Mercedes-Benz has been producing their compact roadster for almost a decade now. The first modern car to feature a foldable hardtop, the Mercedes SLK, proved to be a real trendsetter and generated a real revolution in the convertible segment. At the end of this decade, the Stuttgart manufacturer will reinvent the compact two-seater convertible by presenting the third generation of the SLK. We did our best to anticipate how that vehicle is going to be like
In 1997 Mercedes-Benz have introduced a compact roadster to compete with the BMW Z3 and the Porsche Boxster. While the two competitors where purist performance-oriented convertible, Mercedes went for a practical approach and amazed anyone with the addition of an electro-hydraulically controlled foldable hardtop. This gizmo transformed their car from roadster to coupe in 25 seconds at the push of a button. Cars with foldable hardtops were created before, but none in the modern era of the automobile. Mercedes have resurrected and revolutionized a concept lost for years. And what a bombshell that was, as today all manufacturers seem to be switching to this type of a roof.
The name of the compact Mercedes-Benz roadster was intended to reflect the car’s main characteristics those of being Sportlich (sporty), Leicht (light), and Kompakt (compact). By now, two generations of the SLK have been produced, the second one being introduced in 2004. With an updated design inspired by the F1 racer and the larger SLR, the current SLK was an instant success.
For 2010 Mercedes is preparing a replacement model, the third generation SLK. Wearing the internal code R172, the 2010 model will have to face a matching competition. The SLK Mk I had the advantage of being the only roadster/coupe at the launch time. Even the Mk II, only had to face a few competitors, but by 2010, almost every roadster will feature a foldable hardtop option.
Official design sketch from Mercedes-Benz
We have prepared for you two illustrations that will help us imagine how the third SLK might look like, when it is released. A third illustration is an official sketch from Mercedes-Benz. There are rumors pointing that Mercedes will continue using a “nose” design inspired by that of their F1 car for their sports cars. In 2001, Mercedes have presented the F400 Carving concept, and advanced roadster design, featuring top-edge automotive technology. While this sophisticated technology of the F400’s drive train could not be road-used. Design elements could. And our best guess is that the 2010 SLK will feature a very dynamic design, making of serious departure from the styling of the previous models. This design revolution will be required in order to maintain the SLK’s technological advantage to the competition.
The foldable roof will most probably benefit from a completely new design. The current SL already uses a more sophisticated three-piece roof. Until 2010, Mercedes will have plenty of time to develop a completely new converting system. One of the disadvantages of a retractable hard-roof in comparison with a soft-top is that it adds a lot of weight, therefore diminishing performance. This is one matter that Mercedes will definitely struggle to remediate.
SLK computer illustration produced by TopSpeed artist
The first Mercedes SLK was launched in 1997. The second generation of one of the most exciting and successful sports cars on the market is ready to hit the streets: Mercedes-Benz presents the new SLK-Class. Even more alluring, more powerful and sportier than ever, the beguiling two-seater is due to celebrate its European market premiere in March 2004. Three different engine variants are available for the new car, developing from 120 kW/163 hp to 265 kW/360 hp. The range includes - for the first time in this vehicle class - an eight-cylinder power unit from Mercedes-AMG. The V6 engine in the SLK 350, meanwhile, develops 200 kW/272 hp and delivers impressively dynamic driving pleasure.
The second generation of the Mercedes compact two-seater also boasts an exquisite overall design, several details of which take their cue from Formula 1. The SLK thus remains true to its reputation as a trendsetter and technological leader in this category of sports cars. The further developed varioroof, which transforms the roadster into a coupe in just 22 seconds, is joined on the list of standard equipment by head/thorax sidebags, adaptive front airbags and two-stage belt force limiters. The car’s chassis, steering and manual transmission have been given an even sportier edge.
Plus, Mercedes-Benz is presenting a world first, in the shape of the innovative AIRSCARF neck-level heating system. At the touch of a button, AIRSCARF generates warm air, which flows out from the head restraints. This allows the SLK passengers to keep the roof down even when the outside temperatures drop and to enjoy the open-top roadster experience the whole year round. Automatic climate control, bi-xenon headlamps with cornering light function, COMAND APS and the unique seven-speed automatic transmission 7G-TRONIC are among the other technical innovations offered as options for the first time in the SLK-Class.
