The Mercedes SLC roadster offers slick detailing, some incredible technology and distinctive styling. It even comes as a diesel. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Mercedes SLC, a revamped version of the brand's previous third generation SLK roadster, offers a tall stack of technology and an interior that's a whole lot smarter. It can also deliver impressively economical engines, especially if you choose the 2.1-litre four-cylinder diesel version.
Read most car magazines and they'd have you believe that the Mercedes-Benz SLC is a car playing perpetual catch up with its key rival, Porsche's Boxster. Playing and not succeeding. Away from the world of manufacturer press launches and free lunches, the reality is somewhat different. Actually, the SLC, like its SLK roadster predecessor, outsells the Boxster by more than two to one in terms of worldwide sales, which paints a rather different picture of how the general public views the head to head.
Those not familiar with the SLC will find a slicker 9-speed auto gearbox, more sophisticated technology and a classier cabin. In this 204bhp 250d diesel guise, it over 70mpg too.
The 204bhp 2.1-litre unit in the SLC 250d is pretty much the same as it was in the old SLK, enabling this roadster to sprint to 62mph in just 6.6s and reach a top speed of 152mph, effectively matching the notably lively entry-level SLC 200 petrol model, though the more effortless way it delivers its performance will be attraction enough for some. The SLK 250d gets Mercedes' latest 9G-TRONIC automatic gearbox as standard and it's a brilliant match for the diesel engine's mid-biased torque delivery.
Mercedes thinks that a big SLC selling point will be its 'DYNAMIC SELECT' vehicle dynamics system, one of those that enables you to alter your car's engine, transmission, steering and suspension characteristics at the touch of a button. The five modes - 'Comfort', 'Sport', 'Sport+', 'Eco' and 'Individual' are easy to select using the DYNAMIC SELECT button in the upper control panel on the dashboard console. The selected mode is shown on the colour multifunction display and also appears as a pop-up message on the head unit display. DYNAMIC SELECT is a standard feature in the SLC 250d. Keen drivers will also want to look at the extra-cost 'Dynamic Handling package' which features a 10mm lower chassis, an adaptive damping system, a direct steering system and the brand's clever 'ESP Dynamic Cornering Assist' feature.
Design and Build
As part of the facelift that's transformed the SLK into this SLC model, the Mercedes-Benz designers have tried to further hone this roadster's sporty look. There's a re-styled front section that sees the steeply raked diamond radiator grille elongate the appearance of the arrow-shaped bonnet. In addition, there's a bumper which features striking air intakes, dynamically modelled contours and high-quality chrome trim at the lower edge, along with distinctive headlights incorporating LED daytime running lamps, plus there's the option of an LED Intelligent Light System. The side view of the SLC reveals the typical features of a roadster, with a long bonnet, a passenger compartment that is set back and a short rear. The silhouette is defined by a variety of things; the gently rising beltline, the sweeping curve of the roof, the powerfully moulded wheel arches, sporty 16 to 18-inch light-alloy wheels and the ventilation grilles in the front wing.
Inside, Mercedes has tried to give the cabin a higher quality feel, with extra flashes of aluminium and carbonfibre, plus electroplated control elements for the electrically adjustable seats and gearshift paddles. As with the SLK, you get an electrically-operated panoramic folding hard-top vario-roof that you can operate at speeds of up to 25mph. This can come with a 'MAGIC SKY CONTROL' option allowing you to lighten or darken the glass top at the touch of a button. Plus we'd also want to pay extra for the 'AIRSCARF' neck-level heating system. The 335-litre boot continues to be the biggest in the segment.
Market and Model
Prices haven't changed much over those of the SLK, which means that this diesel SLC will cost round £33,000 in base 'Sport' guise - or around £37,000 if you choose the plusher, racier-looking 'AMG Line' version. Equipment levels are much as before, though it is worth pointing out that the Audio 20 entertainment system can be combined with a Garmin MAPPILOT navigation set-up. If you want to go further, Mercedes' full-house COMMAND Online infotainment system is available as an option, complete with hard disc navigation, a DVD player, internet access, internet radio, Bluetooth connectivity, LINGUATRONIC voice control, an EMERGENCY Call service and an Integral Media Interface for your iPod or iPhone.
Standard equipment on the SLC includes smart features such as Airguide. What's this? Well, rather than the clumsy mesh draught stoppers that some convertibles opt for, Mercedes-Benz aerodynamics engineers have developed a pair of pivoting transparent plastic 'petals' which are attached to the reverse of the roll-over bars. The driver or passenger can rotate them from their stowed position behind the head rest to their 'active' position and cut draughts in a flash.
Onto safety. Amid the sea of standard safety features are two of particular note. The drowsiness detection system Attention Assist warns the driver to take a break when they have been driving too long or their driving patterns change. Pre-Safe uses radar to detect an impending collision and primes the brakes, seatbelts and airbags. The optional Pre-Safe Brake system takes things one step further and automatically applies the brakes if the car detects that its' about to run into the back of something.
Cost of Ownership
The SLC benefits from beefy residual values propping up its not inconsequential price tag. In latter years, fuel and emissions taxation have become a far bigger part of the annual financial equation for most owners, so with this car, Mercedes has aimed to set the bar for efficiency in its class with the diesel 250d variant. The figures speak for themselves: 70.6mpg on the combined cycle, which equates to 114g/km of CO2. Equivalent figures for the entry-level SLK 200 petrol, paired with the same automatic transmission, are 47.9mpg and 137g/km of CO2.
Mercedes-Benz is a company that is often underestimated. It understands its audience and knows how to develop cars that tap into their needs and aspirations with laser-guided accuracy. The latest SLC is no different. The road tests virtually write themselves but magazine writers don't have the same forensic grasp of what sells. This diesel-engined SLC suggests that Mercedes very much does and the company's expecting a lively take up.
If anything, it's a car that's become more finely attuned to market conditions than ever before. The efficiency of the diesel engine in particular and the increasingly impressive technology integration mean that the SLC slides effortlessly into a position that makes many of its rivals seem from a prior generation. If you believed that the two-seat roadster was becoming a selfish and irresponsible indulgence, Mercedes clearly thinks it can persuade you otherwise.