C for your self
IF THE Mazda MX-5 had a big brother it would look, feel and drive a lot like the latest Mercedes-Benz SLC.
The German two-seater has just had a midlife tickle that includes the new name for a car that began life two decades ago as the SLK. It’s a little cheaper and a little sharper, with new safety gear and a standard ninespeed automatic gearbox.
This is the third-generation car and the sweet spot is held by the new SLC 300, which is not as snoozy as the 200 or raunchy as the 43 AMG and feels most like a grown-up MX-5.
Then again, with a price tag from $99,855 it should be good, since the same money would deliver a pair of MX-5s for your garage. Plus a hatchback.
After 20 years, the SLC is a familiar package with its twoseater body, folding metal roof and choice of engines. The boot is a little bigger and more usable, there are three versions of the roof and the maker claims to have improved performance and economy alike.
“The renamed compact roadster remains an ideal combination of passion and rational commonsense, appealing to both the heart and the mind,” says Benz sales and marketing boss Ola Kallenius.
In Australia, the SLK has been more popular with women but the new model is expected to win more blokey buyers ... not just for the AMG 43 with twinturbo V6 (270kW/520Nm).
The name change is part of a universal switch. Benz’s SUVs are now aligned to the similarsized sedans, from GLA to GLS.
The SL gets its C from the C-Class. There are four models, from the base 180 at $70,900 to the AMG 43 (pictured, and on cover) at $134,615.
Mercedes-Benz Australia says it has “realigned” the pricing (not-so-subtle code for price cuts) so the SLC 180 has had an effective $12,000 cut on its SLK 200 precedessor.
There’s no real change in performance but there’s more equipment, as in all variants.
Standard are Garmin satnav, heated front seats, reversing camera, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and leather seats that actually reflect solar rays.
Benz not surprisingly is making the most noise about the hottie SLC 43, with newly developed sport suspension, AMG brakes, sports leather seats, LED headlights and Harman Kardon audio. Until now, the SLK has been an underachiever at Benz. The basic models were underpowered and overpriced and the SLK 55 AMG — with an explosive V8 that turned it into a snub-nosed revolver — had way too much engine for the chassis.
The SLC 300 is a revelation. Australian planners have sprinkled some AMG fairy dust with 18-inch alloys, body kit, lowered sports suspension and the multi-mode driving for the engine and gearbox.
On a practical level, there is keyless operation and the Airscarf that blows heated air over your neck to extend the number of top-down days.
The 300 is a four-cylinder but, with the turbo and new nine-speed auto, it gets along. It’s fast when I want, calm and quiet when I like and, returning 6.3L/100km, it’s good for trips.
The best thing is the balance of the package. It’s swift but never unruly, the sports suspension compliant without getting too stiff.
The drive mode selector means I can leave it in Eco for commuting and dial it up to Sport+ on Sunday morning down the river valley to exploit its 180kW/370Nm.
The new gearbox spoils the driver for choice. Sport+ does the hard work for keen driving while keeping fuel consumption down and giving the mid-range response that’s best for everyday work.
With the top up, the car is quiet. Fold the roof and it’s surprisingly blow-free, with reasonable boot space.
I almost need to be stopped to operate the folding roof — other cars do the job more quickly at up to 40km/h — and the test car has a glass sunroof. Why? Surely you put the top down when the sun is shining.
The basic opaque roof is fine but Benz buyers also get the choice of a glass insert for about $3500 or switchable glass — like the electronic privacy glass in upscale hotel bathrooms — if you have more than $6000 to splash about.
The seats are comfy but, among the few little niggles, the audio is underwhelming, The SLC 300 is a pleasant car at a reasonable price. I’m not sure it’s for me, in fact I would prefer an MX-5 at less than half the price, but it’s more appealing now than in the past.