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Least expensive Mercedez-Benz convertible makes statement out in the open

With 110 years of sports-car history in its back pocket, Mercedes-Benz has learned a thing or two about what makes these cars and their proud owners tick.

And this vast experience is packed into the 2012 SLK roadster that’s due to arrive this summer.

Style and substance are necessary ingredients for any sports car, but, for Mercedes-Benz, how the vehicle makes you feel and how others see you behind the wheel are perhaps treated with equal importance.

SLK customers will likely feel and look particularly good with this third-generation drop-topper. As well, anyone approaching the SLK from afar will instantly notice the dominating three-pointed star affixed to the grille. In fact, they might even mistake the SLK for the similar-looking SL or even the SLS AMG relations that cost considerably more.

The king-size Mercedes-Benz logo is part of a larger and more upright grille, one-piece lower air intake and enlarged all-LED headlamps that provide the illusion that the SLK is much lower and wider than its predecessor. However, a comparison of vital statistics reveals that the overall length, width and height are actually within an inch of the 2011 edition and the distance between the front and rear wheels is identical, which suggests that the platform carries over largely unchanged.

Even so, Mercedes-Benz reports that the suspension has been firmed up, the electronic power-steering system offers additional help during low-speed maneuvering and the brakes feature “torque vectoring” that will gently apply stopping power to the inside rear wheel during high-speed turns. The idea is to counteract the vehicle’s natural tendency to continue in a straight line (referred to as understeer) after the wheels are turned.

Also coming in for some sprucing up is the SLK’s interior that showcases a new flat-bottom steering wheel, plenty of brushed aluminum trim on the center console plus four oversized chromed air vents that don’t quite seem to fit with the car’s otherwise restrained cabin design. Optional are special leather coverings that keep the seats cooler by reflecting the sun’s rays. This seems minor, but it will hopefully cut down on arms, legs and backs that are scorched when they come in contact with seats that have been soaking in the sun for even short periods of time.

The SLK’s signature lightweight power-retractable hardtop returns for the 2012 model year, but you can now opt for a panoramic glass roof that can be ordered with “Magic Sky Control.” With the press of a button, the glass can be changed from a dark tint to clear, depending on the time of day or to suit your personal preference.

Once again, the starting-point engine is a V-6, but it will initially be the 302-horsepower 3.5-liter unit found in the SLK 350. Later in the model year — likely early 2012 – a new base-model SLK250 will show up sporting a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that replaces the outgoing 228-horsepower 3.0-liter V-6.

Mercedes-Benz reports that the V-6 SLK will sprint to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, nearly a second quicker than the turbo-four versions.

A seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters is the only transmission available for the SLK350, while the SLK250 will arrive with a six-speed manual as standard and the seven-speed automatic as an option.

Standard SLK350 luxury features include climate control, six-speaker audio system, power-folding outside mirrors, electronic parking brake and 18-inch wheels.

Mercedes will wait until closer to the launch date before revealing the SLK250’s standard and optional equipment.

A wealth of extra-cost items await SLK shoppers, such as heated front seats, genuine wood interior trim, self-cleaning and pivoting bixenon headlamps, sporty body trim and a 10-speaker surround-sound system. Once again, you can order Airscarf, a system built into the front seatbacks that blows warm air onto passengers to keep them toasty on cool days when the top is down.

There’s no word yet regarding the return of a high-performance AMG version, so for now the fuel-sipping four-cylinder and more mainstream V-6 will have to do.

However, for SLK drivers it’s how you arrive that’s just as important as how rapidly you arrive. Either way, you’re practically guaranteed to get there with a smile.

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