What is it?
The people at Mercedes-Benz have had a busy two years or so. When they’re not launching new cars altogether, they’re busy updating the old ones and repackaging them with new names. The ML became the GLE, the GL became the GLS, and now it’s the turn of the SLK that’s been re-launched as the SLC. New name aside, it’s got a new look, more equipment, a new engine and also a new price-tag. Let’s go one by one, shall we?
First things first, Mercedes has launched the SLC in India in AMG 43 guise. The ‘43’ signifies this is not a full fat AMG though it is still the sportiest version of the SLC on sale. In its journey from SLK to SLC, Merc’s roadster has got a new nose. It’s not a radical change but it is very contemporary Mercedes. The grille with its diamond effect looks quite exquisite and the bumpers are pure AMG. The headlights are new too, and their LEDs constantly adjust to optimise brightness while reducing glare for oncoming traffic. There are fewer changes elsewhere but the long bonnet, short tail look still looks very classic. And doesn’t the Designo Hyacinth Metallic Red paint just look sexy? But if there’s one thing that the SLK and now the SLC will be best known for, it’s got to be the foldable hard-top roof. The roof folds and unfolds quickly enough so you can enjoy the open air experience at every opportunity the rain gods permit.
What is it like on the inside?
Well, if you’ve not been in an SLK ever before you might have a better opinion of the SLC’s cabin than us. It’s no bad place to be but the thing is the dashboard is a straight carryover from the SLK and as they say familiarity breeds contempt. There is fresher detailing here and there, but elements like the button-heavy central console look outdated today, partly because we’ve seen something similar on so many Mercs before. Still, the trim is sporty, the sports seats are supportive and there’s nice red stitching all over. There is a new infotainment system on the SLC and though not the most intuitive of systems around, it does get satellite navigation and Apple CarPlay.
What is it like to drive?
Aah, onto the big changes. Chiefly, the naturally aspirated V8 on the SLK 55 has made way for a smaller, twin-turbo, 3.0-litre V6 unit on the SLC 43. The new engine makes 367hp at 5,500-6,000rpm (down on the SLK 55’s 420hp) and 520Nm (down on the SLK 55’s 540Nm). All the power makes its way to the rear wheels via Merc’s new nine-speed gearbox which comes in place of the SLK’s old 7G-tronic unit. The engine’s two turbos and gearbox’s two additional gears help the SLC 43 make good any power deficit vis-à-vis the SLK 55. Coming to performance, 0-100kph takes 4.7 seconds (claimed) which is just a tenth of a second off the SLK’s time. However, the turbo-charged SLC is a whole lot faster through the gears so real-world performance is actually better on the SLC 43.
You don’t have to wind the bi-turbo engine to get to its best. There’s strong punch from low down in the rev band and you get that push back in your seat pretty much as soon as you weigh down on the throttle pedal. What helps is that the SLC 43’s gearbox works really well with the engine. It’s lenient enough in automatic mode, responsive to tugs at the paddles and then you have the option to go to full manual mode and slam an upshift at the 6,500rpm limiter.
The SLC goes like an AMG should but the SLC’s soundtrack doesn’t have the traditional bass, burble and growl of the big AMG V8’s. Still, the rasps and snarls from the exhaust are angry, wholesome and very likeable. The sports exhaust also lets out pops and crackles that add greatly to the background score. Of course, the SLC sounds its best in the sportiest of its driving modes. There are five driving modes to choose from but Sport and Sport+ with the ESP set to sport handling are where you want to be for max fun. In addition to powertrain characteristics and the exhaust note, steering weight also changes with each mode. Mercedes has reworked the steering and suspension for the SLC and the changes have done their bit to enhance the overall driving experience. There’s more front-end bite, the steering is more responsive to inputs and in general, the SLC is more attentive to where you want it to go. Is it the most dynamically sorted of the convertibles in India? Probably not. Is it fun? Definitely yes.
Fun as it is on a quick drive, the SLC also works surprisingly well in everyday conditions. Ground clearance, for one, is sufficient for average-sized speedbreakers. This is an AMG so the ride is on the firmer side, but again it’s not back-breakingly bad. But on the rough stuff, you can tell the SLC 43 isn’t the most rigid of convertibles around. It doesn’t feel as tight as something like a Porsche Boxster for instance. There is that typical convertible scuttle shake that you get and, at times, the SLC 43, for all its improvements, does feel like a newer version of what is now a fairly old car.
Should I buy one?
Mercedes has launched the SLC 43 at Rs 77.5 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). That’s nearly half a crore cheaper than the older SLK 55’s price! And to think the two cars offer similar performance. Seen in light of the SLK 55, then, the SLC 43 comes across as a steal. However, the SLC 43’s pricing also puts it in the same price band as the BMW Z4 and the upcoming Porsche 718 Boxster. So the question really is, 'Is the SLC 43 the best Rs 80-odd lakh convertible you can buy?' While it’s hard to give a definitive verdict without a full-blown comparison, the SLC 43 has come in at a time when the BMW Z4 has started to feel a bit long in the tooth and the Boxster’s controversial move to a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre engine could turn away buyers. In effect, the SLC 43 with its refreshed exteriors, more feature-packed cabin, V6 engine and foldable hard-top may not be the best of the convertibles, but it could just be the most complete.