The new Mercedes Roadster replaces a successful first-generation model enjoyed by over 308,000 delighted owners since autumn 1996. The global number one in its market segment, it serves as a symbol for the new, dynamic brand image of Mercedes-Benz.
The second generation of the SLK-Class has an even sportier edge in terms of both its design and engineering and, with its powerful engines, newly developed chassis, direct steering and precise six-speed manual transmission, delivers an even more agile driving experience. The body is 72 millimeters longer and 65 millimeters wider than the outgoing model, providing the SLK’s passengers with more space and even greater comfort.
A complete review of the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK is available here.
This section of the article offers information regarding the main players from the premium roadster segment. We would like to speak about the cars that would compete against the 2010 SLK, but that is not possible as those cars do not exist yet, and they will be the subject of some other preview articles. Instead of that, we point you which are the vehicle currently competing against the 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK.
A new player in this market segment is the Mazda MX-5 featuring a power retractable hardtop. It was unveiled at the British International Show. The MX-5 Roadster Coupe is a brand-new counterpart to the third-generation MX-5, which was launched in 2005.
Featuring a new, unique power retractable hard top roof, this is an all-new addition to the third-generation Mazda MX-5, which has been celebrated globally since 2005. This new Mazda MX-5 model provides a unified sense of driving exhilaration, ready to spread the fun of lightweight sports cars in diverse and distinct new ways.
“Jinba Ittai”—or ’rider and horse as one’ is the essence of Mazda MX-5, the expression reflecting the emotional connection between a horse and rider and is the purest essence of Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom spirit. Oneness is the cornerstone of the “Jinba Ittai” driving experience and occurs when the boundaries between driver and vehicle melt away and create one single being. Essentially, Jinba Ittai is a celebration of the simple delights of driving a lightweight, nimble, open-air roadster, and anyone who has driven a Miata knows the feeling.
While no body panels have been left unchanged, the 2006 MX-5 is still very definitely a small Mazda roadster. From the rear, it is most similar to the earlier models, while the fender treatment and the lines cut into the hood establish a family resemblance to the RX-8. At the front, the oval grille and slit-like projector-beam headlights give it a look that combines classic European design with the contemporary Japanese idiom. A longer hood and shorter rear deck accentuate the new Miata’s sports car proportions, and the wheels fill the wheel arches well. It has the look of a high-performance car without being a steroid-injected caricature.
Further information and a photo gallery on the Roadster/Coupe Mazda MX-5 can be found here.
2006 BMW Z4
The traditional competitor of Mercedes-Benz, BMW produce a highly successful compact roadster that has been biting from the Merc’s SLK sales, even though it doesn’t offer a foldable hardtop. We are speaking of course of the BMW Z4 that has recently
undergone its first major evolution. Heading its extensive list of updates and improvements are all new, more powerful engines; 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions across the board; more powerful brakes, standard 17-in. wheels and tires now on both models, and a more advanced Dynamic Stability Control system. Along with all this driving-oriented progress, design and materials refinements inside and out enhance both esthetics and function.
Once again the Z4 Series consists of two Roadster models, but even their names have changed: Z4 Roadster 3.0i, replacing the former 2.5i model and base-priced at $36,295 including destination charge; and the Z4 Roadster 3.0si, replacing the former 3.0i model and priced at $42,795.
Most vehicle manufacturers’ 6-cylinder engines are in the V-6 format, whose compactness is advantageous for small or midsize cars with front-wheel drive. By contrast, BMW’s inline 6-cylinder engines are brilliant for their smoothness and sound, and BMW customers as well as professional auto critics have come to treasure them for these attributes. BMW has retained this inline format while developing it toward reduced weight, more compact dimensions - and even more brilliant performance, smoothness and sound. An increase in fuel efficiency and even tighter control of emissions were also set as goals for the new engine.
A detailed article on the 2007 model year BMW Z4 is available here.