But that didn’t deter thousands of image-concious drivers who were seduced by that clever folding metal hardtop and the cache of having a Mercedes-Benz on their driveway.
Fast forward to the present day and nearly everything has changed. The roof is still there – or not, if you press a button and let it fold itself away in 20 seconds – as is the desirability of the brand, but the new model is leagues ahead in terms of driver appeal.
A new chassis, new engines (a 3.5-litre V6 and a 5.5-litre V8 are available, as well as the 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder tested here), revised steering rack and a hugely improved six-speed manual gearbox finally make this a car which goes as well as it looks.
While the 163bhp Kompressor engine is no ball of fire, it does a reasonable job of hauling the SLK along, with 0-60mph taking a fraction less than eight seconds. While outright oomph isn’t this car’s forte, it does benefit from having that supercharger bolted onto the engine.
Rather than a turbocharger which takes time to spool up and provide boost, the supercharger is engine driven, meaning it is always on boost, forcing more air into the cylinders to produce higher power. This makes the SLK’s mid-range acceleration much stronger than its standing start performance. The only downside is that the engine does sound coarse as it closes in on the red line.
And with a slick manual gearchange and responsive steering, this SLK is great to hustle along a back road. OK, it’s no Porsche Boxster, but it’s a massive improvement over the previous model.
But for some user-choosers and senior management types, driving performance comes second to style, and here the SLK scores a bullseye.
With a three-pointed star housed in a prominent bonnet bulge, it gives a visual link to the McLaren Formula One cars, and also the SLR McLaren supercar. Allied to short front and rear overhangs and compact dimensions all round, the SLK has a squat stance which gives it real road presence.
Inside is a predominantly black interior which can feel a little gloomy, although there is some silver detailing to lighten the feel, such as on the gearknob and the surrounds of the heavily cowled speedo and rev counter.
With the roof up or down the SLK’s cabin is a cosy place to be, and with the optional Airscarf heaters in the headrests (£340 well spent) you can enjoy hours of top down driving even when it’s not that warm outside.
It makes the SLK a car for all seasons – snug and cosy in the depths of winter, but a head-turning convertible whenever the sun is shining.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £27,842
CO2 emissions (g/km): 209
BIK % of P11D in 2005: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £165
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 32.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £14,550/52%
Depreciation 22.15 pence per mile x 60,000: £13,290
Maintenance 4.75 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,850
Fuel 12.30 pence per mile x 60,000: £7,380
Wholelife cost 39.20 pence per mile x 60,000: £23,520
Typical contract hire rate: £513
We don’t like:
Three rivals to consider:
IT’S not often that a Nissan trails behind the three German marques in front-end price, but there’s a good reason for this – the 350Z Roadster is by far the most powerful car here with 276bhp, and is also equipped with the GT pack which adds leather seats, a Bose hi-fi and cruise control. Of the others, the BMW has 192bhp, the Audi 180bhp and the SLK’s supercharged 1.8-litre engine makes just 163bhp.
DESPITE the extra mechanicals which its quattro four-wheel drive system brings, the Audi is cheapest in service, maintenance and repair terms and will cost a fleet £2,424 over three years and 60,000 miles. And the 350Z’s high performance 3.5-litre V6 doesn’t hinder the Nissan here, either, costing £2,574. Next up is the BMW on £2,598 while the SLK with its complex folding metal hard top comes in at £2,850.
THE SLK is the most economical, averaging 32.5mpg on the combined cycle, which translates to a fuel cost of £7,380 over three years and 60,000 miles. Next up is the BMW on 31.7mpg, equating to £7,560. In third place is the Audi, which returns a respectable 29.7mpg despite the extra four-wheel drive weight it has to carry around. Unsurprisingly, the 276bhp Nissan comes last, averaging 24.1mpg for a cost of £9,954.
WITH the highest residual value prediction of 52%, the SLK easily wins. CAP estimates it will be worth £14,550 in three years’ time, giving a cash-lost figure of £13,292. More than three pence per mile further back is the BMW, which retains 46% of its cost new, translating into a cash lost figure of £14,737. The Nissan is the most expensive car here, but thanks to a strong RV prediction of 47% it takes third place, losing £15,277 over three years. Last is the ageing but still popular Audi, which will retain 44%, losing £15,562.
WITH the lowest depreciation and fuel costs, the Mercedes-Benz takes the running costs victory quite comfortably from the BMW – it’s more than two pence per mile cheaper than the Z4, which gives the SLK a £1,374 advantage over three years and 60,000 miles. The Audi is a further two pence per mile further back, while the Nissan finishes last on 46.34ppm. While the 350Z is more than five pence per mile off the SLK, it’s worth remembering that the Nissan is a very different beast to any other car here – it’s far more driver focused and has masses more performance.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
IN this sector, company car tax takes a back seat to performance and style. But if you do want to look good and lessen the impact on your wallet, the Mercedes-Benz offers the best route to lower company car tax. With CO2 emissions of 209g/km it falls into the 28% benefit-in-kind tax banding, which means a 40% taxpayer will pay £260 a month, compared with £274 for the BMW, £296 for the Audi and £336 for the Nissan.
PICKING a winner here is difficult – it’s all down to personal preference. If you’re a keen driver, the 350Z Nissan is unparalleled thanks to its glorious V6 engine note and sweet gearbox. But if car park cred and style are more your thing, it has to be the SLK. The fact it comes with the lowest company car tax and is the cheapest for a fleet to run are added bonuses.
WINNER: Mercedes-Benz SLK 200K