If there’s one thing for which you can give Mercedes-Benz kudos—there’s a lot more than one, of course, but please bear with me—it’s their ability to keep everybody’s brain active by tweaking and tweaking their nomenclature, and then tweaking it some more. Is the C 63 a “Mercedes-AMG C 63” or a “Mercedes-Benz C 63 AMG” (it’s the former, but you see what I mean)? What about the GLE? Is it a 4-door coupe or a more traditional 5-door wagon SUV? The model name is attached to both, after all…
Then there’s the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43: While it doesn’t feature an engine built by a single craftsman—the calling card of the AMG V8 and V12 models found throughout the lineup—it still falls under the “Mercedes-AMG” brand umbrella because it does use AMG-sourced parts. Its SLC 300 sibling, meanwhile, is just a “Mercedes-Benz.” It’s confusing, but all you really have to know is that this is the latest version of the Mercedes SLK-Class, which has been around since 1996 in the shape of a compact 2-seater roadster with a power-folding hard top.
But what’s in a name?
The main addition—the one that helps the SLC gain “AMG” status—is a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 producing 362 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to have the little roadster sprinting from 0-100 km/h in a scant 4.7 seconds, on to an electronically limited top speed of 250 km/h. That’s a lot of go-power for a tiny, low-slung roadster (its footprint is smaller than that of a Nissan Micra). Yes, the “AMG” designation no longer gets you the V8 from the old SLK 55, but the new engine, while down a little on power, is lighter, more efficient, and still a ton of fun.
The exhaust note, for example, is actually quite sonorous and more than what you’d expect from a car that’s always had the stigma of being more “Rodeo Drive” than “Autobahn.” It’s spat through twin tailpipes, and there’s some proper pop-pop-popping as you lay off the throttle, or when hopping between cogs in the 9-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission—either automatically or manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles. While paddle shifters are often there as an afterthought, they are much more in keeping with what the SLC 43 has to offer, especially in Sport or Sport+ drive modes (those join ECO, Comfort, and Individual modes), both of which quicken the gear shift speed to some truly aggressive levels. I do, however, wish that the paddles themselves were a little heftier in their operation. Still, it remains a viable alternative to a proper manual transmission, which was dropped from the SLK lineup after 2015.
For me, in the age-old “Mercedes vs. BMW” discussion, the Z3/Z4 roadsters from Bavaria always had the edge on Stuttgart when it came to dynamics, while Mercedes had the luxury chops that couldn’t quite be equalled by the Bimmer. Performance, not luxury, is what would have me laying out the $70,900 required to purchase such a sporty roadster.
The 2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC 43, however, manages to buck that trend. It’s got that great turbocharged engine, sure, but what really impresses is the ride and handling combination. The “handling” thing should come as little surprise: While BMWs may have had the edge in previous tests, that’s not to say the SLK/SLC cars were slouches; it’s just that they were up against some very tough competition. They were still agile as a short-wheelbase, 2-seater roadster should be, and would give everything from Mustangs to Miatas a run for their money on a good handling course. Throw in the fact that Mercedes-AMG has firmed up the suspension, and you have a car that will handle anything the average driver—and even some above-average ones—will throw at it. The SLC 43 is a willing dance partner. It really is.
Less expected, however, is how well the car presents itself when in town and not in full attack mode.
The aforementioned short wheelbase combined with those low-profile tires and big rims should mean that you’ll have your teeth rattling over every on-road imperfection, but that’s not the case. The SLC 43 is, after all, built from the ground up as a convertible even though it shares a lot of its componentry with the C-Class sedan (hence “C” in the roadster’s new name), which means the engineers could get it right from the get-go. No need to add extra reinforcements to a floor pan or rear bulkhead, just a chassis that can be designed and balanced with no roof in mind. So, while the short wheelbase will have you bouncing over repetitive bumps, it doesn’t shake, rattle, and roll with every millimetre of flexion it may incur. It’s surprisingly smooth, and represents a neat trick by Mercedes.
Remember the “luxury chops” I spoke of earlier? Well, they haven’t been lost on the 2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC 43.
The first thing that catches your eye once you look inside is the red-and-black colour scheme ($1,500), which is quickly followed by a giant carbon fibre panel (at $2,500, it is a rather expensive option, however) covering almost the entire transmission tunnel and centre stack, not to mention the door pull surrounds. There’s little denying the car’s performance bent when you consider the materials used.
The more luxurious features include the brushed silver that rounds out the rest of the interior trim and can be found on the climate control wheels, steering wheel spokes, gear lever surround, and HVAC vents. The best part is how Mercedes has managed to pull off the use of all these multi-dimensional materials without overwhelming the occupants. The available $5,900 Premium Package, meanwhile, adds premium Harman Kardon sound, Sirius satellite radio, a rear-view camera, the panoramic Vario-Roof, and more.
With the top up, the SLC 43 manages to change character to a proper coupe; it’s cozy, sure, but it’s also quiet and makes for a nice-looking profile from outside, as well. The roof manages to stick with the squat proportions of the roadster, not seeming out of place when deployed. It also folds neatly into the trunk in quick fashion, though you will lose some cargo space. It’s activated by flipping a lever mounted under a flip-up door on the centre console—you don’t lose valuable armrest space that way—and does its business in just over 15 seconds. I just wish you didn’t have to flip a second switch to activate the side windows; it would be nice if this was done in one fell swoop.
You still get a glimpse of the outside world thanks to the Vario-Roof, which is Mercedes-speak for a “sunroof” with the top up. It’s treated, too, keeping the light intensity low if you need a break. My tester took it a step further, adding Magic Sky Control which actually allows you to manually change the tint of the glass panel. That’s some pretty cool stuff.
The SLC 43’s next “best of both worlds” trick revolves around Mercedes’ patented Airscarf technology (also part of the Premium Package). Basically, in addition to traditional seat heater controls, you also get the option of heating your neck and back. On models equipped with Airscarf, you’ll notice a vent at the base of the headrest; this blows heat on exposed neck hairs up to three levels, and while it’s hard to feel if you’re taller or have a large collar, it’s a nice feature to have that makes this particular convertible that much more livable.
While the occupant environs are nice, I’m not quite as enamoured with the infotainment interface. The graphics for most menus are dull and monochromatic, so you’ll often not be sure of exactly which command you’ve highlighted via the console-mounted scroll wheel. The way the screen sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb from the centre stack is less than pretty, too, and at odds with the rest of the interior’s fit and finish.
I am a big fan of just how adjustable the drive can be, however. Your damper settings, transmission, and throttle response can all be tweaked via the intuitive drive mode interface that presents nice graphics befitting of the car’s luxury moniker.
A step up
The 2017 Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 has enough power to impress, its chassis is well sorted, and most of the interior is befitting of the brand. Plus, when you consider the clever roof that makes the switch from convertible to coupe oh-so seamless, you realize that the latest version of Mercedes’ stalwart roadster has left the Z4 in its rear-view mirror and turned its sights onto the Porsche 718 Boxster.