The SLK series brought into the market the compact roadster lineup. Through this series, Mercedes Benz came up with a roadster that’s sport, light, and short, hence the designation SLK—Sportlich (sport), Leicht (light) und Kurz (short). The SLK spanned through several generations: the R170, R171, and R172. The R170 was introduced in 1996 and was succeeded by the R171 in 2004, while the R172 replaced the earlier compact roadster series in 2011. The SLK-Class introduced compact roadsters with sleek lines and a more refined performance. Among the SLK vehicles to make a mark is the Mercedes Benz SLK320, which was released in 2000 under the R170 series. During that time, the R170 received a facelift. SLK models sported new bumper designs and body-colored side skirts, among other things. The SLK Class made a good impression among car enthusiasts and reviewers. In 1997, it was included in the Ten Best List of Car and Driver. The following year, it was cited as the North American Car of the Year. Its recognitions also included the 2004 Red Dot Award for product design. Its 2012 production model had the Mercedes-Benz's award-winning PRESAFE crash protection system.
1990s: The new production SLK-Class was unveiled
Mercedes Benz thought of coming up with a compact roadster at the beginning of the 1990s. With this design mission, the first sketches were done by the latter part of 1991, while scale models were started in the earlier part of 1992. It was in 1993 when Mercedes Benz was able to select and approve a final design for patenting. The new production SLK-Class was unveiled at the Turin Motor Show in 1996. The SLK used the R170 platform for the SLK 230 Kompressor launch model. This was equipped with a 2.3L supercharged straight-4 engine and an automatic transmission or 5-speed manual transmission. The SLK resembled the 1960s 190SL of Mercedes Benz but with a modern twist. The SLK230 then became a rival of the BMW Z3 and the Porsche Boxster. The SLK gained much success in its initial release. It was able to sell as much as 55,000 units around the world in its first year alone. More than 311,000 SLKs were sold from 1996 to 2004. The R170 SLK entered the US market as a 1998 model. It was completed in 1996 and was sold starting in 1997 until 2004, when the last of the R170s in the US were completed.
2000s: The SLK 320 under the face-lifted R170
The R170 was slated for further updates starting 1997. By 1998, design work was completed, with patents already filed the same year. The facelift for the SLK in 2000 included body-colored side skirts, revamped front and rear bumpers, and the use of wing mirrors with indicators. With the expansion of the SLK lineup, a new entry-level model was introduced—the SLK 200 Kompressor. Another development at that time was the new V6 in the Mercedes Benz SLK320. Other improvements also found their way into the modified SLK, such as the Electronic Stability Program, among other technical enhancements.