Now, I'll admit that press cars are always a bit OTT spec-wise, so let's take a realistic glance over the SLK200's options list. We'll start with a list price of £27,470 and see where we end up. For the SLK to look its best (which is to say better than any other drop-top sports car on sale for less than £50K) it needs the AMG body styling and AMG 18in alloy wheels. They transform it from a snouty, warmed-over version of its predecessor into a genuinely muscular mini-SLR. A happy by-product of this is that with the wheels you get sports suspension too. Agreed? Okay, that'll be £2550 for the body addenda and £1820 for the wheels and suspension. Metallic paint will be another £600. Inside we'll want leather at £900 and climate control at £425. Then there's the 6-CD changer at £350 and the decent stereo at £500. Even without sat-nav (another £1950) we're already up to £34,615. Like I said, be careful what you wish for (or your partner wishes for) because the SLK, even the base SLK200, isn't a cheap car.
Fortunately for Mercedes-Benz, it doesn't look like one, either. With the irresistible AMG goodies this SLK200 wears its £37K price tag pretty well. Outside it's a tightly-chiselled jewel and inside, despite a whiff of cost-cutting about some of the materials, it's functional, clean and modern. You'd happily spend a lot of time in here. And then there's that brilliant roof. So we've established that the SLK looks fab inside and out and is rather expensive when you consider its miserly 163bhp; what's it like to drive?
Predictably it's not the fastest sports car on the block and with its supercharged 'four' it doesn't sing a particularly inspiring song. Even so, Mercedes claims that the SLK200 will hit 62mph in a respectable 7.9sec and top 143mph given the room. You have to stir the six-speed manual 'box to make good progress but if you're prepared to make the effort the SLK200 makes a decent fist of being a proper sports car.
Having two cylinders less than the SLK350 might restrict performance but it also takes weight off the front wheels and the SLK's already good turn-in is sharpened up a notch or two in the 200. It feels nimble, with very strong front grip and a flat cornering attitude that's uniform front-to-rear. There's not the grunt to indulge in power oversteer (the electronic ESP never fully disables anyway, so the same will probably be true of the upcoming 360bhp SLK55 AMG) so you drive the SLK as neatly as you can, carrying corner speed and flicking up and down the excellent 'box to stay in the 3500-5500rpm sweet spot. The SLK200 might have only 163bhp but it's far from inert; you can feel it responding to your inputs and nudging into a bit of understeer if you're too ambitious, even tightening its line under power if you've got it really loaded-up.
The ride is improved over the heavier SLK350, too. It's still a taut chassis but it seems to settle more quickly when you're up to speed and the front wheels glide where they might crash in the bigger-engined car. It's this composure, allied to the responsive steering and a manual gearbox, that allows the SLK200 to flow better than just about any other Mercedes I can think of. It's a shame that the SLK55 will be auto only because the agility of this chassis and the quality of feedback deserve a manual 'box to make the package come alive.
If it's value you're after, either look elsewhere or order a vanilla SLK200 in the knowledge that it'll look a bit unfinished. But if you're lucky enough to be able to look past the eye-watering price of options, the SLK200 is a capable and entertaining proposition. It lacks the outright performance to be totally rewarding and the supercharged engine sounds plain dull, but against the odds it overcomes these handicaps and proves a fun, desirable sports car.