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Is that another Mercedes facelift?
Not quite. It’s the Mercedes-Benz SLC – formerly the SLK – in its new entry-level form. Meet the SLC 180, available only in fancy AMG Line trim, perhaps to mask the paucity of power beneath.
A 1.6-litre turbo four drives the rear wheels, sending a mighty 154bhp and 184lb ft their way. Suddenly the SLC is in the same ballpark as the Mazda MX-5 and Fiat 124 Spider, but you won’t find us being too sniffy. There aren’t enough little roadsters on sale, particularly for £30k or below, so we’ll happily welcome another.
And is it below £30k?
Not quite. It’s a touch over 32 grand. But list price might not be the big factor here; private buyers can have one of these for £275 a month, and it’s leasing and company car deals that have no doubt helped make the SLC 250d – yep, d for diesel – the biggest seller of the range since it was introduced in the days of the SLK badge.
Spoiler alert: we’re far more welcoming of a petrol-powered route to roadster affordability, even if this SLC 180 is notably down on power and torque to the diesel, and its 48.7mpg not as frugal. But it’s a convertible, and you want the nicest sound possible when you drop the roof. The diesel SLC has always been far from offering that.
A 1.6 though? Nice sounding?
It’s an engine naturally geared away from outright performance. So rather like the modestly powered Mazda and Fiat, the SLC 180 asks you to work it hard if you want to travel briskly. The engine itself is far from an all-time great, but the mere task of revving something out and extracting all you can from it is enjoyable.
The SLC 180 comes as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, too, making that task extra interactive. You can have an automatic, but it’s £1,600 more, scuppering this car’s bargain bucket position a bit. The manual shift is surprisingly good given it’s not a Merc forte, and there’s always something novel about driving a car with three pedals beneath its three-pointed star.
This isn’t a RWD roadster in the lairy, loutish sense, though. It steers and handles decently enough, but don’t expect it to feel like an AMG-lite.
What about the rest of it?
The SLC feels old now. The interior is a bit cramped, its media screen a positive antique and its materials a bit below par. An MX-5, with its simple controls and snazzy body-coloured door slivers, is a nicer place to be sat.
Mazda makes a handier roof, too, its folded-in-three-seconds manual soft-top revealing the Merc’s over-elaborate folding metal affair as terribly showy. The SLC’s roof is less flexible, too, being best operated at a standstill, while it really eats into boot space.
If Merc replaces this car, we’re intrigued to know if the roof stays. The original SLK made folding hard tops the thing when it launched, with everyone from Peugeot and Renault to Mitsubishi and Vauxhall launching similar systems in the years that followed.
Most cabrios have since reverted to cheaper, lighter and prettier fabric setups. After driving this SLC in changeable weather, the original SLK selling point suddenly feels a bit outdated, taking up more room and adding more weight and complexity than is really desirable.
So should I buy one?
If you’re swayed by the badge, the car beneath it is likeable enough, in isolation. With exposure to rivals, though, you’ll discover the interior delights of the latest Audi TT Roadster, which comes in 178bhp 1.8 form for a grand less than this SLC.
Like driving? We’d always divert you towards a Mazda MX-5 or, for a couple of grand less than this SLC, the lightly mad Abarth 124 Spider. You can have the base Fiat for nearly ten grand less, and its classy demeanour is probably most comparable to the SLC.
But the oikish Abarth is hugely fun (if flawed), and judging by how many costly special edition 500s fly out the door, the scorpion badge clearly carries the kind of cache that Mercedes typically trades on. The SLC might not have many rivals, but it has enough to show up its deficiencies.