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Published 16 August 2012 05:06, Updated 16 August 2012 09:50
Tougher: The harder angles provide more masculine appeal Nic Walker
The little Mercedes-Benz SLK has grown a pair.
This used to be the car Barbie parked alongside Ken’s Hummer in the Barbie garage. But I think Ken nicked off with it one night and took it down to the cage fighting ring where they smacked some testosterone into the design.
What once looked like it came with a year’s supply of cotton buds and was known as the hairdresser’s car has been given a whole lot of extra attitude.
It now has harder angles, a more aggressive nose (gone is the demented frog look of the previous model), wider haunches and a definitely more masculine appeal.
The geniuses at Merc’s Aufrecht Melcher Grossaspach division have improved their version of the car as well, stuffing it with the 5.5 litre V8 used in other, bigger AMG vehicles. Holy smokes, there’s nothing polite about the result of that marriage.
Although this is the naturally aspirated version of this outstanding engine, it still punches out 310kW of power and 540Nm of torque through the back wheels and being the lightest of the performance range at 1.6 tonnes, the SLK reaches 100km/h from zero in a teeth-chattering 4.6 seconds – almost half a second better than the previous model and much quicker than the new Porsche Boxster S.
With its new knuckle-hard appearance, it no longer gets looks of surprise when the exhaust baffles open and the menacing roar of the V8 fills the air as the brutal acceleration rockets you forward. It’s like giving Barbie some serious ink work and piercings in all the wildest places.
The new look is enhanced by optional 18 inch sexy black wheels and the interior has been reworked to mirror the harder angles of the exterior to make it sleeker and more stylish. The improvement is remarkable. And it has Mercedes’ patented Airscarf, which blows warm air around the neck of the driver and passenger.
Add that to the seat heating and you’re happy to have the top down even in cool weather; it still looks better with the top off than with it on.
AMG has worked hard on making the engine not only more powerful but also more economical and less polluting.
It uses innovative technology that turns off four of the cylinders if they are not needed.
The change is imperceptible. The only indication that it’s happened is a softer exhaust sound and a notification at the bottom of the instrument panel.
When you stick the slipper in, the whole eight cylinders spring to life and the full orchestra can be heard once again.
Mercedes says the AMG cylinder management delivers an almost 30 per cent fuel consumption reduction over its less powerful predecessor.
It also has a system that turns off the engine when the car is stopped and turns it on again when you lift your foot off the brake.
The resulting official combined fuel consumption figure is an amazing 8.5l/100km with a CO2 figure per kilometre of 197g. Though it’s hard to imagine that anyone would drive it that frugally.
My test car came with the AMG handling package that includes composite front brakes, which already have six-piston front calipers, performance suspension and rear-axle differential lock. On good roads, that gives the driver heaps of confidence.
The car never feels like it’s going anywhere but along the line you choose and on broken surfaces, if the rear end does break away it’s brought back into line very quickly and with a minimum of fuss.
With those big brakes and the composite package, it pulls up faster than a boss who has just been asked for a pay rise.
But like any true sports car, the emphasis is on road holding and handling, which means some comfort is sacrificed to the stiffer suspension.
It also means that everything is transmitted to the driver – you’re not just along for the ride.
One annoying thing that hasn’t changed is that the tiny paddle shifters are still stuck on the steering wheel and can be hard to find on anything but a straight road.
The metal roof slides down to sit on top of the boot, leaving room underneath for the week’s food shopping and when it’s up, the interior is impressively quiet.
It really is a car that feels like it’s on the edge at all times and with its very responsive throttle, it can be a challenge to keep it within the bounds of decency.
With a starting price of $24,360 less than the outgoing model, expect to see a few more of these on the road with a happy looking Ken instead of Barbie behind the wheel.
For more: Maserati GranCabrio Sport; Mercedes E350 CDI; Audi R8 Spyder; Range Rover Evoque; Jaguar XF 2.2D; Audi A6 3.0 TDI and A6 2.0 TFSI; Mercedes-Benz CLS 63AMG; Peugeot 508; Nissan 270Z; Volvo V60 T6 AWD R-Design; Alfa Romeo 159; BMW 535d; Lexus IS350F; Volvo S60; Range Rover Autobiography; Lexus IS F; Audi A8L; Can Am Spyder; Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Mito; Jaguar XJ; Peugeot RCZ; Audi A7; Nissan GT-R