Mercedes wasn’t prepared to let the snazzy BMW Z3 and Porsche Boxster have the sporting arena all to themselves, and launched the SLK R170 compact roadster in 1997 to grab a slice of the action. This plainly styled but pleasing sports car followed the lead of Mitsubishi’s 3000GT Spyder, featuring a retractable hardtop that changed a coupe into a convertible — a template that other manufacturers would copy.
The SLK designation comes from the Mercedes mission statement for these cars — Sportlich, Leicht, Kurz (sporty, light and short). The R170 platform was new for 1997, and lasted until the R171 arrived in 2005. During the relatively short life of the R170 there were a number of models, differentiated by engine size and power output. Three different transmissions were offered during the run — five-speed automatic and five- and six-speed manual.
The basic 2 litre 200 version was produced throughout. The 2 litre 200K was also offered from 1997 to 2004, with an engine change in 2001. The 230K appeared in 1998 with a 2.3 litre engine, upgraded in 2001 — the `K’ stood for Kompressor (supercharger). The 320 with its 3.2 litre V6 engine did not hit the road until 2001, which year also saw the introduction of the high-powered 32 AMG model. Chassis production for all models was by Karmann in Germany, though some 320s were built in other countries as Mercedes vehicle production went global.
The most potent SLK R170 was the 32 AMG. This rare tyre-smoker scorched from rest to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.5 secs, with a top speed of 193 mph (311 km/h). Around 4,300 were built. A thousand stayed in Germany, two thousand went to the States and a few hundred to the United Kingdom. It’s worth trying to catch one if you can for the ultimate SLK R170 driving experience.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
Germany (also built in South Africa and Mexico)
1997 (until 2004)
1,998 cc or 2,295 cc Straight Four; 3,199 cc V6
With 3.2 I engine – top speed of 152 mph (245 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Hand-built engines for the 32 AMG were supplied by performance specialist AMG – the independent company founded in 1967 with a history of upping the power output of Mercedes engines that was taken over by DaimlerChrysler shortly before the 32 AMG was launched.