I looked it up because that was exactly the word that sprang to mind following a drive in the new Mercedes-Benz SLK. A new design, more powerful engine, direct steering and a new manual transmission – everything about the car screamed refinement.
Two new models – the SLK 200 Kompressor and the SLK 350 – go on sale this month, targeting existing SLK drivers and perhaps a few of those tempted away from the BMW Z4 or Porsche Boxster.
The 1.8-litre engine in the SLK 200 has been heavily revised from the one that appeared in the original two-seat roadster, with more torque than the outgoing model but using about 8% less fuel on the combined cycle.
Both the SLK 200 Kompressor and the SLK 350 have a new six-speed manual transmission system but for those who prefer to give their left legs an easy ride – and there will be many – there is a five-speed automatic option.
However, the new manual offers slicker, less obstructive gearshifts than before, proving that Mercedes-Benz can do a decent manual transmission when it puts its mind to it.
The electric folding roof has also had a make-over, now opening and closing even quicker than before. In just 22 seconds it is neatly folded into the boot and, thanks to a pivoting rear window, takes up less space.
The new SLK takes styling cues from the McLaren Mercedes-Benz F1 racing cars, so the new front end has a more tapered look than its predecessor, with the central portion of the bonnet imitating the appearance of the nose of an F1 car.
The interior has also been completely redesigned and upgraded and follows the trend of the most recent Mercedes-Benz models, with quality materials and an improved finish compared with the previous model.
Taking the keys, I headed north from our base in Cardiff to the Brecon Beacons to see whether the new model could shake off the insults levelled by some at the previous models that it is a bit of a ‘hairdresser’s car’.
Despite having a diminutive 1.8-litre engine, although admittedly with a supercharger attached, the SLK 200 feels as if it has a meatier unit under the bonnet. It might not have the driving enthusiast appeal of a BMW Z4 or a Porsche Boxster, but it boasts lively acceleration, agile handling and responsive steering.
Although the automatic transmission seemed to dull the senses slightly, the manual transmission in the SLK 350 was like a double shot of espresso.
The new six-cylinder engine has about 25% more power and 13% more torque than the old SLK 320.
The four-valve powerplant with its 272bhp lays to rest the myth that the SLK could be described as a car for those with coiffing skills. In fact, the SLK 350 is about as far from the stereotypical hairdresser’s car as you can get.
With more power than anything in the Z4 or Boxster range, the car will sprint to 60mph in a little over five seconds and, with the manual gearbox, is an involving drive.
A nifty little air vent, called Airscarf, can be chosen from the options list for £340.
Integrated into the headrest, it pumps out warm air at the touch of a button. The system is a first for Mercedes-Benz and allows drivers to keep the roof down throughout our inconsistent summer.
UK sales of the SLK 200 and the SLK 350 start this month, with prices starting at £27,470 for the four-cylinder car and £34,270 for the V6.
CAP reckons the manual SLK 200 will be worth £14,225/52% (automatic £14,800/52%) after three years/60,000 miles. The more powerful SLK 350 scores marginally less but still comes in at a respectable £16,475/ 48% (automatic £17,150/48%).
Not content with winning that particular contest, Mercedes-Benz will launch an even more powerful SLK next year. The SLK55 AMG will have a 5.5-litre V8 engine – surely a car in danger of turning wind-in-the-hair motoring into blast-the-hair-from-the-scalp motoring.
|Model: Mercedes-Benz||SLK 200 (auto)||SLK (auto)|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||163/5,500||272/6,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||177/3,000-4,000||258/2,400-5,000|
|Max speed (mph):||143 (140.5)||155 (155)|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||32.5 (32)||26.6 (28.5)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||205 (211)||255 (238)|
|Transmission:||6-sp man, 5-sp auto|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||70/15.4|