Mercedes SLK 350

Reworked engine and chassis transform the SLK into a genuine Boxster S rival

Evo rating
Price
from £35,792
  • Better engine, better handling
  • Better than most owners will ever know

With the first-generation SLK back in 1997, Mercedes’ aim was true but its targeting system a little out of kilter. Spot-on styling and a clever folding hardtop contributed to its strong ownership appeal and more or less sealed its commercial success. Nearly half a million first and second generation SLKs have been sold to date, a remarkable 62 per cent to women. Whether the shifting automotive demographic outside ladies hair salons in those early years was because the SLK rapidly failed to gain a reputation as genuine hard driver’s sports car is a moot point. But the shortfall of chassis talent was hard to paper over. Respectably swift in a straight line with any of the larger engine options, the SLK was hung out to dry in the curves by Porsche’s mid-engined rival, the Boxster.

And, despite a partial script re-write for the next SLK in 2004 including a stiffer, re-styled body with an F1-style nose, faster roof, bigger boot and across-the-board tweaks, it has been ever since. The thumping female vote of confidence continues to be assiduously nurtured, of course, but it’s no secret that Mercedes has been itching for some payback on the ‘pure driving enjoyment’ front.

Subscribe to evo magazine

If you're passionate about the world's greatest performance cars, experience the thrill of driving with evo magazine. Try your first 5 issues for £5.

So, for 2008, comes another raft of changes – new-look nose and tail, tweaked cabin and telematics, higher gadget-count, 650 revised or new components in all – and a mild re-focusing of the range with power hikes for the 200 Kompressor and, perhaps more significantly, the 350. Significant because, now, this is the car that clearly takes the fight to the Boxster in its most potent 3.4S form without defaulting to the (hitherto) over-muscled, under-achieving, and rather costly, SLK55 AMG.

In fact, so impressively has the £35,792 350 sharpened-up, the case for spending an extra £15K for the V8-engined 55 has never looked shakier. Power from the 350’s hardly weedy 3498cc V6 has leapt 29bhp to 301bhp (10bhp more than the Boxster) and the rev limit has been raised to 7200rpm. Refreshingly, this wasn’t the work of an afternoon with a laptop but arises out of a higher compression ratio, lighter valves, deeper valve seats and new pistons. The changes give the engine an entirely different character – lustier from low revs, far keener at the top end, better to listen to – and a 0-62mph time of 5.4sec, bang on Boxster pace and barely half a second adrift of the 55.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

So far so good. But it’s not the best news. That would be what Mercedes calls Direct-Steer – a variable-ratio steering rack that transforms the way the SLK changes direction. It takes a little getting used to (you tend to turn in a fraction too soon at first) but, adjustment made, you can then attack bends with a sense of verve and conviction hitherto completely alien to any SLK. Specify the sports suspension and, for a Merc, the decently positive six-speed manual ’box (98 per cent of SLKs are autos) and you have a package that at last doesn’t need to exempt itself from the acid test provided by a challenging road. No, it doesn’t have the acuity and exquisite balance of the Porsche, and the ESP you can never fully disengage is frustrating if you want to celebrate the motor’s heftier kick with a smoky tribute exiting tighter bends. But the combination of potent, sonorously scored performance and the means to deploy it with precision, control and pliancy is hugely attractive in a car that’s never wanted for style or substance. Suddenly, rather unexpectedly, the SLK is a force to be reckoned with.

Specifications

EngineV6, 3498cc
Max power301bhp @ 6500rpm
Max torque265lb ft @ 4900rpm
0-605.4sec (claimed)
Top speed155mph (limited)
On saleNow
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/hyundai/201867/400bhp-hyundai-imax-n-revealed-as-eight-seater-drift-monster
Hyundai

400bhp Hyundai iMax N revealed as eight-seater drift monster

21 Oct 2019
Visit/land-rover/discovery-sport/201862/2019-land-rover-discovery-sport-d180-se-review
Land Rover Discovery Sport

2019 Land Rover Discovery Sport D180 SE review

18 Oct 2019
Visit/volkswagen/201859/volkswagen-t-roc-r-review-ever-wish-the-golf-r-was-a-little-bit-taller
Volkswagen T-Roc

Volkswagen T-Roc R review - ever wish the Golf R was a little bit taller?

17 Oct 2019
Visit/toyota/yaris/201858/all-new-toyota-yaris-revealed-and-hot-gazoo-models-arent-far-behind
Toyota Yaris

All-new Toyota Yaris revealed – and hot Gazoo models aren’t far behind

17 Oct 2019
Advertisement

More on SLK

Visit/mercedes/slk/17156/mercedes-benz-slc-pricing-and-specification-revealed
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLC pricing and specification revealed

A new name, new powerplants and revised styling for Mercedes' compact roadster. Pricing starts at £30,495
26 Jan 2016
Visit/mercedes/slk/7265/mercedes-slk55-amg-review-still-want-that-tt-rs
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes SLK55 AMG review - still want that TT RS?

