Mercedes has evolved its compact roadster sportscar, now badged as the SLC. Jonathan Crouch drives it in 245bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo form. Jonathan Crouch looks at what's on offer.
Mercedes has revived a classic 1970s name in creating this SLC, which replaces the third generation SLK as the company's compact roadster. There's a slightly smarter look, both inside and out, while the top AMG variant gets a more sensible twin-turbo V6. The key changes for most buyers though, lie in upgraded automatic transmission and a 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system that helps make this machine more rewarding to drive than you might expect. Let's check this car out in potent 2.0-litre turbo SLC 300 guise.
Think about a compact, fashionable open-topped sportscar with a clever metal-folding roof and you tend to think of the model that, back in 1996, basically invented that concept, the Mercedes SLK. It was a car gradually improved, polished and refined over two decades and three generations that have brought us to the version we're going to try here. There's a new name to get used to - Mercedes now calls this car the 'SLC' - but the fundamentals of what's on offer are basically the same. What's changed though, is the packaging and technology that make this car what it is - crucial upgrades for such a style-conscious market. The 'C'-designation apparently references the close engineering links this roadster has always shared with Mercedes C-Class models. Which means that this SLC gets all the latest technology found in that product range, things like the 9G-TRONIC 9-speed auto transmission, the most sophisticated set-up in the segment. And a 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system able to modify engine, transmission, steering and suspension settings to suit the driver's need. The derivative on test here, the 245bhp petrol-powered SLC 300, gets both of these refinements.
The SLC is very much an evolution of the SLK it replaces, which is a good thing in our book. What you get is a sleek two-seat roadster that corners with ease and plenty of poise. It also steers accurately and precisely, with none of the shimmy or flex that some convertible cars suffer when dealing with bends or broken roads. Go for the this SLC 300 model's 'AMG Line' trim and you get firmer 'Sports' suspension that lowers the car by 10mm but delivers no detriment to comfort or agility. Key improvements made as part of the evolution into this SLC model include the addition of a sophisticated 9-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic gearbox that almost all customers will want. Plus there's a 'DYNAMIC SELECT' driving modes system that allows you to alter steering feel, throttle response, gearshift timings and stability control thresholds to suit the way you want to drive. Under the bonnet, the key change is the installation of a twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 in the top full-AMG model to replace the previous throbbing V8. Otherwise, the mainstream engines are carried over from the previous SLK line-up, with the SLC 300 variant we're trying here sharing the same 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine as used in the base SLC 200. Here though, it develops 245bhp, good enough to take this derivative to 62mph in just 5.8s en route to 155mph. That's pretty close to the kind of pace you'd get in that top Mercedes-AMG SLC43 variant.
Different, but somehow still the same is the aesthetic story with this SLC. The changes over the third generation SLK it's derived from are minor, which means that you get the familiar 'long bonnet, short boot' roadster proportions that have long characterised that model line. The steeply-raked 'diamond'-style front grille is new, elongating the appearance of the arrow-shaped bonnet and now more closely copying that of the C-Class model that provides this roadster's engineware. The SLC's electro-hydraulic vario metal folding roof is particularly clever. It works in just 16 seconds and can be specified with a glass top that comes with a further 'MAGIC SKY CONTROL' option that'll turn the panel opaque at the touch of a button to shade the cabin from bright sunlight. Changes allow the roof to now work on the move at speeds of up to 25mph. And with this improved set-up, the boot separator will always automatically be moved into the right position to enable roof functionality. Specify the 'KEYLESS GO' option and the top can even activate from the keyfob. Of course, with the roof down, luggage capacity will be compromised - it's just 225-litres; that rises to 335-litres when the roof is up.
Buying a two-seater sportscar is a decision you tend to make with your heart. Even so, there's still a key role for the head in the purchase process, hence the need for Mercedes to think carefully about its SLC pricing policy in this segment. If you prioritise pokier performance, then the flagship Mercedes-AMG SLC43 model is likely to appeal, but an asking price of well over £46,000 may require a minor lottery win and, in any case, pitches this car up against some pretty illustrious rivals. Having considered that, you might decide that a better choice is the SLC 300 variant we're trying here. True, the 2.0-litre turbo engine is basically the same as that you'll find in the entry-level SLC 200, but here it's been tweaked up to 245bhp and the whole package comes with standard 'AMG Line' trim at a price that from launch was just over £39,000. 'AMG Line' trim includes lowered sports suspension and larger 18-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels that feature the branded callipers of a sports braking system. Plus there's a more distinctive Diamond radiator grille with chromed pins. And an AMG bodystyling kit with front and rear aprons and side skirts. Inside, there are leather seats with contrast stitching, you get a 'chequered flag' design for the instrument cluster and the steering wheel has perforated grips and galvanised silver chrome paddle shifters.
Given that this SLC isn't an all-new design, there are no headline efficiency changes brought about by weight reduction or the implementation of new engines for mainstream models. Still, key improvements have been made. There's the more efficient 9G TRONIC automatic gearbox for a start. And a 'DYNAMIC SELECT' vehicle driving modes system offering an 'Eco' setting that softens the throttle response and changes up through gears earlier to use less fuel. All of this should be enough to keep this SLC on the pace when it comes to efficiency in this segment. Proof that it does comes with the returns of the SLC 300 petrol variant we're trying here, which manages 47.1mpg and 138g/km of CO2. That's significantly better than direct Audi TT and BMW Z4 rivals and not much worse than the figures you'd get from the lesser SLC 200 model, specifically, 47.9mpg on the combined cycle and 137g/km of CO2. Insurance for the '300' is quite high at group 45, but you get a comprehensive three year unlimited mileage warranty that's built upon by Mercedes' Mobilo scheme which delivers breakdown cover for up to thirty years, as long as you continue to have your car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer.
Back in 1996, the Mercedes SLK re-invented the coupe-cabriolet concept for the modern age. In many ways, its SLC successor still does. The evolution that's led to this SLC has usefully refined some of these traditional SLK characteristics and it's particularly easy to appreciate these at the wheel of the SLC 300 variant we've been trying here - particularly those connected with ride quality and running cost efficiency. Overall, it's clear that Mercedes understands its target audience and in this SLC, has brought us a contender that's become more finely attuned to its market than ever before. If you're one of those believing a two-seat roadster to be a selfish and irresponsible indulgence, the Three Pointed Star clearly thinks it can persuade you otherwise.
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