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 302 hp/273 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.3 city/6.9 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Porsche Boxster, BMW Z4, Audi TTS, Chevrolet Corvette, Lotus Elise, Nissan 370Z