2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class Preview

Jeff Youngs | Dec 31, 2008
FAST FACTS
  • Retracting-top roadster redesigned inside and out

  • New steering wheel puts many functions at driver's fingertips

  • Optional direct-steer technology

  • Engines add power but cut fuel use and emissions

  • New generation audio system includes hands-free phone link

  • Optional voice control for audio system

Introduction

German luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz launched its compact 2-seat roadster, the SLK, as a 1998 model. Among the car's key features were its much-praised design and a hardtop that folded itself under the trunk lid at the touch of a button. The car entered its second generation in 2004 and bore direct design cues from the Mercedes-powered McLaren Formula One racecar.

The car is extensively updated and will be launched in April 2008 as a 2009 model. Mercedes says it has developed some 650 new parts and components for the 2009 SLK, giving it an "even more dynamic" appearance and providing "an even more emotionally charged driving experience."

Model LineupThe 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK will be available in three versions: SLK 300, SLK 350 and SLK 55 AMG, with the major differentiator being the model's particular powertrain. The AMG version also gets special bodywork, larger brakes, new direct steering gear and revised suspension for 2009.

Mercedes says it wanted to make the SLK's interior more driver-focused and thus the car gets a new 3-spoke steering wheel with multi-function controls and a new instrument cluster set within redesigned bezels. The SLK also gets a new NGT 2.5 generation of audio and telematics components. All audio systems have hands-free capability with Bluetooth technology. Also available is an optional media interface in the glove box so mobile audio devices such as an iPod can be integrated into the audio system and thus operated from the audio system control panel or through optional Linguatronic voice controls which will be offered in the SLK for the first time. The SLK interior also has been reworked to enhance the audio experience whether the top is up or down, especially when the optional harman/kardon Logic7 sound system is installed.

Speaking of the top, it retracts or rises in just 22 seconds to provide either open-air or weather-proof driving experience.

Hardware

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 300 comes with a 3.0-liter V-6 engine that pumps out 228 hp. That power reaches the rear wheels through a standard 6-speed manual transmission or the 7G-tronic automatic transmission that features shift paddles on the steering wheel so drivers can select gears as needed. Mercedes says the 3.0-liter engine has been optimized for lower fuel consumption and reduced C02 emissions.

The SLK 350 carries what Mercedes says is a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that has undergone a major overhaul and now produces 300 hp (32 more than the previous version) and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. However, Mercedes says the high-revving engine also provides better fuel economy and thus reduced CO2 emissions. It is linked to the 7G-tronic automatic transmission, which blips the throttle during downshifts for enhanced sound, performance and durability. Mercedes promises that the engine "strikes a far more emotive-sounding note." Changes to the 3.5-liter engine include a higher rev limit, increased compression ratio, new intake manifold and what Mercedes calls "extensive" modifications to the valvetrain.

Unchanged for the new SLK is the 5.5-liter V-8 engine that powers the high-performance SLK 55 AMG. AMG is Mercedes' in-house high-performance department, which does hand-built modification to boost the dynamic capabilities of various Mercedes-Benz vehicles. For the SLK 55 AMG, the 355-hp, 376 lb.-ft. powerplant comes with an AMG Speedshift version of the 7G-tronic gearbox.

Safety

Full details are not yet available, but it's likely that as with previous versions of the SLK, the 2009 model will feature large disc brakes with anti-lock, anti-skid and anti-spin Electronic Stability Program as well as traction control. All 2009 SLKs will carry integrated roll bars as well as an array of air bags that includes driver and passenger front air bags, knee-protecting air bags and side airbags that protect both the head and thorax. Mercedes notes that its side air bags are designed to provide protection similar to that provided by the curtain-type air bags in its hardtop vehicles.

The 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK has yet to be tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Technology

Mercedes says its new direct-steer system with variable power assistance on the 2009 SLK is designed to elicit the best performance from the suspension's sporty capabilities. The system provides agility and maneuverability when driving on twisting rural roads, steering comfort when parking and sure steering characteristics when traveling at high speed.

The direct-steer system is derived from the previous speed-sensitive power steering and operates mechanically. This, says Mercedes, dispenses with the need for sophisticated actuator units and complex sensors that interfere with the direct flow of power between wheels and hand, which Mercedes says can have a detrimental effect on steering precision.

Meanwhile, says Mercedes, high-speed twisty sections of country roads can be negotiated safely, precisely and with "enormous" pleasure while using relatively small steering movements.
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