The new Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is an open-top motoring enthusiast’s ticket to enjoying themselves more frequently, more of the time. Making its global debut, the AIRSCARF system allows you to open the varioroof in cooler weather and thus enjoy the roadster experience more often. AIRSCARF is an innovative heating system located in the seat backrests. At the touch of a button, heated air is directed out of special vents in the head restraints and acts like an invisible scarf to warm up the head and neck of the SLK passengers when out on the road.
Available as an option, this new development is unique to the new SLK. It works in three stages and is fitted with an electronic control unit which adjusts the neck-level heating according to the speed of the car and the outside temperature and regulates the blower speed in order to achieve optimum warm-air distribution in any situation.
The optional air conditioning system THERMATIC (standard in the SLK 350 and SLK 55 AMG) is another innovation designed to ensure the perfect on-board climate. For even more discerning customers, Mercedes-Benz has developed the luxury automatic climate control system THERMOTRONIC with built–in sun and pollutant sensors.
Entertainment and information are delivered to SLK passengers through the Audio 20 CD stereo system, Audio 50 APS with integrated colour display and navigation system or COMAND APS, which includes a DVD/CD player, colour screen and separate DVD drive for the navigation function. A surround-sound system with eleven speakers and 380-watt output is also available as an option in order to further optimise the in-car audio experience.
Against this historical backdrop, it seemed only logical some decades later to revisit these considerations: would it not perhaps be appropriate for the SL-Class models, now firmly established in their own right, to be joined by a younger brother? After all, in the mid-Nineties, Mercedes-Benz had launched an entirely new product initiative, to which a compact roadster could lend fresh emphasis by drawing attention to the sporting heart of the Mercedes-Benz brand.
An appropriate acronym for this newcomer was swiftly coined: SLK. These three letters form the German initials for three characteristic properties of this car: sporty, lightweight and [k]compact. Recalling as they do the great sporting successes of Mercedes-Benz back in the Twenties and Thirties, they have an almost mystical reso-nance.
In Turin in April 1994, roadster enthusiasts were able to gain a first glimpse of how Mercedes-Benz believed a compact modern roadster should look. A brilliant silver showstopper with a distinct aura of spartan sportiness sent the trade professionals into raptures. “We are exhibiting a forward-looking roadster study which delivers a unique synthesis of purist motoring pleasure with all the safety features for which Mercedes cars are renowned”, announced the famous car manufacturer from Stuttgart.
To find out just how seriously the people in charge at Mercedes-Benz were taking this SLK project in its earliest days, you need look no further than the Paris Motor Show held in September of the same year. Here the company unveiled its second study, this time with vario-roof and in the form of a customised version with blue paintwork, harmonising blue-tone leather and a range of luxury accessories such as automatic transmission, air-conditioning system, power windows, a stereo system and much more besides. This enabled Mercedes-Benz to demonstrate convincingly the breadth of appeal and the potential inherent in a compact roadster.
Then the automotive enthusiasts started to wait. Many viewed the SLK as a very aus-picious prospect indeed. Mercedes-Benz had done the unexpected and had demon-strated that a small and relatively inexpensive roadster was capable of offering a great deal of motoring pleasure while still being an absolutely serious and down-to-earth car in terms of safety and quality. This meant that the two roadster studies had already opened up a new market niche and the SLK had already assumed the status of a trendsetter even before it went into production.
By 1996 everything was in place: the production version of the new SLK-Class was launched at the Turin Motor Show. Especially high levels of interest were shown in the fully-lowering steel vario-roof which substantively backed up the SLK claim to being a car for all weathers. Using an intelligent electro-hydraulic system, the entire roof folds down into the boot in just 25 seconds leaving the owner free to roam under an open sky.
The SLK also fielded a convincing range of other qualities. Take safety for example: two fixed roll-over bars behind the seats protect occupants from injury if the car should overturn and, in conjunction with the exceptionally robust A-pillars, deliver a very high level of safety even when these Mercedes-Benz cars are driven with the top down. Board of Management member Professor Jürgen Hubbert summarised what distinguishes the SLK: “Its design is exciting, and it exudes an appealing charisma. In a car like this, the journey is an end in itself.”
Is this excessive praise? No, far from it: the trade press actually went even further with its accolades. “Auto, Motor und Sport” found that the “bright and breezy compact roadster” with its “muscular lines” made everyone’s “mouth water”. Then, prior to the September market launch, when Mercedes-Benz had to announce with regret that the 1997 production run was already sold out, the specialist journal judged this “to be really tough news.” It then went on appeasingly to state “this one is worth waiting for.”
Even the road manners of the compact roadster met with recognition: “As a coupé the SLK behaves just as impeccably as it does in roadster guise. The high standard of rigidity it exhibits exceeds even optimistic expectations. It steers responsively and demonstrates high precision on winding country roads.”
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