Mercedes SLK 280Mercedes SLK 280
Mercedes SLK 280
It's more than ten years since the diminutive convertible hit the roads with its vario-roof folding hard top—a concept that would soon become a staple among convertibles in all classes.

Engine: 3-litre, normally aspirated V6

Power: 231bhp and 221lb.ft.

Performance: 0 to 62mph in 6.3 seconds and 155mph

Fuel economy: 30.4mpg (combined)

CO2 emissions: 225g/km

Price: £32,290

Rating: ****


Now another innovation pioneered on the SLK is being mimicked elsewhere.

Designed with Britain in mind—Europe's biggest market for convertibles despite the awful weather—Mercedes' airscarf system fans your neck in warm air through vents in the headrests and, similarly, the vultures have begun to circle.

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This week I take a look at how the market's trend-setter mixes two-seat comfort with that sports car silhouette.

In Calcite White the SLK280 delivered to the Advertiser looked striking. Sadly, the main reason for this was its strong contrast with the grey sky overhead.

Red leather seats reminiscent of those found in the legendary 300 SL "Gullwing" also add to presence of a car that usually prefers to whisper about its premium quality.

Deeper front air dams and an F1-style nose that positions its three-point star as a prominent spearhead add drama, as does a diffuser effect rear bumper now flanked by a pair of trapezoidal tailpipes.

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But still truly defined by its long bonnet and stubby, rearward cabin the SLK remains a pretty sports car that goes without the huge rump required by subsequent folding hard tops to stow their complex roof systems.

SLK prices range from £29,445 for the 200 Kompressor to £51,585 for the SLK55 AMG.

This SLK280 test car sits just below the SLK350 in the four engine range and comes in at £32,290 (£1,414 less than a Porsche Boxster).

Mercedes claim it will sprint to 62mph in 6.3 seconds and a 155mph top speed, return 30.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 220g/km.

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Laden with £5,960 of options, however, this is a near £40,000 two-seater.

It's interior strikes a balance between sports car simplicity and comfort while the red seats lift what might otherwise be a slightly dark space.

There is just room for me to stretch my 6ft 1inch frame into my usual driving position with the seat pressed against the rear bulkhead and a surprising amount of headroom.

The 6.5 inch screen of Mercedes' COMAND system combines Sat-Nav, 4GB music register, SD memory card connection and linguatronic voice control (£1,952 option) while a Harman Kardon Logic7 500 watt surround sound system literally swamps the cabin with sound (£499.15 option).

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But despite the technology and odd touches of brushed aluminium there is a slight lack of drama.

Firing up the three-litre 231bhp V6 requires a similar lack of ceremony with no need to press the clutch to start the engine—just twist the key prompts a gruff encore from the twin exhausts.

There is a reassuring weight to the controls and the six-speed manual gearbox feels a little long of throw but slick and precise.

"We don't see many with the manual gearbox," admitted the delivery driver who brought the SLK to Rotherham.

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Mercedes' 7G TRONIC automatic transmission (with paddle-shifters) is the norm and there's soon a sense that SLK buyers might have the right idea.

Wafting along the SLK reveals itself to be an expert cruiser.

The suspension not as firm as a Boxster and offering smooth, comfortable progress.

With the roof down there's minimal buffeting while heated seats and the airscarf keep the bite of the British weather at bay.

This is maximum comfort topless motoring.

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Upping the pace reveals limited feeling through the steering wheel, though, and a turn-in which lacks immediacy.

That supple suspension also contributes to a sense that the SLK is not quite as planted as you might hope. The chassis' reactions seeming vague, distant.

The six-speed gear-shift also shows a reluctance to be rushed, making a faltering transition between second and third and proving an unwelcome hurdle when trying to gain an impression of the SLK280's outright performance.

In the strictest sense the SLK280 fails to offer the driving thrills that its form suggests it will deliver. It's just a little soft around the edges.

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Having said that it is one of the most comfortable and classy two-seat convertibles out there and, it's innovations adding comfort that have clearly gone a long way towards establishing it as one of the market's most polished everday convertibles.

And I can vouch that, even on a week where the cloud broke for all of six hours, thanks to airscarf you can still stay toasty with your roof down...just remember to dodge the puddles!

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