It is clear that with the manufacturers of certain makes now becoming directly involved in the marketing activities for their products in Malaysia, much greater efforts are being made to present the latest offerings. No longer do buyers here have to wait a long time to see new generations of models and the local launch of the second generation of the highly successful Mercedes-Benz roadster – the SLK – so soon after its unveiling in Geneva two months ago proves the point.
In fact, it is rare that Malaysia gets new models ahead of Singapore but for the new SLK, our country is only the second one in the ASEAN region to have an official launch (the other being Thailand where the car was unveiled at the recent Bangkok motorshow). Granted, the unit shown to the media this morning was a pre-production model – righthand drive production only started a few weeks ago – but it is nevertheless a launch!
According to Steffen Doelz, DaimlerChrysler Malaysia’s vice-president for Sales & Marketing, the new SLK has gotten off to a great start with more than 16,500 customers having placed orders in less than three months. The first generation was certainly a success and even the most optimistic planners in Stuttgart did not expect demand to be so great that even before the first deliveries began in late 1996, the entire production for 1997 was already sold out!
The original forecast was for around 35,000 units annually but this was quickly increased to 50,000 units and even then, customers in some countries had to wait almost two years for their SLK.
Now, after almost eight years and a production run of over 308,000 units, the next generation of the SLK (which stands for ‘Sporty, Light and Kompact’) arrives with the aim of moving onwards and upwards as a trendsetter and technological leader among roadsters.
As can be seen, the new SLK has entirely new styling which is not ‘evolutionary’ in nature from the previous generation. Inspiration for the designers came from the F1 racing cars and compared to its predecessor, the new SLK has a bolder, more muscular appearance. It’s also slightly larger with a 72 mm increase in length and 65 mm more width, but the classic roadster proportions are retained: long bonnet, flat windscreen and short rear end.
The vario-roof that caused a sensation in 1996 now operates more quickly (22 seconds vs 25 seconds before) and the improved design shares much with the system in the latest SL-Class model with a swivel-mounted rear window that is 3 mm thick. As a result, it occupies less space in the boot and allows the usable volume to be increased by 43%. Needless to say, this masterpiece of technology in motion is activated at the press of a switch, with the possibility of remote operation using an optional transmitter.
There are three engine choices for the new SLK – the 1.8-litre Kompressor engine in the SLK 200K; the new V6 3.5-litre engine in the SLK 350; and the V8 5.5-litre in the SLK 55 AMG. The AMG version has already been seen on Malaysian roads, albeit within the confines of the Sepang Circuit as it was used as the F1 Safety Car.
Transmission choices also number three – 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic and the unique 7-speed automatic which is standard for the SLK 55 AMG. The automatics can be operated using buttons on the steering wheel while the manual gearbox features a single shifting rod (instead of two in conventional gearboxes) that communicates the vertical and horizontal movements of changing gears. This improves shift quality and precision, which is certainly a welcome improvement.
While the front suspension which used to employ double wishbones is now replaced by a 3-link arrangement with rack and pinion steering, the rear suspension retains the seemingly complex – but proven – multi-link layout of the first generation. Detail modifications have, among other benefits, reduced vibrations and maintain the welcome understeering character.
The inside of the SLK shows that the larger body, especially the extended wheelbase, has been put to good use with more space to offer around the two occupants. The new sports seats with magnesium frames have a world-first in the form of the AIRSCARF concept which has warm air blowing onto the neck from vents in the backrest. It is not a feature which Malaysians will appreciate although Mr Doelz suggested that those who drive in Cameron Highlands might like it, so it is offered as an option.
The dashboard is a visually pleasing blend of form and function, and the two silver cylinders which make up the instrument panel are striking. If one compares the presentation to that of the BMW Z4 – another desirable roadster – the SLK’s dashboard comes across as a more conventional approach to styling and also offers better storage capacity.
For the time being, DaimlerChrysler Malaysia plans to offer only the SLK 200K which will retail for RM488,000 (excluding insurance) although customers can also place orders for the SLK 350 and SLK 55 AMG (but no prices are available yet).