Premium sporty/performance car; Built in Germany
  • 2-door convertible
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $4,900 – $13,900*


1998 Mercedes-Benz SLK


2000 Mercedes-Benz SLK sport


2000 Mercedes-Benz SLK sport


1998 Mercedes-Benz SLK


2000 Mercedes-Benz SLK sport

Pros:
  • Acceleration
  • Build quality
  • Side airbags
  • Steering/handling
Cons:
  • Cargo room
  • Engine noise

Early buyers had to put their names on a waiting list, due to the SLK’s popularity. Mercedes’ coupe/roadster isn’t cheap, but there’s nothing else quite like the SLK on any road.

Overview

Mercedes-Benz had something different on tap for 1998: a 2-passenger sports car with a supercharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine. Instead of a soft top, however, the SLK230 had a metal roof that powered down into the trunk for stowage, at the touch of a button. The trunklid opened forward for cargo, and tilted from the rear to raise or lower the top–a task that took about 25 seconds. This was Mercedes’s answer to the “retro roadster” craze that began with the Mazda Miata and was later picked up by the BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster. In German, SLK stands for sporty, light, and compact. Surprisingly, design work on the SLK stemmed from the compact C-Class sedan. A “Kompressor” badge on the front fenders indicated the presence of the supercharged engine. Only a 5-speed automatic transmission was offered. Standard features included door-mounted side airbags, antilock brakes, and traction control. A “BabySmart” feature automatically deactivated the right-side airbags when a special Mercedes child seat was installed. Rivals included the BMW Z3, Chevrolet Corvette, and Porsche Boxster.

Yearly Updates

1999 SLK
A 5-speed manual transmission became standard this year, and the previously standard automatic transmission was now an option. A Sport package also joined the options list, including “aero” lower-body cladding and performance tires on 17-inch wheels instead of the usual 16-inchers. Mercedes’ “Brake Assist” feature became standard, automatically providing full braking force in emergency stops.
2000 SLK
Except for the addition of free scheduled maintenance to the SLK’s warranty coverage, nothing was new this year.
2001 SLK
The SLK320 with a 215-hp V6 engine was added to the lineup in 2001. The SLK230 gained 5 horsepower and standard 6-speed manual transmission this year.
2002 SLK
A new SLK32 AMG had a supercharged version of the V6, plus modifications to suspension, transmission, bodywork, and interior by Mercedes’ AMG performance team. The Sport package option for the SLK230 and 320 now mimicked the SLK32’s lower-body aero trim, wheels, and projector-beam fog lamps.
2003 SLK
Unchanged for 2003.
2004 SLK
A special-edition package was made available in 2004 for the SLK230 and the SLK320. It includes 17-inch wheels, Nappa leather sport seats and roll bar, exterior chrome accents, and a body-colored grille.

Engines

longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

A supercharged, dual-overhead-cam 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine in the SLK230 developed 185 horsepower, driving a 5-speed automatic transmission. A 5-speed manual gearbox became standard in 1999, making the automatic an option. The SLK320 joined the lineup in 2001, with a 3.2-liter V6, and the SLK230 got standard 6-speed manual transmission and gained 5 horsepower.

Supercharged dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.3/140
Engine HP 185-190
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 200
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
5-speed automatic
21/30
22/30
24.2
24.2
ohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/195
Engine HP 215
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 229
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual
5-speed automatic
18/27
21/27
23.9
Supercharged ohc V6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.2/195
Engine HP 349
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 332
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed automatic

18/24

24.5

Road Test

Acceleration off the line is a bit leisurely, but speed gathers quickly once the supercharger hits full puff, at about 3000 rpm. Test manual SLK320 ran 0-60 mph in brisk 7.4 sec. The SLK230 takes 8.4 and can feel sleepy, though it goes well once its supercharger starts delivering. Midrange power is strong and satisfying, but in some situations, you get a lag between flooring the throttle and feeling extra thrust–a delay that can be frustrating in city driving. The automatic transmission furnishes the right gear for most occasions, and smooth, generally prompt shift action. It also helps fuel economy. We averaged nearly 24 mpg in fast highway driving. Expect 17-18 mpg in city/suburban driving with a light right foot.

Despite having a long first-to-second shift “throw” and a rubbery feel, the manual gearbox made available in 1999 gives the SLK stronger sports-car credibility. Even if that 5-speed does not shift as crisply as some, it does make the car feel more sporty.

Though smooth for a four, the engine emits an unbecoming, coarse growl when worked hard. Exhaust sound is audible too, but things settle down to a low hum at cruising speeds. Wind noise is modest, with the top and windows raised. Road rumble is prominent, except on glassy asphalt–a penalty of the car’s aggressive tires. Those tires also make for a thumpy roar over expansion joints and broken pavement, but big ruts and bumps are smothered quite well.

Entry/exit is tricky, with the low-slung build. The driving position is snug. Even so, 6-footers won’t complain in either seat, both of which are firm and comfortable for long drives. Gauges are “retro” stylish, informative, and very readable. Controls are conveniently laid out, but we’ve been dismayed by door windows that don’t quite lower all the way, leaving a half-inch ridge of glass. The hardtop lowers in a trice, but cuts trunk space by two-thirds, to little more than three cubic feet below a pull-out vinyl cover. That cover must be deployed to operate the top, because it’s actually a safety switch to prevent the roof from accidentally crushing luggage. Top up, the trunk’s 9.5 cubic feet will carry soft baggage for two on a long weekend, but the space is very oddly shaped.

Some minor body tremors may be noticed with the top down, but only on very rough roads. Too bad the dashboard’s pop-out cupholder is so rickety, and the radio reception can be surprisingly mediocre.

Ratings

Model Tested: 2001 Mercedes-Benz SLK230

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 5
50%
Fuel Economy - 6
60%
Ride Quality - 3
30%
Steering/Handling - 7
70%
Quietness - 4
40%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 7
70%
Room/Comfort Front - 5
50%
Room/Comfort Rear - 0
00%
Cargo Room - 2
20%

Other

Value - 4
40%

Total: 43

Specifications

2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
94.5 157.3 67.5 50.7
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
9.5 14.0 2
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.4 42.7
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1999 SLK 2-door convertible

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Front Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 118
Injury 54
Theft 71

Trouble Spots

Brakes
Description: Hard brake pedal due to insufficient vacuum booster assist. (1999-01)
Fuel pump
Description: When refueling at a rapid rate, fuel may spit back from the filler neck as the tank approaches full. (1999)
Check-engine light
Description: Recurring check-engine light maymay be caused by a problem with the mass airflow sensor. (1998-04)

Recall History

2000
Description: A safety-improvement campaign to fix side airbags that may suddenly deploy in hot weather is offered by Mercedes-Benz.
2001-02
Description: Owner’s manual does not contain the proper headlamp-aiming instructions.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.