Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 SLK350 ... Hot wheels for a steal

Sacramento, California – Few people are 100 percent truthful about their cars, and I think that’s a good thing when it comes to the Mercedes-Benz SLK350.

I’m not saying you should lie about this two-seater with the retractable hardtop if you’re fortunate enough to obtain it. It’s just that … well … let me explain …

Park the third-generation, reworked-for-2012 SLK350 in your driveway, and unless the neighbors are well versed in Mercedes-Benz models, they’re likely to think it’s something like a Mercedes-Benz SL550 (think $104,000) or maybe even a Mercedes SLS roadster with AMG performance engineering (starting price $196,100).

I’m just saying that you don’t have to tell the uninformed gawkers that your SLK350 starts at the relatively bargain-basement price of $54,800. When the neighbors run up and tell you how fortunate you are to have a smokin’ hot, horsepower-laden, super pricey Mercedes-Benz, your response should be something along the lines of: “Right on.”

And here’s the good part: The 2012 SLK350 really is packed with a ton of fun stuff for the price.

It looks sufficiently hot, with a sculpted grille and a hoodline that looks long enough to be certified as a helipad.

With just two seats and the controls wrapped around you in close quarters, you feel like you’re in command of a purpose-built racer. Performance enhances that feeling. The direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 is rated at 302 horsepower and delivers the satisfying roar you expect from those numbers when you nail the gas.

Handling is light and agile, with a seven-speed gearbox handling the road conditions with seamless perfection. Granted, you don’t get the 500-plus horsepower rush of other Mercedes models, but how much do you really need on a car wearing a sticker just a shade over $54,000?

Take my word for it: The SLK350 delivers all the punch and uphill oomph you’ll ever need. And gas mileage for this 300-horsepower growler is pretty darn good at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.

One gripe on those two seats: If you put them all the way back, they’re going to squeak with every bump and turn. You have to have them forward just enough so that there’s no contact between the back of the seat and the cockpit hindquarters.

As usual, working the retractable hardtop (with roof panel) is a blast, but wait, there’s more. The SLK Class can be had with something called Magic Sky Control, enabling the driver to change the tinting of the roof panel.

How does that work? Mercedes explains: Sandwiched between two layers of glass, a chemical film called a matrix polymer holds oblong nano particles that line up uniformly when electrical current is applied, allowing light to pass through. When the electrical current is turned off -- via a button above the rearview mirror -- the nano particles disperse randomly, reducing light and tinting the roof panel.

Holy Mission Impossible! I’m a nano brain when it comes to complex engineering, but for my money, this is the coolest thing since they put a mute button on the TV remote.

And yeah, this SLK350 is a cool car that anyone with a drop of sports car-lover blood in his/her body would be proud to have.

Just don’t tell the neighbors what you paid for it.

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