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Mercedes-Benz SLK

Mercedes-Benz SLK Published: 6th Apr 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK
Mercedes-Benz SLK
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Recently dropped name for scaled down SL launched 20 years ago. Great value and as usable as an MX-5 if not as sporty. Excellent back up from factory and specialists

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a sports car that would make waves far greater than its maker expected – the Mercedes SLK. Until now, sports cars were often lightweight machines with a cloth roof that focused on agility. But when Mercedes launched the SLK in 1996 it created a car that put the focus on yearround comfort and usability with a strength of build that nobody else could match.

Mercedes wasn’t the first car maker to build a coupé-cabriolet though. When it showed its SLK concept at the 1994 Turin motor show, it was 60 years after Peugeot had introduced the 401 Eclipse. Ford would go on to offer the Skyliner in the 1950s, complete with folding hard-top – but it was Mercedes that would popularise the formula with the original SLK. That car would prove the catalyst for a raft of coupé-cabriolets from the likes of Peugeot, Ford, BMW, Mazda, Vauxhall and Volvo, some with two seats and others with four. Suddenly, having a convertible meant you didn’t have to make sacrifices when it came to security and comfort. Strangely, Mercedes has just seen fit to drop the SLK name in favour of SLC so it falls in line with corporate badging. Which means it’s already a classic in the making!


1994 The SLK is unveiled as a concept at the 1994 Turin salon. The name is derived from Merc’s iconic SL (Sport Leicht) tag, with a K added for Kurz, or Short. As such, the new sports car is positioned as a smaller, more attainable SL but it’s the first car from Mercedes to feature a folding hard top. Mercedes follows up the original SLK concept with a second take at the Paris motor show in the autumn.

1996 SLK goes into production, with a retractable hard top as standard; it’s known as the Vario-Roof. This first-generation SLK has the internal codename R170; its successor is the R171. While overseas markets have a choice of 136bhp 200, 192bhp 200K and 193bhp 230K engines, all available with five-speed manual or automatic transmissions, UK buyers can have only the range-topping SLK230K auto. Capable of 140mph and 0-60mph in 7.4 seconds, it’s plenty quick enough but nothing like as much fun to drive as the cheaper, lighter cloth-roofed Mazda MX-5.

2000 A facelifted SLK brings new variations on the theme for UK buyers. There’s a new entry-level model, the SLK200K alongside the new range-topping SLK320, offering 163bhp and 218bhp respectively. The facelift brings reprofiled bumpers front and rear, body-coloured side skirts and redesigned door mirrors which now incorporate the indicator repeaters. At the same time, ESP control becomes standard across the range.
2001 The SLK32 AMG is unleashed, with a 349bhp supercharged V6. It’s offered only with a five-speed automatic transmission, while standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, cruise control and a body styling kit. Electronically limited to 155mph, the SLK32 AMG can despatch the 0-62mph sprint in just 5.2 seconds.

2002 The SLK Limited Edition appears, complete with 7.5x17 alloys, black nappa leather and complemented with brushed aluminium interior trim. Both SLK230K and SLK320 editions are available.

2004 The Special Edition comes with 16” alloys, grey or red nappa leather and brushed alloy interior detailing, once again, based on SLK230K or SLK320 variants. It’s the first-generation SLK’s swansong before the all-new second-generation SLK is launched.


The Mazda MX-5 had kick-started the affordable roadster market back in 1989; the next step was for the premium manufacturers to introduce a steady stream of more upmarket small roadsters. Mercedes was the first with the SLK, along with the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster in the same year. It would take Audi another couple of years to launch the TT with the Honda S2000 following in 1999.

Of all these cars it was the Mercedes that felt the most substantial and because UK buyers got only the more powerful editions to choose from, there were never any criticisms of a lack of power. Compared with the 1.9-litre BMW Z3 for example, the SLK230K was much more muscular.

When Peter Robinson drove one of the earliest 230Ks for Autocar in 1996, he wrote: “The remarkable new SLK is three cars in one. The most public role is a relaxed wind-in-the-hair poseur’s roadster. Twenty-five seconds later, via a densely technical engineering miracle, it converts to an autobahn express, a true coupé. Or it can be a quick-handling sports car, open or closed. And the 2.3 Kompressor automatic is fun to drive. Not just because of its trio of personalities, although this is fundamental to the car’s enormous appeal. It’s not fun in the way an MGF or Lotus Elise is a plaything. No, the SLK is fun because it looks terrific, handles and rides exquisitely, and performs strongly enough, at least in supercharged form, to be taken seriously. You are going to love it”.

When the same magazine tested the SLK320 upon its launch in 2000, it was even more enthusiastic. This time Peter Robinson wrote: “Be in no doubt: this is a marriage made in heaven. Blend the svelte body of Mercedes’ still-desirable SLK roadster with the civilised potency of its 3.2-litre V6 engine and you have all the potential for a richly rewarding sports car”.

