The SLC 200 version of Mercedes' baby roadster piles on the tech and cuts a more masculine dash. Jonathan Crouch checks it out.
Ten Second Review
The Mercedes SLC is a useful development of the SLK model it replaces. Like that car, this one is an everyday-usable sports roadster that, like its arch-rival, BMW's Z4, has a neat folding metal roof. More efficient engines, low running costs, slick detailing, some incredible technology and distinctive styling are all part of its appeal. Even in this relatively affordable SLC 200 guise.
This car has quite a job on its hands, tasked with changing a whole buying demographic. Previous generations of the SLK model that this SLC range replaced have traditionally been bought by undemanding, style-conscious older female buyers who wanted and could afford something nicer than metal folding roof cabrio versions of family hatchbacks like Peugeot's 308 or Renault's Megane. Keeping these customers while simultaneously appealing to the mostly male-orientated market that would usually opt for a sharper handling rival like an Audi TT Roadster, a BMW Z4 or a Porsche Boxster was never going to be easy.
But Mercedes is never a brand to shirk a challenge. With this car, they aim to keep the fashionistas loyal with an opulent, more spacious cabin and the option of a 'Magic Sky Control' roof that enables drivers to switch from light to dark at the touch of a button as they cruise along the Kings Road. Enthusiasts meanwhile, get classic looks borrowed from the iconic 190SL of the Fifties and a clever 'Dynamic Select' handling package that enabes the drive characteristics to be altered at the touch of a button. As for the engine in this SLC 200 petrol model, well it's a willing 184bhp 2.0-litre unit. The signs are good.
Under the bonnet, this SLC 200 offers 184bhp and uses much the same 1,991cc petrol engine as the 245bhp SLC 300 variant. We think that for most buyers, this '200' model will be quite sufficient, getting to 62mph in 7.0s en route to 149mph. This variant is fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The brand's latest sport/comfort-oriented 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission is available for these models as an option.
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 300 and SLC 250d but it's optional on this SLC 200 variant.
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. The instrument cluster looks smarter too, with the tubular instrument surrounds now featuring black dials and red needles. A large, multifunction, colour TFT display with a 4.5-inch screen sits between the two dials, with a black-dialled analogue clock available as an option. The main central infotainment display between the two ventilation outlets in the centre console goes up in size from 5.8 to 7 inches. There's also a smarter flat-bottomed steering wheel trimmed with DINAMICA microfibre. 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 most SLC sales will continue to be made in the £35,000 to £55,000 bracket, though pricing for this SLC 200 starts at around £30,000. 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 system. 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's SLK predecessor always did well here thanks to its beefy residual values propping up what was often a 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 Mercedes has in recent years worked hard to driving down the costs of day to day ownership. Take this SLC 200. Even when paired with an automatic gearbox it will still return a combined fuel economy figure of 47.9mpg on the combined cycle, along with 137g/km of CO2.
Step up to the SLC 300 and you'll hardly be penalised for the power advantage, this model eking an impressive 47.1mpg and 138g/km of CO2 in its sole auto form. As you'd expect, both these variants lag behind the economy champion of the range, the SLC 250d, which manages 70.6mpg and 114g/km.
Back in 1996, the Mercedes SLK re-invented the coupe-cabriolet concept for the modern age. In many ways, with this SLC, it still does. According to SLC wisdom, a roadster needn't be uncomfortable to drive in town or on long trips. It need cost no more than a family hatchback to run. It can make you feel at one with the elements even when the roof's up. And when you can go al fresco, the coldest day can feel as warm as it would be were the top to be closed. These are all attributes that rivals struggle to match, even if some of them might be cheaper or sharper to drive.
Here then is a car from a brand that perfectly understands its target audience. A car that's become more finely attuned to its market than ever before. A car offering a level of engine efficiency and technology 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.