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2018 Mercedes-Benz SLC Class Review

2018 Mercedes-Benz SLC Class Review
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The 2017 Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class dukes it out on comfort with more sporting rivals.

The 2018 Mercedes-Benz SLC might be more familiar under its old moniker, SLK. It’s still the same idea, and virtually the same car, with some mild updates over time.

We think the Mercedes SLC 300 and the uprated AMG SLC43 still are charming two-doors worthy of consideration if you’re interested in a Z4, or in a folding-hardtop convertible. They’re not Porsche-like track stars, but they’re strong performers with better comfort.

Mercedes-Benz applied a new front end to the SLC a couple of years ago, but the shape’s still petite, boldy grilled, and pert at the rear. The cabin’s less curvy and more cluttered with old-style controls; it’s nothing like the latest Benz cabins that surround passengers with waterfalls of wood and wide high-resolution screens.

The calling card for the SLC is the folding hardtop that stows or raises in 20 seconds at speeds of up to 25 mph. When it’s up the SLC has true coupe security and soundproofing–and on some models, a photochromic glass roof that automatically darkens.

The roadster trims out two ways. The SLC 300 sports a 2.0-liter turbo-4 with 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It urges the roadster to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The Mercedes-AMG SLC43 is the more interesting car to drive when probing the limits of grip. Its responsive twin-turbo V-6 has 362 hp, its sport driving modes tip into the available torque eagerly, and 60 mph arrives in just 4.6 seconds. Get the Dynamic Handling package, and the SLC43 pulls out all the stops, with various steering and suspension improvements as well as a limited-slip rear differential that helps it whip around tight corners with more poise.

Safety scores aren’t available from crash-test agencies, but the SLC comes with automatic emergency braking and a rearview camera. Other luxe touches include sport leather seats, navigation, Bluetooth audio streaming, and an infotainment system saddled with Mercedes’ unsatisfying COMAND interface.

Styling
With the SLC, Mercedes scales down the classic Benz roadster silhouette.

The Mercedes SLC began life in 2011 as the then-new SLK roadster. A name change here, a nip-tuck there, and the latest SLC is starting to venture into “classic” territory.

The more softly contoured shapes of first- and second-generation SLKs were crisped up with the third-generation SLK design and its updated SLC spin-off. When the name change arrived, Mercedes gave the convertible a new front end and a handful of minor interior tweaks. Its snout is now a bit more prominent thanks to a more open grille and a more chiseled front-end fascia.

From the side it hasn’t changed much at all for years, a pert little tail kicked up from its low front fenders. Short-wheelbase cars can be difficult to draw with much elegance, but the SLC succeeds, despite the somewhat blunt front end.

SLC43 AMG versions have their own jewelry: a gloss-black grille, mirrors, 18-inch alloy wheels, and metallic accents and exhaust tips.

Inside, a flat-bottom steering wheel and a 7.0-inch display are the most recent changes. They’re a tip-off that the SLC hasn’t kept up with the dramatic interiors installed in the newest Mercedes vehicles (all the sedans, for three). The look has more angular shapes and more switches and buttons, with cut-tube gauges and clunky controls for the infotainment system plugged into the console, just below the driver’s wrist. The SLC isn’t long for this world, so we’ll give those foibles a pass.

Performance
Choose the AMG SLC43 for responsive, if not fiery, performance.

Two starkly different roadsters wear the SLC badge. Mercedes stocks both with turbocharged engines, but two cylinders makes a world of difference.

As a lineup, we give the 2018 SLC-Class an 8 for performance, weighted toward the rorty SLC43, a less squirrely and more confident performer than AMG compact roadsters of the recent past.

The SLC 300 is the more common of the duo. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 delivers 241 hp through a 9-speed automatic. Zero to 60 mph times check in at about 5.7 seconds, a figure that would shame some sports cars of the past, but barely outruns a Nissan Maxima these days. It’s strong and responsive still, but in its Comfort driving mode, the engine and transmission get too relaxed on the job. A little turbo lag here, a little lazy in the transmission shifts, and the SLC 300 doesn’t like or need or really want to be worked very hard.
We choose the SLC43, tuned by AMG, when it’s limits we want to explore. The engine’s a 362-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter V-6 with 384 pound-feet of torque, delivered to the rear through a 9-speed automatic. In this SLC, 0-60 mph times drop to 4.6 seconds and the upsweep of torque is solid and swift from low revs.

