2009 Mercedes-Benz SLK 300 3.0 V6 gasoline from North America


Nice on the surface, too many annoyances that you don't realize in the showroom, and poor $ value


High beam headlamps do not work in AUTO mode when daytime running lamps are activated. Owner's manual says they should be available, while the dealer maintains that the owner's manual is wrong. I am not sure what the true answer is, but they don't work as described, and I believe it's a bit hazardous to not have the high beams available in auto mode. All the dealer succeeded in doing for me is deactivating the DRLs that I wanted left on.

Shift linkage very clackety and loose feeling; dealer says it's normal/typical of all manual-transmission SLKs.

I will probably have a different dealer look at those items for a second opinion during my 10K maintenance service.

General Comments:

The base engine in the US is the 3.0L V6, and it's an engine with a great torque curve, even driveable below 2000 RPM. Fuel economy is surprisingly good for a performance car. I consistently get about 20% better than the EPA ratings of 17 MPG city, 26 MPG highway; I get about 20-21 city and 31 highway if I'm reasonably careful, such as setting the cruise control at 70mph.

The trunk is actually a reasonable size for a roadster. Even with the roof stowed in it, the space is still moderate, only limited then by the opening to load things in/out.

That's about where the good stuff ends. The rest of the car is riddled with little disappointments that just take the fun out of it.

I have the SLK300 with the optional exterior lighting package (xenon headlamps and cornering fog lamps) and heating package (heated seats and "airscarf"); no other packages.

For the sticker price ($47,845), even though I didn't get a lot of options, the car is really lacking in equipment for the price class.

The standard stereo sounds good, but has a useless-to-me weatherband. If I need to know the weather, I'll check weather.com before I leave the house. The owner's manual had a misleading insert saying I had Sirius and a free 1-year subscription, when in fact the standard radio is not satellite-capable. The standard Bluetooth integration is also effectively useless; the number of phones it pairs with is very limited. We have a Samsung phone that pairs with our BMW X3, but not with the SLK; even though it is on the approved list for neither, the BMW will still recognize it anyway - they figured it out, why can't Mercedes figure it out?

The sun visor mirrors are not illuminated, and the visors themselves don't even unclip to pivot to the side window. That's a serious omission. Lighted mirrors and capability to swivel are part of an expensive option package costing almost $3000.00.

The vehicle also doesn't even have individual left-or-right map lights **even though the buttons for operating them are there**! The buttons are there, they are pressable, they have illuminated icons on them as if the car had the lights, but it doesn't. Again, this is part of the expensive option package. It's almost insulting to have the non-functional buttons there to remind you that you didn't buy that option.

The other issues with the car are just the design in general.

The headlamp switch has six positions around the dial, yet none are illuminated, it's hidden by the steering wheel and your left knee (the telltale indicators for the front and rear fog lamps are also equally hidden, and should be in a more visible location like in the instrument cluster). You must operate the switch entirely by feel. With maybe three positions that would be passable, but with six positions all close to one another, it's not readily possible to see what position you've selected without taking your eyes way off the road, and also really guessing at the position of the switch.

The climate control dials' pointers are poorly lit. They are a dim yellow like the rest of the dashboard lights, and not a clearer brighter red (or some other obvious color). It's difficult at night to tell what position on the dial you've selected. The icons on the dials and buttons are also very small, and not illuminated enough to be clear at night.

No matter what position of the vents you've chosen (windshield, face, floor, or mix), you always get too much air coming out of the dash/face vents. A slight trickle is nice (an old Volkswagen GTI that I had did that), but it's far more than a trickle. I'm almost wondering if the dash vents are not being shut off correctly when you choose floor or windshield.

The radio's interface is a bit too clumsy, and requires too many keystrokes to make adjustments. For example, when you are viewing the screen for sounds (bass, treble, balance), once you scroll left or right to highlight the option, you would think you could then adjust it. Instead, you not only have to highlight it, but you have to press "OK". Also, when adjusting the bass/treble/balance, you have to press "Back" at least two times (depending on how you navigated there to begin with) to return to the main display; the screen doesn't default back to the main display after a certain number of seconds like most stereos. The display for the song title and artist also should scroll, so you can see the entire name/artist; instead it just cuts off after about 12 characters.