Things got even better with the arrival of the SLK32 AMG in 2001. This time, the weekly commented: “AMG has done more than simply bolt a supercharger to the 3199cc engine. The Mercedes-owned tuning masters have reworked every aspect of the car to create a worthy rival for the Porsche Boxster S and BMW M Roadster… The mechanical changes have created a blindingly quick roadster whose performance is more Santa Pod than Stuttgart. Imagine a TVR made by Mercedes and you might begin to get the idea. This car is quick with a capital F…

“The SLK’s stylish looks, beautifully simple roof mechanism and impressive build quality make the 32 AMG a hugely desirable package. But ultimately it is the savage performance that makes it so appealing – and so different in character from every other SLK”.

As we eluded to earlier, the SLK is a great all round sporty car rather than an out-and-out sports car. Most came as an automatic and only the 320 and the AMG possessed real muscle. But as a nice easy owning, affordable prestigious cabrio coupé it’s an act that’s hard to follow. Handling is trim, they are comfortable and cruise well and feel much more solid than later Mercs.


Predictably, with the earliest cars now two decades old, you’re buying on condition rather than spec when it comes to the more mainstream derivatives. The SL Shop’s Bruce Greetham comments: “You can buy a first-generation SLK for less than £2,000, although you’re better off spending at least £3000 if you want something tidy – even better if you’ve got £4000 in your pocket.

While £3000 will secure a reasonable SLK 200K, 230K or 320, with upwards of 100,000 miles on the clock, there are 60,000-mile examples of all these editions within reach if you spend just an extra thousand pounds”.

By far the majority of SLKs have just four (supercharged) cylinders, and as a result there’s a decent balance of fuel economy and performance. But the SLK320, with its 3.2-litre V6, is worth seeking out as it sounds so much more muscular and offers significantly more low-down torque without too much of a fuel consumption penalty.

Greetham adds: “Stretch to £5000 and you’ll get a higher spec or lower-mileage SLK, while cars that have covered under 50,000 miles and have a few factory-fitted extras can still command up to £8,000. You’ll be doing well to find an SLK32 AMG as just 271 were sold here. If you do track one down, expect to pay at least £8000 for it, and more like £12,000 if it’s a low-mileage car in superb condition”.


You can spend plenty on all sorts of upgrades for your SLK, but few (if any) of them are necessary. Most of them are cosmetic and are aimed at making your Merc stand out from the crowd. With even the weediest SLK (the 200K) capable of 138mph and 0-62mph in 8.2 seconds there’s no real need for performance upgrades, but if you do want more go just track down an SLK230K or an SLK320 (142mph, 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds). While there’s little difference in performance between the 230K and 320, the latter is smoother and offers more low-down torque so it’s a more relaxed driving experience.



  • Corrosion can be a real issue, so check the suspension arms and brake pipes for rust. If these have corroded there will be much worse hidden away. Check the wheelarches, sills, boot lid and number plate surrounds, the area around the rear number plate light, as well as the fuel filler flap.
  • Also inspect the leading edge of the bonnet; the paint chips and corrosion then sets in. Analyse the whole front end for poorly touched in stone chips; you might have to budget for a front-end respray. The front wings can also rust; it’s most likely around the wheelarch lips as well as along the lower edge, where it butts up to the wraparound bumper. Finish by looking where the two halves of the roof meet; corrosion can set in on both parts.
  • The roof mechanism is pretty complicated but it should also prove reliable in service. However, there are various sensors which can play up if the car isn’t used regularly, so put the roof up and down a few times to make sure all is well. The hydraulic oil should also be replaced every 10 years or so, and it’s worth swapping the pump relay (under a cover on the right-hand side of the boot) as a matter of course periodically, as they fail. They’re 12 apiece and take a couple of minutes to swap over.


  • Some cars have a manual gearbox, but most UK SLKs got a five-speed auto that’s lively and shifts ratios smoothly. If the car has a six-speed manual gearbox, make sure the changes are slick; this transmission can fail, although occurrences are rare. Manual gearboxes have a following but buyers tend to prefer autos; the SLK32 AMG came in auto form only.
  • The charging system can fail when the voltage regulator on the alternator packs up. Also take a look at the front fog lights; these can mist up then corrode internally, so make sure there’s no rust evident.
  • The headlights are incredibly poor on dipped beam, although they’re fine on main beam. The solution is to fit stronger, aftermarket bulbs, although even then you won’t get the kind of illumination you’d expect of a modern Mercedes.
  • Other likely electrical glitches include the heater resistor (easily and cheaply replaced), the air conditioning condensor and compressor (it can cost over £1000 to replace both), the boot lights and the brake light switches. The rear light circuit boards can melt (they’re repairable though) while the alarm horn can sound continuously once water has got into the workings – many owners just disconnect it but that’s a dodgy ploy.
  • Catalytic converters can pack in, which is why you should have an emissions check performed before buying, because replacement converters are very costly. There are three of them and if they all need to be replaced, which is unlikely, the bill will easily come to over £1000.


  • The four-cylinder engines are robust and will rack up 200,000 miles quite happily with the correct maintenance, but if neglected a failed head gasket is quite likely. The supercharger bearings can eventually fail, leading to rattling on tickover. The blower will continue to work but it’ll get noisy; reconditioned superchargers cost around £500.
  • The V6 is also tough but air mass sensors fail; new ones cost £85. This engine also forms the basis of the SLK32 AMG and in supercharged form it can wear more quickly if the available performance has been used on a regular basis. However, if looked after the AMG engine will also notch up well over 150,000 miles without murmur.


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