Both are equipped with similar independent suspensions and variable-ratio steering, but the SLC’s tune is decidedly in favor of its cruiser status, while the AMG does better as an edgy Z4 rival. Drive modes help: the SLC can be dialed through five programs (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual) that tailor steering assist and powertrain responses to the driver’s mood. AMG versions with a handling package get adaptive shocks, better brakes and steering, and a limited-slip rear differential, which add up to much better control in tight corners. With all that, in Sport+ mode, the SLC43 can probe its limits with better control than past roadsters like the SLK55.

Steering is great in both versions but the SLC43 has superior weighting. Ride quality? That’s more the SLC 300’s forte, but the adaptive dampers on the AMG model go a long way to mitigate coarse road surfaces–though the short-wheelbase SLC always will get busy on choppy surfaces.

Comfort & Quality
Still a great two-seat roadster, the Mercedes SLC isn’t very spacious and the controls have begun to show their age.

A subcompact-sized convertible for two, the Mercedes-Benz SLC lives up to every small expectation you might hold.

Parked against a size-wise rival like the Mazda Miata, the SLC has almost generous interior space. The cabin could use a bit more leg room and more seat travel for the tallest passengers, but most of our editors fit fine. The dash sits closer than we’d like, though, and it’s showing its age in the kinds of controls it’s adopted, like its infotainment controller.

The cabin lacks the small-item storage that can make a convertible useful in top-down mode. A decent camera might fit in the console, but the glove box is thin, and so are the door pockets.

In the trunk, a divider decides whether the SLC can lower or raise its roof. With the divider in place, there’s a grand total of 6.4 cubic feet of storage, about one weekend bag. Raise the top and stow that divider, and the SLC has 10.1 cubic feet of trunk space, plus another cube under the flat cargo floor.

The SLC redeems itself with brilliant and simple touches like Airscarf, a vent that blows warm air around the neck on cold mornings. The quick-acting power hardtop can open or close at up to 25 mph. Once it’s closed, the SLC feels every bit the hardtop coupe, never leaky or drafty.

Safety
The 2018 Mercedes SLC has many safety features, but no crash-test data.

The Mercedes-Benz SLC Class hasn't been tested by either major safety rating agency. As a result, we're withholding our rating for safety.

Since it’s rumored to be headed to retirement, we doubt either the NHTSA or the IIHS will test the two-seat Benz, so our advice to offer here is brief.

A rearview camera is standard on the SLC, and it offers features such as adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, active lane control, adaptive headlights, and blind-spot monitors.

Outward vision is compromised with the top up, but logically, the SLC offers a panoramic view of the road when the top is stowed.

A driver knee airbag and an attention-assist device also come standard. The latter triggers a warning if an in-car camera detects the driver is not focused or may in fact be drowsy. Cameras: they’re the brilliant curse of our era.

Features
A day spa with two seats, the Mercedes SLC sports Airscarf and Magic Sky Control and other lovely luxury touches.

Luxury touches distance the 2018 Benz SLC convertibles from others around and near its price.

Mercedes just does coddling better, though it’s worth noting that its key rivals—Porsche 718, check—have come a long way and deliver better poise and power.

We still give the SLC a 9 for its good standard features and options, for custom touches, and for the killer app that draws shoppers in the first place: its retractable folding hardtop.

On the base SLC 300, Mercedes-Benz fits standard power features, leather, and automatic climate control. The infotainment system drives us to distraction, but it does factor in Bluetooth with audio streaming, twin USB ports, a DVD player, and a 7.0-inch screen.

AMG-burnished SLC43 roadsters add many new touches, including its own trim, badges, and interior finishes. It also makes available a sport suspension and a handling package with a limited-slip differential, both semi-spendy options.

All models have the folding hardtop, one of the best you’ll find and not just because folding hardtops are a dying breed. With the lift of a switch, the mechanism stows or raises the top in about 20 seconds. Wind turbulence isn’t a deal-breaker thanks to a mesh air blocker, but it’s more noticeable than in longer-wheelbase vehicles.

Go all-in, in price and mass, and add the Magic Sky Control glass roof if you’re into clever tech, too. The glass panel darkens photochromically, to keep the cabin under UV control. Also don’t miss a stint with Airscarf, the clever small wind that Mercedes blows from neck-height vents. A warm neck? Truly we lived in savage times before now.

Fuel Economy
Among convertibles, the Mercedes-Benz SLC merits some green love.

The EPA’s most recent fuel economy figures for the Mercedes-Benz SLC put it higher than many sports cars.

The federal agency says the SLC 300 roadster checks in at 25 mpg city, 32 highway, 27 combined.

If performance is a higher priority, the AMG SLC43 isn’t terrible for gas mileage. It’s been rated at 20/29/23, strong numbers for a twin-turbocharged V-6.

Every SLC has stop/start that’s reasonably smooth as it shuts down and restarts the engine at stoplights.

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