2012 Mercedes-Benz SLK350: Country Strong

You can’t expect people to understand your value if you don’t tell them your worth. True indeed; and since 2011 marks the 125th anniversary of the automobile which was first conceived by none other than Mercedes, a bevy of re-engineered and re-invigorated products have been unveiled by the German automaker from Stuttgart. Now in its third generation, the all-new 2012 SLK-Class gets a swing at bat. Question is, what will it do with the opportunity?

To familiarize ourselves with the driving dynamics and new technology features of the “two for one” SLK — after all, it is a coupe and a roadster – we headed to the country strong region of Knoxville, Tennessee at the enchanting and modernly rustic Blackberry Farm. Cruising around the acclaimed 4,200-acre property with the retractable hard-top down in joyous Smoky Mountain weather provided visions of what life could have been like in the 50s and 60s when proud owners such as Alfred Hitchcock, Yul Brynner and Zsa Zsa Gabor took their 105-horsepower 4-cylinder 190 SL out for country spins.

The small-car coupe and roadster market is one that relies on the emotional state of mind of the intended buyer. It’s typically not your first purchase, and definitely not the only vehicle in the driveway. If the economy is up, then most likely SLKs and their competitors (Audi TT, BMW Z4, Porsche Boxster) will move quickly off the lot. During downspins like the financial crises a close few years ago, the segment is going to take a drastic dive. Quite naturally, such polarity can lead to either supplementary dealer inventory or simply more demand.

Today’s 2012 SLK350 is 1.5 inches longer and wider, .5 inches lower and built from a new aluminum and magnesium structure. The styling is a bit more contemporary both externally and internally. Mercedes-Benz product managers said that’s what consumers were demanding. The new design language is most notable with the front fascia whereas the company backtracked from the second generation’s sharpened SL themed snout. The hood and 3-pointed star lay upright and visually feel a bit elongated like the SLS AMG. Key upgrades include a new direct injection 3.5-liter V6 with 302-horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque allowing the little guy to sprint from 0 to 60 mph is a quick 5.5 seconds. A new 7-speed automatic transmission features a cadre of fuel saving technologies that help the SLK350 achieve 20 city / 29 hwy mpg. It also has 18” standard rims, standard daytime running lights, dual exhausts and LED rear lamps with an impressive 60 LEDs in each. The SLK250, coming February 2012, will feature a direct injection 1.8-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine with 201-horsepower and a 6-speed manual transmission.

During our test ride through the steep and winding roads of the Appalachian Mountains and the ecstatic 11-mile and 313 turn “Tail of The Dragon” we were able to appreciate the guilty pleasures of putting a $54,800 roadster to its limits. Its price tag is $1,500 more than second generation SLK, but represents a 3% increase in value.

Automotive Rhythms (AR) is the multi-national lifestyle firm that blends evaluations of the latest cars, trucks, SUVs, and bikes around music, fashion, travel and technology. Consisting of Internet, print, radio, network TV, online video and event properties, AR is a multi-media and marketing gateway for receiving real time data and information on new rides, car shows, vehicle technology, green energy projects, customization, motorsports, celebrity profiles and auto lifestyle experiences. www.automotiverhythms.com