It is the tradition with Mercedes-AMG products to affix a plaque to the engine naming the single craftsman who assembled it. Pop the hood on this new SLC43 and you'll find its twin-turbocharged V6 crowned by a plate that says, “Bender Bending Rodriguez.” Hey! A robot built this thing?
On a day like today, the SLC 300's red paint gleams in the Mediterranean sun like a Frenchwoman's expertly applied lipstick, and it's hard not to like it.
Relax, meatbags. It doesn't actually say anything on the SLC's new powerplant; instead, you get a big red stripe down the plastic engine cover, indicating that this engine is a bit special, but not quite AMG special. Think of it as AMG licht, or what used to be called AMG sport. It's the answer to trim packages like BMW's M-sport, Audi's S-line, and Cadillac's V-Sport.
Mercedes-AMG will still continue to make cars in the full Affalterbach tradition, but they'll also have a host of mass-produced, entry-level offerings across the Mercedes range. AMG is now not just a skunkworks within Mercedes, it's a condiment vendor allowing Mercedes to add a smidgen of flavour to their mainstream cars.
But before we get into full automotive enthusiast teeth-gnashing and garment-rending mode, let's sample the standard SLC 300 to see what Mercedes is working with. Starting out on the sunny Côte d'Azure, we headed up into the mountains in search of switchbacks and driving joy.
The SLC is a rebadging and mild facelift of the old SLK. Like the larger, more luxurious SL, it provides a folding hardtop, two-seater convertible Mercedes experience. This experience includes sunny days, quiet driving in the rain, added security when parked, and really, really not wanting to own one five years outside the warranty expiry.
But on a day like today, the SLC 300's red paint gleams in the Mediterranean sun like a Frenchwoman's expertly applied lipstick, and it's hard not to like it. The eagle-eyed amongst you will note the revised corporate front end with its bluff profile. Blunter it may be, but the SLC retains a certain femininity.
The larger SL roadster was also facelifted this year, and inside the SLC's cabin we likewise find that much of that facelifting was only skin deep. There are a few new trim materials on offer, but this is essentially the same car as before, with the same slightly small seven-inch central screen and button-heavy COMAND infotainment control interface. Mercedes has updated the infotainment system of most of their range, and it appears the SL and SLC will be last to get an upgrade. At least this one has red seatbelts.
Separated by a letter: 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK 300 Test Drive
It is however, a comfortable cockpit, one livened up by the presence of niceties like Mercedes' air-scarf system, which blows warm air on your neck. Your Miata can't do that, Barb from Accounting. So there.
The other thing Barb's Miata can't do is provide 335L of trunk space for a weekend getaway. With the hardtop deployed, the SLC has most of the advantages of a coupe in this regard, and also comes with a fixed panoramic sunroof that can be darkened or lightened with the touch of a button. However, should you wish to lower the roof mid-way to wine country, note that the cargo capacity drops to 225L.
Power for the 300 variant of the SLC comes from a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 245 hp at 5,500 rpm. Torque comes on quickly at 1,300 rpm, and the turbo stays on boil producing a max of 273 lb-ft until 4,000 rpm. For a small roadster, that's pretty sprightly, even with the SLC's rather plump near-1,600 kg curb weight.
All SLC 300's also come with a five-mode dynamic select system, which is activated by a button on the dash. Activating the most aggressive Sport+ mode, we spurred up this little red car and charged into the first of a series of snaking mountain hairpins.
The easiest way to describe the result is to point out a mild idiosyncrasy displayed by native German speakers with otherwise impeccable English. Instead of saying no or yes, sometimes they'll say “it's possible,” or “it's not possible.” Usually the latter is the reply any time I ask to borrow the museum's CLK-GTR.
“It's possible” is not quite the same thing as “yes,” and when it comes to carving up a technically demanding road, the former is the SLC 300's reply. It's possible, but it's not that happy about it. This is most emphatically not a Boxster, and while the short wheelbase and solid turbocharged torque characteristics add a bit of fun to the experience, the SLC doesn't flow well when you try to charge up a pass.
The nine-speed gearbox is new for Mercedes, and is making its way throughout the range. If you miss an upshift, it will shift for you. If you call for a downshift while braking for a turn, it'll occasionally ignore your request, particularly third-to-second, if it thinks you're too high in the rev-range. Left to its own devices, the nine-speed is perfectly competent. The Mercedes traction control has two settings: Nervous, and Not Really Off.
The SLC 300 is much happier when you crack the top, slow your roll and cruise, just as you would in the larger SL. Here, choppy pavement can result in a bit of bobbing and weaving, but the Mercedes team has done a good job of tuning the SLC for its intended purpose: i.e. making Barb extremely jealous.
Now let's have a go in the AMG version.
First, as we've mentioned, this isn't really an AMG at all. The armrest is stamped with the crest of Affalterbach, but the car itself is assembled 600 km away in Bremen along with the rest of the SLC range.
However, the AMG team has been at work fiddling with suspension tuning and mildly flaring out the bodywork. The fender-vents are still as fake as processed cheese, but at least the Biturbo badge just below them is something to be proud of.
Under the hood of the SLC 43 is a twin-turbo 3.0L V6 making a worthy 367 hp from 5,500-6,000 rpm, and a healthy 384 lb-ft of torque from 2,000-4,200 rpm. That's good enough for a scoot from 0-100km/h in 4.7 seconds, or about as quick as the old V8-powered full-AMG version of the SLK.
What's more, taking weight off the nose and tightening up the suspension tuning has resulted in improved driving dynamics for this most-powerful SLC, with Sport+ mode feeling especially vicious. A flap opens in the exhaust to allow for bigger noise (and thus, somewhere in the press release, the mention of greater emotional sporty dynamism), you press hard on the accelerator, and flit off towards Monaco pursued by a wave of turbo-V6 hollerin'.
Above 4,000 rpm it sounds exactly like you're firing bees out the exhaust, big, angry, sting-crazy bees. The nine-speed transmission feels suitably sharpened for this mission, and there's no denying the speed is there, enough to have you praying the gendarmes don't pass by in one of their bumbling Fiat Puntos.
And yet, there's a sense of possible/not-possible again. AMG, lack of hand-built engine or no, has pulled quite a trick with this car, extracting speed from a slightly heavy hard-topped roadster built more for cruising along the look-at-me coastal boulevard than zipping around up here in the mountains. I absolutely believe that this car will hang with an F-type Jaguar and blow a TT roadster into the weeds.
But it's not razor-sharp like a Boxster, and it's not crazy blunt-instrument enough to feel like a full-fledged AMG product. It's a very quick version of a capable little comfy convertible that still charms despite its aging platform.
If you're more interested in a little comfort than clipping every apex in sight, then by all means, pop for the SLC in standard or semi-AMG version. It's quick and fun and has very few drawbacks. You should also really consider taking advantage of Mercedes' European delivery option, and driving down from the factory to spend a few days swanning around le Cote d'Azur.
Go on, you know you want to. Barb will be furious.