Mercedes's ageing SLK55 AMG roadster still has something unique under its bonnet
12 Oct 2015
Visit/mercedes/slk/12971/602bhp-mercedes-slk-hill-climb-car
Mercedes SLK convertible

602bhp Mercedes SLK hill climb car

The Carlsson SLK 340 is a monstrous 602bhp Mercedes SLK hill climb car that trumps the Bugatti Veyron on paper
29 Jan 2013
Visit/mercedes/slk/7176/mercedes-benz-slk-250-cdi-diesel-review
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 CDI diesel review

It's a diesel sports car! We review the Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 CDI AMG Sport roadster
21 Aug 2012
Advertisement
Visit/mercedes/slk/11904/new-mercedes-slk55-amg-news-and-pictures
Mercedes SLK convertible

New Mercedes SLK55 AMG news and pictures

Mercedes reveals the AMG performance version of its all-new SLK roadster. Meet the 416bhp SLK55 AMG
22 Aug 2011
Visit/mercedes/slk/11874/brabus-mercedes-slk-news-and-pictures
Mercedes SLK convertible

Brabus Mercedes SLK news and pictures

Official pictures of the Brabus tuned Mercedes-Benz SLK roadster. More power, sharper chassis
5 Aug 2011
Visit/mercedes/slk/11682/mercedes-benz-slk63-amg-spy-shots
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK63 AMG spy shots

Spy shots of the new high performance Mercedes-Benz SLK, the Porsche Boxster rivaling SLK63 AMG
11 Apr 2011
Visit/mercedes/slk/11520/new-2011-mercedes-benz-slk
Mercedes SLK convertible

New 2011 Mercedes-Benz SLK

Mercedes-Benz reveals its new for 2011 SLK Roadster. More power, more miles per gallon, SLS AMG looks
13 Jan 2011
Visit/mercedes/slk/10044/mercedes-benz-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK350

As we say farewell to our Merc, Ian Eveleigh looks back on the last 9,500 miles of ownership
14 Apr 2009
Visit/mercedes/slk/10027/mercedes-slk
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes SLK

Three years before its official unveiling we have the pictures that prove Mercedes is working on the 3rd generation SLK
7 Apr 2009
Advertisement
Visit/mercedes/slk/9994/mercedes-benz-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK350

The roof stayed up as the temperature dropped, but the Mercedes still captivated the driver
28 Mar 2009
Visit/mercedes/slk/9882/mercedes-benz-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK350

This month our Mercedes has been camera and support vehicle to a spectacular track stunt at the Bedford Autodrome
26 Feb 2009
Advertisement
Visit/mercedes/slk/9774/mercedes-benz-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK350

A non-retracting roof caused some embarrassment and necessitated a trip back to Mercedes
28 Jan 2009
Visit/mercedes/slk/9649/mercedes-benz-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK350

There was no danger of the Mercedes embarrassing itself on track…
17 Dec 2008
Visit/mercedes/slk/9589/mercedes-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes SLK350

A short holiday to the Lake District proved the capability of the SLK350, but sun was in short supply...
1 Dec 2008
Visit/mercedes/slk/9580/mercedes-benz-slk350
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK350

Our new SLK350 arrival is wowing the crowds, and doing a good job of winning us over, too
26 Oct 2008
Advertisement
Visit/mercedes/slk/14174/mercedes-slk350-v-porsche-boxster-rs60-mercedes-slk350-v-porsche-boxster-rs60
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes SLK350 v Porsche Boxster RS60: Mercedes SLK350 v Porsche Boxster RS60

Revised Merc SLK350 is keener than ever before, but is it enough to threaten Porsche’s new Boxster RS60?
29 Jul 2008
Visit/mercedes/slk/14180/mercedes-slk55-amg-black-v-porsche-997-gt3-mercedes-slk55-amg-black-v-porsche-997
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes SLK55 AMG Black v Porsche 997 GT3: Mercedes SLK55 AMG Black v Porsche 997 GT3

Has the SLK55 Black got what it takes to shake off Porsche’s GT3?
25 Oct 2007
Visit/mercedes/slk/6337/mercedes-benz-slk-280
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK 280

Many owners may not realise it, but this is a 'sports car'
1 Sep 2005
Visit/mercedes/slk/6272/mercedes-benz-slk55-amg
Mercedes SLK convertible

Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG

Small car, big V8, huge performance - but it's not all good news
5 Nov 2004