History of the 1996-2004 Mercedes-Benz SLK (R170)
Mercedes' attractive SLK roadster appeared in 1996 as a competitor to cars like the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. This convertible with a folding steel retractable hardtop married Sacco styling to the existing W202 C-Class platform to create a less expensive alternative to the SL series convertibles, and as such is seen as sort of like a spiritual successor to the 190SL of four decades earlier.
Initially offered with a range of engines that included 2.0-liter supercharged and normally aspirated inline fours, the US debut saw a supercharged and intercooled 2.3-liter, 192-hp engine from the beginning of the 1998 model year. A 5-speed manual transmission was standard but a 5-speed automatic being optional for all engine choices.
The SLK was a runaway hit upon its introduction with favorable in-period reviews from journalists as well as several top-10 and car of the year accolades that initially resulted in Mercedes having difficulty meeting demand for their new roadster. The SLK line was expanded in 2000 with the addition of the SLK 320, sporting a 3.2-liter, 215-hp V-6. A mid-cycle update for the 2001 model year not only included a mildly facelifted interior and exterior but also saw the introduction of an improved ESP stability control system as well as a sixth gear for the manual transmission. The inevitable AMG variant appeared in 2001 with a 349-hp, supercharged version of the 3.2-liter V-6 along with suspension, brake and wheel upgrades.
Time has shown these cars to be mostly trouble free as long as scheduled maintenance is consistently attended to and they remain a relatively inexpensive and thoroughly entertaining avenue into Mercedes roadster ownership.