Convertibles. Amazing how their drivers still suffer from the last two bastions of automotive prejudices: either the person at the wheel knows nothing about cars and/or, if the pilot is male, there may be question marks over his sexual orientation.
Surely it couldn’t be something as simple as the driver appreciating that incomparable sensation of feeling the wind in their hair, rather than them pursuing a career styling someone else’s?
Curious then that the third generation of Mercedes-Benz’s SLK-Class, revealed in 2011, has eschewed the soft, gentle curves of the first two models, replacing them with harder, more sculpted and dare I suggest, more masculine lines.
The latest SLK, with a return of the traditional Mercedes sports grille in place of the contrived F1-style nose cone, bears hallmarks of classic roadsters of days gone by: long bonnet, compact cabin and a short, stubby tail. This could be the most macho little convertible since Triumph’s TR6.
Survey your surroundings in the SLK’s snug two-seat cabin and feast your eyes on the SLS-inspired, simple dash design, with eyeball air vents, central satnav monitor and a compact centre console housing a plethora of switchgear controls.
Although you can’t see the three pointed star gunsight at the end of the bonnet, the sheer quality, precision and solidity of the construction, finish and materials surrounding you leave you in no doubt you are ensconced within something that’s a cut above lesser convertibles.
Engine downsizing at Mercedes has been going on for some time, hiding behind the facade of the former numerical indicator of litreage. So what hints at being a 2.5-litre under the bonnet of this diesel-powered roadster, is actually a 2.1, albeit one aided and abetted with the latest incarnation of common rail fuel injection technology and efficient turbocharging.
The result is a sporty-sounding 201bhp and a very healthy 368lb/ft of torque to assist with accelerative duties. As refined a unit as this is, there’s the inevitable diesel clatter when cold but it soon warms up to a more melodious thrum.
A diesel’s obvious draw is its superior fuel consumption over its petrol-powered equivalent (incidentally, the petrol 250s have a 1.8-litre engine) and with a claimed average of 56.5mpg, the SLK suddenly becomes a rapid and parsimonious long-distance cruiser, with or without its hardtop erected.
Yet, despite a sub-7 second dash to 60 and a 151mph top speed, although the SLK 250 CDI is undeniably quick, it doesn’t feel fast nor especially entertaining in terms of handling engagement.
The ingredients are all there: meaty steering feel, rear wheel drive and a relatively short wheelbase yet the recipe is more Diet SL-Class rather than Boxster alternative.
Don’t be fooled by the AMG Sport specification title: this SLK is mature, comfortable and relaxed, the ride quality in particular being remarkably compliant, ensuring both occupants will reach their destinations feeling content and unruffled. Despite repeated provocation, inducing more than a mild slip angle from the rear of the SLK proves disappointingly difficult.
This is maybe no bad thing, the SL is a fine selling exponent of Mercedes’ virtues, thank you very much but clearly is priced well beyond the realms of most. Although the SLK is by no means cheap, it’s nevertheless more accessible, so why not imbue it with shrunken SL qualities?
If you do want a hardcore SLK there’s still the snorting V8-powered 55 AMG model, although you’ll need to raid the piggy bank for a further £20,000 or so.
Mercedes-Benz’s SLK-Class is not an out-and-out sports car in 250 CDI guise but is nonetheless a desirable product. Refined, comfortable and quick it’ll eat transcontinental routes with ease yet remains surprisingly economical.
Some may lament that the driving experience isn’t as dramatic as the latest styling evolution suggests it might be but it means the SLK has an appeal all of its own.
Just make sure you drive it with the roof down as often as possible – it’s a convertible after all.
Model Tested: Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY AMG Sport
Top Speed: 151mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 56.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 132g/km
VED Band/Cost: E/£120pa
Engine size: 4/2143cc common rail fuel injection, turbocharged diesel
Boot space: 225-335l
Kerb weight: 1590kg
Price: £36,255 (April 2012)
All photographs © Mercedes-Benz 2012