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Mercedes-Benz SLK Car Review | Mercedes SLK350 manual | February 26, 2008

Driven February 2008

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Here's a controversial statement to kick things off: the face-lifted Mercedes SLK is a step backwards. But before you rush out and get a new BMW Z4 instead, I just need to clarify what I mean.

I'm not talking about the design. The exterior and interior tweaks to the looks are minor, but still, if you liked the SLK beforehand, you'll find this one suits just as well. It's a step sideways.

No, the step back that I'm referring to comes in the engineering, so forgive me if I get a bit techie for a minute.

Traditionally, Mercedes has history of throwing electronics at a car to get it to function as the designers want it to, but with this SLK, there's a return to what you might call 'greasy overalls engineering'. Apparently there was a concerted effort to do that with the current C-Class as well, so it's clearly not just a one-off.

Merc decided it wanted to alter the steering on the SLK. BMW did a similar thing with its Active Steering, employing electric motors and clever sensors to do the trick. Mercedes has simply changed the gearing on the rack and pinion steering.

The effect of this is it takes fewer turns on the wheel for the same amount of lock at the front tyres, but the clever bit is that it doesn't make it massively twitchy at high speeds, nor will it be a hugely expensive option.

It's certainly sharper that the old system, but it's still no Boxster in terms of feedback. So despite the improvement, this system hasn't changed the car's character, and I'm struggling to see the point. Unless the change was going to make it more sporty, more Boxster-like, why bother? Better surely to concentrate on aesthetics and comfort, as the SLK's demographic suggests.

Other changes can be seen in the 3.5-litre V6. The variable inlet manifold has been scrapped so that it can rev higher, and Mercedes admits this has cost a little bit of low-down torque. You'll never notice.

This is still a punchy unit, and anywhere above 2,000rpm (you'll rarely dip below that anyway), there's more than enough poke. Don't get the manual, though - better to stick to what Merc does best in the auto.

On the whole, the SLK remains a fine car. And from the purview of engineering geek, I love how cleverly simple the new steering is, even if I don't see the point of it. And that's the problem, because in the current environment, a new car that fails to make any noticeable steps forward is really taking a step back.

Piers Ward

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