Moving into its second generation, the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class roadster has retained its retractable hardtop but adopted a different front end with a large three-pointed star in the centre and small grilles on each side. Inspired by Formula One racing cars, the new SLK-Class, I’m sure, is meant to resemble the automaker’s SLR McLaren supercar. There are four variations of this hardtop convertible offered.

The baby of the four is the SLK 200K, a supercharged four cylinder with a five speed automatic or manual six. The SLK 280, which we had the pleasure of test-driving for a week recently, has a 3.0 litre V6 petrol engine. The SLK 350 is a 3.5 litre V6 and the granddaddy of them all is the SLK55 AMG with its 265kW 5.4 litre V-8 coupled with a seven-speed AMG SpeedShift transmission, boasting 0-60 in 4.8 seconds.

The roadster features an arrow-shaped nose and a long hood. The SLK-Class has a steeply sloped windshield and body lines to match, and its retractable hardtop goes up or down in 22 seconds.

There’s also an AMG appearance package that adds five-spoke 17-inch wheels, side skirts, a front air dam with wire mesh inserts, a trunk lid spoiler and a lowered suspension.

The SLK roadster’s interior features silver-coloured switches and trim elements. The sculpted dashboard blends into the door panels on each side. Large cylindrical gauges dominate the two-passenger cockpit.

For cool-weather driving with the top down, an $900 optional Airscarf neck-level heating system blows warm air from the headrests. Our test car was equipped with one so we gave it a go one cool day, and it worked a treat. All that was missing was a scarf and pair of large sunglasses.

As you would expect from a Benz, safety is paramount with side-impact airbags, all-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system all standard. A BabySmart child-recognition system prevents the front passenger side airbag from activating.

Acceleration with the 3.0-litre V6 in the SLK 280 is energetic and refined, which seems a more civilised choice than the old supercharged four-cylinder, which can struggle at times. The 7-speed automatic transmission operation was smooth on general driving, but it can get jerky at low speeds in lower gears and delivers a sizable jolt if you hit the accelerator pedal while slowing down.

Steering and handling are strong points, inspiring confidence and stability. Better yet, the SLK’s ride is balanced for a sports car of this calibre. Sure you feel the bumps, but most are dispensed with by the precisely tuned suspension.

The seats are adeptly supportive and snugly bolstered, yet surprisingly comfortable. Space is ample inside, and top-up visibility isn’t bad. When parking, however, the driver may have no clue where the pointy front end is located -“ optional parking sensors are a great investment. As with all coup?the wide doors make parking-lot spots a problem.

If wow factor has any influence on your car-shopping decisions, then perhaps the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class should be placed on your list of contenders. The SLK is deliberately hot, sexy, sporty and it turns heads everywhere.

AUTO FACTS

Price: $85,300-$164,500

Engine: 1.8-litre supercharged 4, 3.0-litre V6, 3.5-litre V6, 5.4-litre V8

Power: 120kW, 240Nm; 170kW, 300Nm; 200kW, 350Nm; 265kW, 510Nm

Fuel: 9.2, 9.5, 11.1, 12.1

For: Stunning looks, still space in the boot when top down

Against: Not the easiest to get out of in a shopping centre carpark

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