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First drive: Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

First drive: Mercedes-Benz SLC 300
The name's changed, but the Mercedes SLC roadster is familiar fare.


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Mercedes-Benz SLC 300

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The third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK has been facelifted and turned into the Mercedes-Benz SLC in the process. The badge is the biggest alteration of all, as a series of minor updates add polish to what was already one of the finest compact premium roadsters in the class. And if you can't stretch to the cacophonous AMG 43 range-topper, this 300 should satisfy your roadster performance needs.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mercedes-Benz SLC 300 AMG Line
Pricing: SLC from 30,495; 300 from 39,385
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door, two-seat roadster
CO2 emissions: 138g/km (VED Band E, 130 annually)
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 5.8 seconds
Power: 245hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 370Nm at 1,300- to 4,000rpm

What's this?

The Mercedes SLC, which is the SLK renamed to fit in with the German company's 2015 restructuring of its badging hierarchy. Although it wouldn't have taken the sleuthing skills of a Holmes, Poirot or Lt. Columbo to work that out, because you'll notice the SLC looks almost identical to the pre-facelift 'R172' third-generation SLK. As with the recent updates to its big brother, the SL, most of the design work has gone into the front end, where the SLC now has a more appealing look compared to its predecessor, thanks to smoother headlights incorporating LED daytime running lamps, a reshaped grille and different front bumper and air intakes treatment. The rear has been updated with new light signatures and bumper shaping, but you'd have to be the mother of all SLK aficionados to identify the new boy at a distance (SLC boot badge notwithstanding, of course).

Step inside and there's an even trickier game of 'Spot the Difference', as you're looking to circle four visual alterations. Give up? OK, we'll tell you: the steering wheel is new; so is the instrument cluster sitting behind it; perhaps most obviously, the stumpy little gear lever now bears an 'SLC' emblem; and there are some aluminium carbon-effect trims available for the dashboard. Aside from added in-car connectivity in the Comand system, this cockpit is effectively the same as the pre-facelift SLK - but as the cabin is beautifully put together, thoughtfully laid out, well-equipped and extremely comfortable for a roadster, we have no real qualms on that score.

A quick UK range summation, then. If it's a Mercedes-Benz SLC, it'll have a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, most likely a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic and rear-wheel drive. If the 'Benz' is replaced by 'AMG' on the spoiler-topped boot lid, then you're in the only SLC that has more than a quartet of cylinders, as the SLC 43 flagship uses the 3.0-litre biturbo V6 engine. All SLCs can now raise and lower their two-piece folding metal vario-roofs on the fly, but there are two caveats to this: one, operation of the hardtop can only take place at less than 25mph; and two, in order to start the process, the car needs to be stationary or just inching along at snail's pace. Still, it's a trick the SLK never managed in its 20-year lifetime.

In some markets, there's a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol SLC badged 180, with 156hp and 250Nm, but clearly the UK can't stomach the idea of a 30k+ premium roadster with a 1.6-litre engine borrowed from a Renault, even in this day and age of downsizing, so we start with a couple of 2.0-litre petrol engines. First up is the 200, with 184hp and 300Nm, with the same motor boosted to 245hp and 370Nm for the 300, which we're driving here. Mercedes continues to be one of the very few outfits offering a two-seat open-top with a diesel engine, which in this instance turns out to be the ancient 2.1-litre twin-turbo (rated at 204hp/500Nm) that's on its last legs - however, the 250 d is expected to be the biggest seller in the UK and, as we'll come to see, it's one of the best applications of the 2.1 we've yet come across. Finally, as already mentioned, the flagship is the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 with 367hp, 520Nm, 0-62mph capability in 4.7 seconds and a 155mph limited top speed - that one is for the performance addicts.

The SLC 200 and 250 d variants can be had in either Sport or AMG Line trim (the latter adding a neat if chunky 4,000 to the list price), while the 300 is AMG Line only. The 200 is also the only SLC that comes with a six-speed manual as standard and you'll need 1,485 if you want to add the 9G-Tronic that prevails in the rest of the SLC range. Right, we think that's everything covered - now what does the SLC feel like in action?

How does it drive?

Umm... rather much identically to the last of the SLKs, if we're honest. Little has changed mechanically for most models and so the SLC feels very familiar, even if the badging is new... well, all right, revived from a car we last saw in 1981. However, this is not a negative, as after two decades of refinement Mercedes had turned the SLK into a thoroughly decent roadster. Thus, the SLC is extremely pleasant. Aside from the AMG 43, the ride on all cars is pliant and supple without the body control going to pot, the drivetrains are smooth and refined, the 9G-Tronic transmission is a gem and all of the major driver interfaces - steering, brakes and so on - are well judged. We'd go so far as to say the SLC is a more engaging thing to drive than the Audi, BMW and Nissan rivals, but like SLKs of old, if you're a really keen 'helmsmith' then a Porsche Boxster or Lotus Exige is going to satisfy you more. Or maybe even a Mazda MX-5, which is of course considerably cheaper.

Which would do this 300 model a disservice, as it's a fine performance roadster. The engine and exhaust, in particular, provide most of its allure. It feels really quite rapid, maybe even more so than the 5.8-second 0-62mph time might suggest, and at 1,505kg it's one of the lighter SLCs going; it's 90 kilos slimmer than the AMG 43 and 100kg to the good compared to that 250 d. That makes it a crisp, tidy handler, aided and abetted by steering that is excellent - feelsome, sharp and consistent. Stick the car in Sport or Sport+ modes and the exhaust starts to spit and crackle, which only heightens the sense of speed. Pleasingly, the 300 has a more dichotomous character than the SLC 43, which means it can be loud and aggressive for sporty driving, and then quiet and refined when just cruising. We like it a lot.

Just a short footnote here on that 250 d, though, because it does deserve a mention. At no point is it hugely exciting, because both torque and power are spent at a mere 3,800rpm and therefore revving the nuts off it (counter-intuitive anyway, in a turbodiesel, but we are in a sports car here) brings absolutely no rewards at all. Yet despite the fact that the 2.1-litre engine is loud and rough in saloons and SUVs elsewhere in the Mercedes range, in the SLC it's about as quiet as we can ever remember it. Even with the car open to the elements, the noise of it never intrudes on proceedings and 500Nm at 1,600- to 1,800rpm makes it an easy-going machine, which means it's probably the most comfortable cruiser of the line-up. Good luck matching its quoted 70.6mpg figure, though.


Even with the barking insanity of the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 in close proximity, the SLC 300 wasn't completely overshadowed in either the noise or performance departments. In fact, it will probably turn out to be a slow seller compared to the other three SLC models available, but we reckon it's a little corker that deserves serious attention. The SLC remains a competent machine dynamically that never quite reaches chassis nirvana, yet with its punchy 2.0-litre engine, sporty soundtrack and general feel-good factor, the 300 is a highly likeable roadster. It'll be hamstrung by people preferring the more economical and cheaper 250 d, or finding the extra 6,970 it takes to get into the ridiculously intoxicating AMG SLC; even so, the 300 offers premium appeal, open-top motoring, rear-wheel drive dynamics and excellent pace, for about the price of a top-end hot hatch missing all the essential, costly optional extras. Unless you're absolutely averse to roadsters, the Mercedes has got to be worth a look.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 8 Apr 2016    - Mercedes-Benz road tests
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2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.

2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300. Image by Mercedes-Benz.


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