New Generation SLK Roadster Design Journey
The design idiom accentuates the Mercedes SLK’s lively, sporty presence, and is also sculptural
by Jim Davis | 08 March 2011
View the photo gallery
The designers have tailor-made an outfit for the new SLK which emphasises its classic roadster proportions and puts them in the spotlight to thrilling effect. Behind the long bonnet is a compact passenger compartment positioned far back, and a short tail end. The SLK will tempt potential customers with the key attributes that characterise all the classic roadsters from Mercedes-Benz, and that have also made many of them automotive icons.
Professor Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Mercedes-Benz Cars: “The SLK continues the illustrious roadster tradition of Mercedes-Benz, and excitingly takes it into the future. The design idiom accentuates its lively, sporty presence, and is also sculptural. It expresses personality and sensuality. The same applies to the interior. High-grade materials, lovingly crafted details and a very exclusive finish characterise the essentially very sporty atmosphere.”
Striking front end
The first feature to catch the eye is an upright radiator grille that stands proud and confident in the wind, bearing the new face of the Mercedes-Benz brand. It facilitates the long and well-proportioned bonnet and with its rearward light-catching contours it already hints at the roadster’s dynamic qualities. The bonnet ends with two air intake grilles in front of the windscreen, each embellished with three louvres.
The wide radiator grille bears the Mercedes-Benz star in a prominent central position and displays a powerfully contoured fin, chromed at the front. The clearly defined headlamps complete the look for the new SLK’s face, and daytime running lamps with chrome surrounds (round lamps in the base version) in the bumper round off the front end. The “face” of the new SLK is reminiscent of the legendary 190 SL from the 1950s, which is regarded by many as being the original “SLK”. But it was certainly not just the past that the designers were focusing on; with the new SLK’s front end they also intentionally created a close visual link with the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG “gull-wing model” and the new CLS.
The amazing and measurable proof of the meticulously detailed work that has been carried out is that in spite of the more striking, steeper front and the larger frontal area, the Cd value has been cut to just 0.30 (preceding model 0.32).
The classic, timeless lines of the side aspect with its typical roadster proportions embodies the utmost aesthetic appeal with a visual assurance of sportiness and fun. The vario-roof spans the interior like a drawn bow. When opened it disappears into the boot, creating the typical roadster silhouette. From any angle and in any position it blends harmoniously into the overall design. A fillet conceals the boot joint, so that it does not disturb the side aspect as with similar roof designs. Neither are the lines disturbed by aerials in most equipment variants: in most cases they are integrated into the windscreen, rear window and parcel shelf.
The air outlet grilles with a chromed fin in the front wings are reminiscent of the famous Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster from the 1950s. In the new SLK they form the elegant starting point for a feature line which extends right back to the muscular rear wings, and uses light and shadow to lend style and elegance to the side aspect.
This is emphasised by the stemmed exterior mirrors, which are positioned on the beltline where they allow a better forward view to the side. With their very narrow stems painted in the vehicle colour, these make a sporty and filigree impression. Their sophisticated aerodynamics also help to keep the side windows practically dirt-free, while ensuring a low level of wind noise.
Depending on the engine variant, the wheel arches house 16 or 17-inch light-alloy wheels, or 18-inch wheels with mixed-size tyres in conjunction with the sports suspension.
Muscular rear end
At the rear the eye is drawn to the integrated spoiler lip and wide tail light clusters. The roll-over bars feature double-skinned plastic claddings with a high-quality soft-look surface. As an optional extra these rear claddings can be of anodised aluminium.
For the first time, the tail lights with their pronounced horizontal emphasis are in all-LED technology. Their upper edge extends forward into the sides, harmoniously culminating in the feature line. A twin exhaust system with trapezoidal tailpipes rounds off the muscular impression created by the rear view.
High-grade materials and stylish sportiness
The new SLK is 31 millimetres longer and 33 millimetres wider than its predecessor. With the most compact dimensions in its class, the new SLK has an interior whose generous size is nonetheless exemplary. To achieve this, the designers have developed interior appointments which offer the driver and passenger outstanding perceived value, purist precision and a real feel-good ambience. The interior in the base colour black is characterised by sporty refinement, well thought-out ergonomics and high-quality, authentic materials which have been processed with painstaking attention to detail and skilled craftsmanship. Even in the base version, the centre console and other trim parts gleam in brushed aluminium. Wood can be selected as an option in high-gloss dark brown walnut or high-gloss black ash.
