With the first Mercedes SLK you can drive an affordable roadster

Prices remain low

Mercedes Benz SLK 1997Mercedes Benz SLKMercedes Benz SLKMercedes Benz SLKMercedes Benz SLK 320

Mercedes SLK

When Mercedes-Benz launched the first-generation SLK, the model hit like a bomb: the delivery time was at one point almost two years (!) And buyers paid a considerable amount on top of the official new price to be able to drive immediately. If you can find a neat copy today, you can enjoy the then very innovative metal folding roof for relatively few euros.

When Mercedes introduced the SLK to the world in 1996, it must have sent a shock wave through the brand’s conservative clientele. Suddenly, among the business-styled sedans and station wagons, there was a frivolous roadster in the showroom, which had a high-tech folding metal roof, while the more than twice as expensive SL had a fabric top. And then those colors! Where the other models were mainly ordered in fifty shades of grey, that cool roadster could be supplied in equally striking colors such as Yellowstone yellow and Vivianit green.

Mercedes SLK

The first, even more frivolous study of the Mercedes-Benz SLK. In 1994, this drivable prototype graced the Mercedes stand in Turin.

Mercedes SLK

At the Paris Motor Show in the fall of 1994, Mercedes shows a further development of the SLK prototype.

Mercedes SLK

Special colors in the interior as well

Particularly courageous people could have the interior executed in bright red, ‘Scarlet’ in Mercedes language. Add to that the sports steering wheel with a diameter of 38 centimeters (miniscule by Mercedes standards at the time) and the handbrake placed between the front seats with a lever instead of the traditional pedal and we can safely say that the designers of Das Haus the SLK have thrown all conventions overboard. The two-seater, which is only 3,995 centimeters long – Polo format, in other words – rigorously dealt with the brand’s old men with hat image.

The idea for SLK originated in 1989

The idea to build a roadster with the working title “SL-kurz” was born in the summer of 1989, but only when Dieter Zetsche (now the top boss of the brand) was appointed in 1992 as head of development at the brand the project on steam. A year later, the final design is ready. Responsible for this is Michael Mauer, who nowadays waves the design scepter at that other brand from Stuttgart, Porsche. He did not hesitate to give his design references to the Mercedes legend, the 300 SL. For example, the two ‘powerdomes’ called bumps on the hood could also be found on its illustrious ancestor. Even the wheelbase of the SLK is comparable to that of the 300 SL at 2,400 mm. The real ancestor of the SLK is of course the 190 SL.

Automatic not a must have

You can still notice that no less than 1.8 million test kilometers were covered with the prototypes when you drive the SLK even today. Its body seems to have the same torsional stiffness as an iron bar and it seems to long for the next corner, especially if one of the two four-cylinder supercharged engines is located in the front. The fact that the boring accounts C-class of the W202 model series forms the technical basis for this car (supplemented by the more powerful braking system of the E-class W 210), is noticeable at most from the indirect steering. On the other hand, the manual gearbox is characterized by a precision that we have long waited in vain at Mercedes-Benz, which is especially true of the six-speed model that can be found in the post-facelift models. Of course, an automatic transmission was on the option list, but that is not a must as far as we are concerned.

Mercedes SLK

The Mercedes-Benz SLK is the car that started the metal folding roof trend.

Metal folding roof is a spectacular striptease

After all, the pièce de résistance of the SLK is the metal folding roof. Although Mercedes did not invent this roof, it did make it popular again. The ‘variodak’ baptized work of art is electro-hydraulically folded together in the trunk. In 1996, one push of a button is enough for people to throng every parking space as if the pope is signing autographs. Five hydraulic cylinders and a pressure of up to 200 bar ensure that a spectacular striptease is performed that transforms the SLK from a coupe into a roadster within 25 seconds. This ingenious technical feat makes it clear how modern the SLK actually still is. This is not a classic for tinkering enthusiasts who feel incomplete without smeared hands and mourning edges under their nails. Even the original 200 from 1996 already has a driver and passenger airbag, belt tensioners, ABS, electronic child seat recognition in the passenger seat and a tire repair kit instead of a spare wheel as standard. With a pump that is connected to the cigarette lighter, the tire can be re-inflated in an emergency.

ESP standard from facelift SLK

From the facelift in 2000, the SLK also receives stability control ESP, side airbags and an on-board diagnostic system as standard. The newly tuned shock absorbers also ensure that the suspension travel is shortened by five millimetres, making the SLK even tighter through the bend. Anyone who has set their eyes on this Mercedes should therefore have one thing in mind: those who have a strong penchant for the past as well as a heartfelt dislike of ‘unnecessary electronic gadgets’ should better leave this car for what it is. In any case, it remains to be seen how sustainable electronics will be in the long term. However, anyone who wants to enjoy a roadster for relatively little money, the purchase price of which soon exceeded the magical ‘100,000’ in guilders and which still has a modern appearance while driving, has found his or her dream car with the SLK.

First SLK from around €3,000

You can buy a first-generation SLK for a sloppy €3,000, but for a neat SLK 200 with not too many kilometers you pay €5,000 to €8,000. The top model with V6 costs a maximum of €15,000. The two Kompressor versions are in between. The SLK 32 AMG is difficult to find in our country. If you want such a fast implementation, it is best to look in Germany or Switzerland, for example.

Go for an original, of course

Do not buy a car that has been tuned or otherwise pimped. Go for an SLK in original condition with a correct maintenance history. In terms of price-performance ratio, the SLK 200 Kompressor and the 230 Kompressor are the best choice. They also offer the most dynamic driving behavior, the V6 version, on the other hand, sounds nicer. Whether you go for a manual gearbox or an automatic is a matter of taste. One thing is certain: the R170 will not become much cheaper.

Mercedes SLK

A Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 or 230 Kompressor, and that is why it looks so beautiful on the front screens, in German, so with a K instead of a C.


In April 1996, the SLK (internal designation R 170) was presented to the world at the Turin Motor Show. It will appear in the showroom in the autumn of that year. No fewer than 170,719 copies of the first version were built between 1996 and 2000: 44,846 units of the SLK 200 (136 hp), 12,353 SLKs 200 Kompressor (192 hp: only for Italy, Portugal and Greece) and 113,520 units of the 193 hp strong 230 compressor. Initially, delivery times of up to two years apply to the SLK built in the Mercedes factory in Bremen, Germany, and those who want to drive immediately pay a substantial amount on top of the new price. The roadster owes its popularity, of course, largely to the ingenious metal folding roof, which is developed and built by specialist Karmann. A facelift follows in 2000, giving the model a somewhat sportier appearance, with engines that match these sportier aspirations. The somewhat undersized SLK 200 makes way for the 200 Kompressor, which has 163 hp to offer. The 230 Kompressor is now good for 197 hp, while for lovers of the six-cylinder sound there is now also a 320 with 218 hp V6 in the price list. If that is still not enough, you can opt for the SLK 32 from in-house tuner AMG, which has 354 hp to offer. All versions will now have ESP. The second generation (R171) appears in 2004, which is replaced in 2011 by SLK number three with development code R172.


– Thanks for information from Autoweek.nl

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