If you’ve forgotten about the Mercedes-Benz SLK, you’re not alone. Introduced in 1997 (in the U.S.) as a Porsche Boxster-BMW Z3-fighter, the SLK made Car and Driver’s 10Best list that year, thanks to its sweet supercharged V6 and then-novel standard retractable hardtop. But a polarizing Formula 1-inspired redesign in 2004 turned off many buyers, and despite offering a lively and competitive version in the AMG SLK55, the car has sunk to the bottom of a modern sports car segment dominated by the Porsche Boxster/Cayman, Chevy Corvette, and Jaguar F-Type. Mercedes hasn’t sold more than 10,000 SLKs in a single year since 2006. It hasn’t sold more than 5,000 since 2007.
But that could all change very soon, as the SLK is new for 2017 with a new look and a new name. Mercedes’ smallest roadster is now the SLC, in keeping with its emerging naming structure. In November, the company rechristened its range-topping GL-Class the GLS class, aligning its SUV stable with its iconic C-Class/E-Class/S-Class sedan range. With the SLK slotting below the SL-Class, the “C” designation makes sense. That said, don’t expect Mercedes to introduce an “SLE-Class” to fill the gap between the two anytime soon – the SLK55 already does a nice job nipping at the SL-Class’ heels.
Besides, Mercedes just unveiled the face-lifted 2017 SL-Class at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, and with the two cars now part of the same family, the SLC now compliments its bigger sibling nicely. While neither cars are all-new (the renaming is part of their mid-cycle refreshes), the conservative but tasteful updates could go a long way in reestablishing them in their respective segments.
While the SLK was always more of a leisurely tourer outside of the AMG model, spy shots of the SLC at the Nurbürgring in November suggest it could have slightly sportier pretensions. Around the time those photos leaked, however, AMG chairman Tobias Moers told Australian website Motoring that the 415 horsepower 5.5. liter V8 found in the SLK55 will be ditched in favor of a turbocharged 3.0 liter V6. Unfortunately, the smaller mill isn’t likely to top the outgoing V8 when it comes to power. Whether or not the SLK55 name will stick around for the top model, or if the turbocharged four will see any power gains remains to be seen.
We’ll have to wait for for those answers until the SLC’s official release next month at the Detroit Auto Show, but what we do know that the cosmetic updates have brought a freshness and simplicity to the model not seen since the original ’96-’04 R170 model. Mercedes has done an admirable job bringing its entire lineup under a cohesive design umbrella, and as a result, nearly every model has benefitted aesthetically. Inside, the SLC’s cockpit is largely carried over from the current model, though it was always a comfortable and attractive place to spend time in.
From here, the rechristened SLC looks like a marked improvement over the current SLK. After all, the current model has been around since 2012, and it was never much of a looker to begin with. Add to it the car’s steep $47,000 base price and some of the most formidable competition in the automotive world, and you’ve got yourself a model that needs some help. According to Moers, the new AMG55 will be more affordable – something that bodes well for the base car too. “It’s all about regarding reasonable or fair value for the price,” he told Motoring. “We move down with the price, but we provide more value than ever.” We’re still skeptical, but we’d love to see Mercedes step up and give rivals Porsche and Jaguar a run for their money.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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