Mercedes SLK CDI: Can a diesel still be a sports car?

Mercedes has been making a diesel version of the SLK for some time now, so I set about finding out whether a diesel sports car can actually be entertaining.


Mercedes-Benz has form when it comes to automotive innovation. Karl Benz himself innovated the motorcar. The Benz Patent-Motorwagen is widely regarded as the first proper car, but between its inception and now quite a bit has changed.

Now cars have roofs, decent tyres, stereos, more than 1 bhp, and very different fuels to power them. Petrol, the motion lotion of choice, offers a lovely noise, plenty of power, and some pretty decent economy; diesel was, for a long time, seen as smelly, slow, and for penny pinchers, however after hefty advances in engineering it's become almost just as quick as petrol, clean, and hypereconomical. Ideal, then, for a saloon (sedan) or SUV. But what about for a sports car?

A sports car is supposed to exude elegance and cool while emitting a smooth, slinky noise. Now, diesel still isn't associated with aural joy, is it? So you'll have to excuse my confusion as to why Mercedes has put a diesel motor in its SLK sports car...

The specs show that it's got a fair bit of shove, Mercedes' engineering prowess means it's a really good steer, and, while I'll fully concede beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I think it's a bit of a looker.

The SLK's evolution is an interesting one. It started off as a blocky wee thing, then evolved into a far smoother affair. Now it's far more purposeful, aggressive even.

SLK, in case you're wondering, stands for Sportlich, Leight, and Kurtz -- sporty, light, and short. It was supposed to be Merc's small sports car, sitting beneath the SL. It's not all that "kurtz" anymore though.

Anyway, marrying a diesel engine and a sports car together...will it work? It's something I really can't get my head around. I don't see how the rumbly, penny-pinching nature of a diesel can possibly complement something as entertaining as a sports car. So I set about finding out...

Engine 2.1-litre diesel
Power 201 bhp
Torque 368 lb. ft.
0-62 mph 6.7 seconds
Top speed    151 mph
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About the author

Alex Goy is XCAR's Cars Editor. He loves all things on four wheels and has a penchant for British sports cars - the more impractical the better. He also likes tea.


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