I don’t like convertibles. Wait, let me try that again. I don’t like convertibles all the time, and I think it’s difficult to live with one in South Africa. However, I absolutely love convertibles. Let me try explain.
At the time of writing, Cape Town is experiencing the annual February heat wave. It is excruciatingly hot, and this is precisely when the Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 arrived on my doorstep. Looking like many other Germans who arrive in Cape Town, only to immediately become terribly sunburnt, the SLK was a startling shade of red. But with that AMG bodykit, it still looks the business.
And this is the issue. Driving a convertible in South Africa requires you to bath in suncream (SPF50, preferably) before you even pop out for some milk. It’s excruciatingly hot with the roof down. But luckily, I have come up with a solution.
Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 AMG – The engineAt the moment you may only choose from three engines in this range. Two variants of Merc’s new 1.8 litre turbo, a naturally-aspirated V6, and the bonkers, twin turbo V8 found in the SLK 55 AMG. To be honest, the V6 is the sweet spot in the range. Plenty powerful, lovely noise, without the downside of awful fuel consumption.
However, the SLK 250 variant is impressive. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbo has been tuned to produce 150 kW and 310 Nm. That’s shy of cars like the usual suspect of hot hatches, and you’d expect a car that looks this sleek to have more power, but after a week in the car, it does feel like almost every motorist would be happy with the oomph on offer.
0 – 100km/h comes up in 6.6 seconds (which interestingly is the same as the very decent fuel consumption figure), which again is in line with the hot hatch brigade, but it feels faster. I suppose any speed in a convertible feels faster, with the wind noise and buffeting increasing the sensation of speed.
Rear wheel drive – yes pleaseCurrently there are precious few convertibles on our roads which offer rear-wheel drive. I’ll get into the rivals a little later, but the driving dynamics and feel offered by a compact, low slung, 2 seater rear wheel drive convertible is quite simply wonderful.
The car seems to pivot around you, the centre of gravity is very low and your hip point is very close to the tarmac. The smaller engine may seem incongruous with a car like this, but it has the advantage of keeping weight down over the nose, which means this car changes direction quicker than an explanation of Nkandla.
Mercs can feel a little wooden, a little heavy on their feet. But this particular SLK is nothing like that. It is agile, pointy and grippy, a combination of characteristics which make every drive interesting.
I was not hugely impressed with the gearbox though. It works perfectly in manual flappy paddle mode, but in Economy (default mode) it seems to have been tuned to annoy you. I get that holding a higher gear is important for fuel economy, but I was in a situation when I needed full power quickly at low speed, and it felt like the ‘box took a week to drop through all the cogs. Not ideal.
I left it in Sport mode, which is much, much better, but in this mode the throttle mapping felt too sensitive in the lower ratios, making it difficult to modulate power output with my right foot. In other words, you’re either getting everything the engine’s got, or nothing at all.
Interior – Merc SLK 250 AMGI do believe Merc have absolutely nailed the interior of this model. While the centre fascia is a little fussy with all the buttons, particularly when most function can be accessed through the COMAND jog wheel, the feel of the plastics, leathers and metal trim is spot on, and genuinely feels worth the asking prices.
There are clever touches too. At the press of a button, the airscarf can be activated to blow warm air from behind you, onto your neck. That’s very nice when it’s a bit chilly but you still want to the roof down.
Behind the sculpted roll bars, two shapely Perspex “windows” are hinged to fold into the space between the headrests, creating a wind deflector to reduce buffeting in the car. It’s a very neat solution to an age-old problem.
The AMG steering wheel in the Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 feels like it was designed by Micheal Schumacher himself and the leathery bucket seats offer just the right amount of support and comfort. You could quite easily spend a lot of time in this car.
Boot space is not awful, with the roof up you would easily get two large suitcases in there. With the roof down, space is more limited, but there’s easily enough space for two weekend bags. What else do you need? Golf sticks? Come on. (Golf clubs are a great test for a boot's capacity - ed)
Merc SLK RivalsAs mentioned, the unique combination of top-down, rear-wheel drive fun is becoming a rare thing in South African showrooms. The Nissan 370Z Cabrio is no longer on sale here, meaning you would have to opt for the Infiniti Q60, which is a completely different animal. If the Mercedes-Benz SLK 250 is Jared Leto, the Infiniti is John Goodman. Loveable, but more of a relaxed cruiser.
The Audi TT is front wheel drive and that means that at this power and price point, the only real rival is the BMW Z4 SDrive20i. Although it sounds like a flashstick, the Z4 has just been refreshed and looks better than ever.
The SLK200 is actually more of a rival for the SDrive20i, matching each other almost identically on price (R594 699 to the Beemer’s R593 501), where the SLK 250 driven here comes in at R651 886. Oddly, the BMW offers a more hardcore driving experience, even though it looks softer. If you really enjoy getting the most out of a car, I’d have the Beemer. But to live with everyday, I think the SLK just edges it.
While I haven’t driven the SLK 200, it’s only 15kW shy on power from the SLK 250, and I don’t think that’s worth paying an extra R60 000 for. Definitely drive both before you make your choice, as I feel most drivers won’t feel or be bothered by the power difference.
Convertibles – The SolutionDrive them at night. It’s that simple. Convertibles are at their very best on a warm evening with clear skies. Crank up the premium grade sound system while your passenger stares at the stars as they rush by, leaving you to enjoy all the glorious sounds and sensations a dropt-op offers without once worrying about melanoma.
Mercedes Benz SLK 250 AMG Price in South AfricaThis car comes in at R651 886 for the AMG Sports Auto
Mercedes Benz SLK 250 AMG Quick specs
|Engine||1.8 litre turbocharged inline-4 petrol|
|Power||150 kW @ 5 500rpm|
|Torque||310 Nm @ 2 000 – 4 300rpm|
|0-100km/h (Claimed)||6.6 seconds (claimed)|
|Fuel economy||6.6l/100km (claimed on the combined cycle)|
We dislike: - Lethargic gearbox in Economy mode - Not being able to drive topless during the day
Mercedes Benz SLK 250 AMG Gallery