C for your self

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Prestige - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER

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.

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