Although the 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 looks tiny, the car is filled with much more tech and horsepower than you would expect. Mercedes-Benz updated the little roadster for the 2009 model year, giving it new styling cues, improving the engine, and loading it with its newest raft of cabin gadgets. The result is a car that may not be the most practical, but scores big on fun.
The SLK350 is a roadster with a fully powered retractable hardtop. This top compromises trunk space pretty severely, but letting in the sun becomes convenient and easy. Styling changes emphasize sport, with a more pointed nose and a diffuser in back, but that doesn't make the SLK350 an exceptional sports car. Although we found it enjoyable to drive--especially fun on mountain roads, its sportiness seems diluted in favor of comfort.
Test the tech: The 65 mph iPod
One of the key tech options in our 2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK350 was an iPod port in the glove compartment, which came as part of the Premium package. This port was mounted next to an auxiliary audio input, and other audio sources included a six-disc in-dash CD changer that read MP3 discs and had Sirius satellite radio. As we've seen different levels of iPod integration on different Mercedes-Benz models, we decided to focus on this feature.
To test the interface, we plugged in an iPod and put an MP3 CD in the changer, for comparison, then drove onto the freeway. We got into the flow of traffic, which was moving on the plus side of 65 mph, and started choosing music from the iPod through the car's interface. The iPod itself was stored away in the glove compartment, the connection to the car keeping it charged. To operate it, we had to reach across the instrument panel to a set of four directional buttons with an enter button at the center.
With the iPod chosen as our audio source, we pushed the down arrow button to get into the menu options at the bottom of the screen. Among these four menus, the one labeled Music let us into the main iPod screen, with options for playlist, artist, album, song, and genre. Although we had to reach across the navigation buttons, we found we could glance at the menu and select with only brief distraction from the road ahead.
We chose artist and were shown a list of artists on the iPod. Selecting one of them, we were shown, after a slight pause, a list of that artist's albums on the iPod. Selecting an album led us to the actual song list. Drilling down like this is a bit tedious, especially as we looked back to the road between each selection. It was worse when we chose a genre, as that led us to artist names, then albums, and then a song listing. Each menu had a folder icon at the top and bottom, letting us navigate back up through the library menus.
Having to drill down through menus like this is potentially dangerous. What we would like to see, a common feature on MP3 players, is an option to play all music at the top of each menu listing so, for example, you could choose the genre Jazz, then choose to play all music classified as Jazz. MP3 CD navigation was simpler. You browse through the folders on a disc, and as you can burn MP3 CDs with only one level of folders, it is potentially safer since it eliminates the need to drill through so many menus. We were also disappointed in the time it took the system to load lists of music from the iPod.
In the cabin
As we would expect from a plus-50-grand roadster from Mercedes-Benz, the interior of the 2009 SLK350 is designed for luxury. All surfaces except the buttons are soft. And although it's a roadster, you don't have to put the top up to stay warm. Our SLK350 had Mercedes-Benz's Air Scarf feature, which blows warm air on your neck from a vent in the head rest. We took it out on one particularly fog-bound and clammy day, San Francisco in the summer, and drove for hours with the top down, and the heated seats and Air Scarf kept us perfectly comfortable.
Mercedes-Benz's newest navigation system, which we saw in the C300, is hard drive-based, making route calculation and map refreshes quick, but we didn't have the navigation option in our test car. Likewise, the SLK350 can be customized with a Harmon-Kardon Logic7 audio system, which we've been impressed with in other models, but our test car only had the stock audio system.