What is really cool is that the interface shows album art whether used with an iPod or a simple USB drive. Thanks to the car's Gracenote database, it indexed the tracks from a USB drive so I could select music by album or artist, and also displayed cover art in the list of albums.
The Bluetooth phone system and navigation seemed largely unchanged from other recent Mercedes-Benz models. The phone system did what I would expect, downloading my contact list and making it available with voice command.
The navigation system, with maps stored on hard drive, is also very good. It shows traffic data, and uses it to route around problems. Lane guidance helps with complex freeway junctions. The maps show some 3D-rendered buildings in urban areas, but not so many as to crowd the screen. It also shows some topographic detail, but that didn't show up in the area where I eventually got to put it through its paces on mountain roads.
Mercedes-Benz also has finally added some more connected features to its infotainment system. A little globe icon in the top menu strip leads to Sirius weather data, which showed current weather, a five-day forecast, and a weather map of the U.S. When I finally got this car onto some twisty mountain roads, the screen showed a cloudless day and a temperature just a little under 70, perfect driving weather.
Finding the power
The trick with most automatic transmissions that have a decent Sport mode is to let it know you want to drive fast. Pin the accelerator on the straight, brake hard before the corner, and give it plenty of gas on the turn exit. Doing this in the SLK350 with the transmission in its Sport mode, I had the engine holding above 4,000rpm, where it could take advantage of its 302 horsepower, which peaks at 6,500rpm.
The transmission held its gear after the turn, but longer straights led to an upshift. And when I let up on the throttle to a moderate one-quarter pedal, the car would let its engine speed drop with further upshifts, despite the Sport mode.
But using the drivetrain well gave the car plenty of power coming out of the turns. And the SLK350 was definitely built to handle. That short wheelbase meant nimble cornering and the steering was precise, and allowed quick turn-in. The car felt light, offering nearly the quick handling of a Mini Cooper.
As I threw it through turn after turn, the suspension held the car down well, never letting it wallow, and the traction control light flickered here and there, but didn't interfere with the driving. The wide rear tires kept the back end from losing grip and the engine kept up its aggressive growl.
Touching the button for Manual mode, I found second and third gears maintained good engine speed on these corners. And the reaction time to shifts was near immediate. The paddles let me make quick up or down shifts, showing the advantages of Mercedes-Benz's refined automatic transmission.
But the lock-up clutch in the transmission and the direct-injection engine aid with more than messing around with fast cornering; the SLK350 can also manage decent fuel economy. The EPA ratings are 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, excellent for a V-6 making this much power.
The 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 proved a little jerky at first, not a smooth cruiser in the city, but out on open roads it responded well to aggressive driving. I reveled in the growl of the engine and the tossable maneuverability of this little roadster, but could see becoming annoyed with its performance when dealing with day-to-day traffic.
However, the cabin appointments would go a long way toward making up for any rockiness in the driving quality. Although the cabin electronics interface takes a little getting used to, I've used it in enough cars to be comfortable with it. The navigation system looks good and the route guidance worked well. I particularly liked the quality and multitude of audio sources, along with the sound from the Harman Kardon system.
|Model||2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350|
|Power train||Direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6, 7-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/29 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||21.7 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional hard-drive-based with traffic data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard, with contact list download|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible 6-DVD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, internal hard-drive storage, USB drive, SD card|
|Audio system||Harman Kardon 500-watt 11-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Drowsy-driving prevention, parking distance sensors|
|Price as tested||$67,565|