Sportlich, Leight und Kurz. These words in German translate to “Sporty, light and short,” which is where the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class comes from. In the market for a decade and a half with three generations under its belt, it has gone through many changes throughout the course of its production. This compact roadster was the first hard top convertible for the Mercedes-Benz, and as such has a special place in its history as a step towards newer and better products.
1996-2000: Reveal of the Showstopper
On April 22, 1996, the first Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class debuted at the Turin Motor Show. It was a throwback and a modern incarnation of their old 1950s model, the Mercedes-Benz 190SL. Both of these model were similar in that they used four cylinders and have a 94-inch wheelbase.
One of the SLK-Class’ innovations was the vario-roof. This roof design consisted or a folding steel hard top which was divided in half along an axis at angles perpendicular to car direction. One touch of a button and its hydraulic system mechanically pivots the two roof halves. Compared to its rivals which had folding cloth tops, this was a great advancement in roadster design.
The SLK 230 had a top speed of 143mph, with a look that has the protection of a coupe with the enjoyment of the convertible. In its first year, this model sold over 55,000, and thus became the fierce rivals of many other brands.
2000-2004: Getting with the Times
In the turn of the new millennium, the Mercedes-Benz SLK230, along with its other trims, underwent an upgrade to its look and power. The car’s front and rear bumper designs were given a facelift, resulting in a more modern feel. Body-colored side skirts and new wings mirrors were also added, for a more complete look. In terms of performance, a new 6-speed manual transmission was introduced along with the Electronic Stability Program, which help prevent skidding. The SLK230 also had a stabilizer bar added, as well as a bigger fuel tank.
Paving the way for the future
Today, the SLK230 trim is no more. Mercedes-Benz now had 200 Kompressor , 300, 350, and SLK 55 AMG models. Still, the SLK230 has made it mark in the Mercedes-Benz history as the first of its kind for the company. It won CAR & DRIVER’s “North American Car of the Year” award in 1998, to which the next generation followed by being winning the Canadian Car of the Year’s “Best New Convertible” award. The legacy of the SLK230 and the whole first generation will forever remain in the spirit of the new models for its leaps and bounds in innovation and performance.