One-of-a-Kind Two-Seater with Three Pedals
When the bright red 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK250 arrived at our office, staffers who didn’t peek at the spec sheet before getting into the driver’s seat were in for a bit of a surprise: a third pedal. Associate online editor Alex Nishimoto announced his discovery on Facebook: “Modern Mercedes-Benz + manual transmission = unicorn.” Indeed. As it turns out, the SLK250 is the only Mercedes-Benz available in the U.S. with a manual gearbox. It loses its unicorn status in other parts of the world such as the U.K., where Brits can choose from no fewer than five models with a manual (A, B, C, E, and SLK-Class).
According to Benz, about 5 percent of all SLK250s allocated for the U.S. will come with a six-speed manual. Over the course of a six- or seven-year production run, our guesstimate is 700-800 units. Definitely a low number, but one that jumps into the thousands once we include global sales, which means it’s not quite as rare as the C63 AMG Black Series (about 1000 copies globally). Rarer still is the E63 AMG wagon, which senior features editor Jonny Lieberman tested earlier this year. Only 500 will be made for the entire world.
So what do those 5 percenters get with their rare SLK250? For starters, the special transmission is mated to a 1.8-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 201 hp and 229 lb-ft of torque. The two-seater accelerated from 0-60 mph in 6.4 seconds and through the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 93.5 mph. Stopping from 60-0 mph required 110 feet of space. Unfortunately, an SLK250 with the optional seven-speed automatic wasn’t available to compare back-to-back, but we’re willing to bet the seven-speed is a tad quicker, as most modern automatics now outperform their manual counterparts. And in case you’re wondering, the SLK350 (only available with an auto) and its 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 needed 5.1 seconds to get to 60 mph and 13.6 seconds to compete the quarter mile at 102.9 mph. With the manual transmission, the EPA rates the SLK250’s mileage at 22/32 mpg city/highway, down 1 mpg in each category compared to the SLK250 automatic.
Speaking of the SLK350, we were impressed with the way it handled, so we expected the SLK250 to perform just as admirably. And it did. In fact, it completed our figure-eight course in 26.2 seconds, just a tenth of a second behind the SLK350. The SLK250 may have a 101-hp disadvantage, but its smaller and lighter engine give it a curb weight advantage of 3199 pounds versus 3406 for the SLK350. Things get a little shaky when the SLK250 is pushed to its limit through turns in which the tail end can come loose without much warning. “It’s almost like a baby SLS,” said associate test editor Carlos Lagos.
Otherwise, the SLK250 is fun to drive. Steering is nicely weighted and precise, making the two-seater quite agile through the twisties. The suspension — coil/monotubes up front and multi-link in the back — provides a ride that’s firm and sporty, yet still bearable on the highway. And how about that manual transmission? I was a bit skeptical at first, having driven a manual-equipped last-gen SLK that was disappointing because of its mushy clutch feel and a notchy shifter. Those issues are mostly absent in the current model. Now, the third pedal offers up a good amount of resistance and the short-throw shifter is satisfying to row. This powertrain, however, requires clean shifts from the driver, especially when you’re in a hurry. Upshift too early and the engine will bog down until the turbo spools up at around 2300-3000 rpms. That said, downshifts are enjoyable, too, thanks to pedals that are nicely spaced for heel-toe action.
Another benefit of rowing your own gears is the extra cash in your wallet. With a base price of $43,375 (including destination), a manual-equipped SLK250 is about $1500 less than one with the seven-speed auto. It’s also thousands cheaper than a base Porsche Boxster or BMW Z4, which requires a pricey $3650 M Sport Package when opting for the manual. Our tester topped out at $47,585 thanks to real leather trim ($770), Airguide Windstop ($350), panorama glass roof ($500), and the Premium 1 Package that includes Harman/Kardon sound, heated seats, and the useful AirScarf neck warming system. Sure, the SLK250’s German rivals are quicker and more powerful, but its relatively competitive price and engaging drive make it hard to pass up.
|2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK250|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$47,585|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||1.8L/201-hp/229-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3199 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||162.8 x 79.0 x 51.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.8 sec @ 93.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.94 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.2 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||22/32 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||153/105 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.76 lb/mile|