The main information display in the instrument cluster has rather handy information, and I like most of it, but the navigation is difficult and not very intuitive through all the menus and options (a combination of two menu buttons, up/down arrow buttons, and a + and - button on the steering wheel (and, depending on what you're doing, also a 'R'eset, a +, and a - button not visible on the side of the instrument cluster)). It has three trip odometers (time/MPG/distance from last ignition start if 4 hours or more elapsed, time/MPG/distance from last reset, and the general trip odometer that displays with the odometer). A friend borrowed the car and also filled it up with fuel, and I asked him to reset the trip odometers and he couldn't figure out how to reset any of them. The user interface and navigation of options needs to be worked out better.

The main storage compartments are the glove box (rather small if you leave the owner's manual packet in there), the center console, and a bin on the rear wall. If you leave the top down and lock the car with the remove, the glove box and center console will lock, but the rear wall storage bin doesn't lock. Why not?

I've heard that Mercedes doesn't make good manual transmissions. In this case, it's better than I expected, but it's still far from being good. The shifter is light, easy to work, the clutch isn't too heavy, and I've never selected the wrong gear by mistake. However, the shift linkage is very clackety, and it has a fragile feel, as if you might break it.

The folding hardtop itself is quite good, however for some reason the door window seals have a nasty talent for marking up the windows, so it's nearly impossible to keep a window clean, as the first time you lower it and raise it again, you will get streaks on the glass. I do wish that the roof did have one-touch up or one-touch down incorporated into it, but perhaps that was too expensive to design?

They really need to work out better the speed restriction on the roof operation. The car will refuse to operate the roof above about 4 mph, even if it already was in operation. For example, if I'm at a red light, I put the roof down, it makes it about 80% of the way down (even if the roof is totally down and the trunk hasn't completely closed), if the light turns green and I start driving again, it will fail to complete closing the roof and it will beep insistently at me. They need to put in some sort of two-stage sensor system, such as disallow the initiation of operating the roof above 4mph but if it was already in operation prior to that, let it finish what it was doing up until about, say, 10mph and/or let it finish if it was more than 80% of the way done.

My other issue with the roof is that the car doesn't come standard with remote operation of the roof and windows. This makes no sense to me. It already unlocks/locks via the remote, the roof already is motorized via a switch. Could it have cost that much more to make the remote operate the roof? (It does this, but again only with the expensive option package.)

To make this car right, Mercedes needs to not cheapen out on some of the standard equipment (sun visors that don't pivot? I'm sure the least expensive Hyundai does that!), make their Bluetooth work with more phones, ditch the weatherband and replace it with Sirius, rework some of the ergonomics and illumination on the instrument panel, simplify the stereo and on-board information display interfaces and operation, and tighten up the shift linkage on the manual transmission.

Mercedes-Benz rarely compared favorable on paper with competitors like BMW, where on paper the features of the BMW were usually more for the same or less money, but once you got a Benz home, you usually understood that the extra money was well worth it, as the car felt like an extremely well designed vehicle, and was built like a bank-vault. The SLK doesn't have that sense of being over-designed that Benzes used to have. It also doesn't have that built-like-a-bank-vault feel either (although to be fair, that part could be because it's a roadster, and it could be impossible to get that same feel out of a body that has a removable roof). Given the (lack of) features and equipment and the overall feel of the car, it feels like a $32K car, not a $48K car. It used to be that when you got a Benz home, you really could feel what the extra money bought you, but that's not the case here.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 25th December, 2008

26th Dec 2008, 10:00

That was an excellent review. Keep it up! Thank you.

26th Dec 2008, 16:12

Welcome to the over-modernised world! Your well-written review reminds me of my new cellphone (incidentally, a Samsung, when I used to have Nokias).

Full of features which are not easy to use or intuitive enough; some features don't work as well as they should (your climate control problem reminds me of my '01 Galant, where my previous '96 A4's climate control worked perfectly without blowing cold air on my hands).

Two things though -- First, do realise that Americans pay far less than the rest of the world does for the same cars (what you paid would only get you to SLK200 level here, which costs the equivalent of about US$46.7K) ; the SLK280 costs US$59.9K at current exchange rates, and NZ is not by any means as dear as some other countries. Many items that come standard in America, we still have to pay extra for. Second, at least you haven't had major problems, as Merc has been striving to rectify its reliability problem from the past decade.

Two things you may wish to do: First join a Mercedes blogsite and enquire about your auto-headlamp problem. You may be surprised to find people who know your car more than the dealer. Second, as I did with my Samsung cellphone, just home in on what you absolutely need and forget everything else.