Echoing the exterior design, the black dashboard emphasises the horizontal lines and therefore width of the vehicle. On request it is available in a two-tone colour scheme and with a leather lining. Four round, galvanised air vents similar in form to those in the SLS are recessed into the dashboard, underlining the car’s membership of the Mercedes-Benz sports car family and at the same time deliberately creating associations with the dynamism of jet aviation.
Two large dial instruments – a speedometer and a rev counter – flank a display for the information generated by the online computer. The display menus can be conveniently accessed by the driver using the control buttons on the steering wheel, without taking his eyes off the road. The colour display for the communication and entertainment functions is housed in the centre of the dashboard, and can be easily read by both the driver and passenger. A comfortably shaped controller on the centre armrest ensures safe and easy operation.
On the top of the dashboard, also in the centre, sits a fine analogue clock (optional), subtly underlining the roadster’s stylish character.
An easily handled (diameter 375 millimetres) multifunction sports steering wheel with a flattened bottom section and a thick leather rim makes the high quality and sporty character of the new SLK a constant tactile experience. Metal trim on the spokes enhance the impression of both sportiness and refinement. Shift paddles to perform upshifts and downshifts in the automatic transmission are available as an option. The interior can be enhanced even further with a wood/leather steering wheel.
The sweeping lines of the upper dashboard section are continued into the door panels. The door centre panel is colour-coordinated with the interior. The door openers and seat adjustment switches are trimmed in aluminium or wood.
Sporty yet comfortable seats
The sporty, ergonomic seats with adjustable, crash-responsive NECK-PRO head restraints integrated into the backrests have high side bolsters for optimum lateral support and a high level of comfort on long journeys. Maximum operating convenience and seating comfort is ensured by optional electric seat adjustment with a memory function and 4-way lumbar support.
In the base version the new SLK is equipped with black fabric seats. There is also a choice of:
- embossed leather in black, sahara beige or crystal grey
- nappa leather in black, bengal red or moccha/nut brow
- Exclusive nappa leather – in this case the upper dashboard section and the doors are lined with black nappa leather
All leather and nappa leather seats are upholstered with leather which noticeably reduces heat build-up. The leather has a special coating which reflects the sun’s rays. Comparative measurements have shown that this leather reduces the temperature of the seats by more than ten degrees Celsius – a significant improvement in comfort when the car has been parked in the sun.
As in the previous model, the neck-level heating system AIRSCARF is available as an optional extra for the new SLK. This creates a flow of warm air around the neck and shoulder areas of the occupants from a vent in the front of each head restraint.
An ambient lighting system available as an option for the first time creates an impressive effect in the interior of the new SLK. It consists of discreet optical fibres and spots in SOLAR RED, which produce an extremely pleasant yet sporty lighting effect in the door panels, around the door pulls and on both sides of the centre console. This mood-enhancing ambient lighting is activated when the doors are opened (“welcome home” effect), and its intensity can be individually varied by a dimmer.
The central lighting unit in the overhead control panel has two interior lights and a centre console spotlight.
Clever stowage compartment concept
For a two-seater roadster, the new SLK has an exemplary variety of stowage facilities in the interests of versatility and day-to-day utility. The basis for this well conceived interior concept is a large glove compartment with a remarkable capacity of 6.4 litres. Useful features such as holders for a pen, credit cards and coins are integrated into the glove compartment lid.
There are three stowage compartments in the centre console – below the air conditioning controls (this can be replaced by an ashtray on request), next to the controller in front of the armrest (roller-top compartment, optionally a drinks holder) and under the armrest with a 12 V socket, USB interface and AUX connection (optionally a media interface for integration of e.g. an iPod and mobile phone connection). A net attached to the tunnel in the passenger footwell can be fitted with a flexible bottle-holder which can securely accommodate even 1.5-litre bottles.
The new SLK is equipped with air conditioning as standard. The automatic climate control system THERMOTRONIC with separately adjustable interior temperatures for the driver and passenger is available on request.
An example of the detailed refinements: a windscreen demisting sensor in the stem of the rear-view mirror registers the glass temperature and interior humidity level of the new SLK. In dry weather, when no cooling is required but A/C is operating, the control system powers the compressor down but activates it as soon as it registers that the windscreen is misting up. This has two advantages:
- The A/C function can remain active all the time, but the demand-controlled system saves energy.
- As the air conditioning only demoisturises and cools as much air as is required to maintain the interior temperature, the air is never too dry and this benefits the physical comfort of the occupants.