If industry whispers are to be believed, the BMW Z4 wouldn’t have been revived if not for a timely collaboration with Toyota to develop and produce a brand-new sports car. Maybe global warming is hitting home, maybe ‘wind-in-your-hair’ has finally been exposed for what it really is; ruffling coiffures and uncoupling toupees. Whichever the case, the appetite for convertibles has certainly waned over the years.
There was of course a time when top-down motoring encapsulated the romance of driving; the original Mercedes-Benz SLK of 1996 was such a creation – a trend-setting roadster that wowed many with its sexy styling and sophisticated packaging. More of the same continued with the second-generation SLK (2004 to 2010), fondly dubbed the ‘baby SLR’ for looking a lot like the then McLaren Mercedes supercar. And then we have the third iteration of 2011, updated and renamed as SLC in a nomenclature review back in 2016, and still standing in 2018.
Traditional feel with modern updates
The underpinnings may be seven years old but with the current-gen 245hp/370Nm 2.0-litre turbo four-pot and 9-speed automatic powering the SLC, it doesn’t feel its age. What it does conjure up is how Mercs of the last decade came across – assured and refined, but with the kind of nippy performance expected from a modern turbocharged powertrain. It’s no AMG this, but zero to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds is plenty fast, especially for a convertible.
I know, a sports car should be invigorating, even hair-raising behind the wheel, but past generations of SLKs never rivalled the Porsche Boxster in driving dynamics, not even the BMW Z4 for that matter. Instead, the SLC occupies an unhurried space where the premium is a sense of style and every day usability.
If the weather isn’t permitting, which is often the case in Malaysia, the SLC plays a convincing hardtop coupe by isolating the elements and providing a pliant ride, for convertible standards that is. But when the stars align on a cool evening, fresh air and unlimited headroom are only 20 seconds away as the mechanised Vario-roof contorts itself into the boot, still cool no matter how many times you’ve watched it work.
That busy centre console and small LCD do hark of another era, but at least Mercedes bothered to update the instrument binnacle, gear selector and steering wheel to current items, while lining the seats with lots of Nappa cowhide, something that never goes out of fashion. The SLC 300 even comes with a glass roof that can vary its opacity with a press of a button, just like how a Boeing 787 Dreamliner dims its windows.
Will we ever see another SLC?
If you need to prove a point to your car-loving mates, the SLC probably isn’t the one. The layer of detachment that makes it so livable on a daily basis also muddles the connection between driver and car. That’s a shame because the SLC does have an inherently playful balance, rounds off road imperfections nicely (adaptive damping is standard) and even makes aurally pleasing exhaust notes as you work through the quick-shifting 9-speed automatic. It’s sporty, but not quite the sports car.
The SLC is better off taking on more genial tasks such as the occasional top-down date with the elements, where occupants can engage in discourse without raising voices in the relative calm of the cabin, and looking like a million bucks when pulling up at the MBFWKL. In this regard, the SLC 300 is that perfect piece of accessory you can wear every day, but it’s also a convertible that may never see a replacement, at least not in its current form (if rumours pan out) despite staying fashionable all these years.
Mercedes-Benz SLC 300
Price: RM442,388.24 Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cyl, RWD Output: 245hp / 370Nm Transmission: 9-speed auto w/ steering shift paddles Performance: 0-100km/h in 5.8s; top speed 250km/h (limited) Wheels/tyres: 235/40 R18 (F), 255/35 R18 (R) Safety: 6 airbags, Electronic Stability Control Warranty: 4-year/unlimited