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2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC Class Review

The 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class splits its mission between top-down cruiser and top-up thrill seeker.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class changed its name just two years ago. If it’s still mistaken for an SLK it doesn’t mind much.

It’s hardly a different car anyway, in SLC300 and AMG SLC43 trim. It still throws down the gauntlet at the Porsche 718 Boxster and Cayman and the BMW Z4, though it’s now the oldest gauntlet-thrower in that slap-happy class.

We give it a score of 5.8 overall, slightly above average, based on the more popular SLC300. 

The 2019 SLC still sports the restyled duds it adopted for 2017, when it changed its name from SLK. The look’s wearing well enough. It’s better from the rear than from the front, where its tall nose stands out in relief from its gently tapered body. It’s better looking with the top lowered, but what convertible isn’t? The cabin’s similarly stuck between generations: The shapes and textures suit the SLC well, but myriad buttons and switches seem to have learned nothing from the smartphone revolution.

The SLC300 goes home to new garages far more often than the SLC43. We’d have it the other way around, but the turbo-4 in the SLC300 generates 241 horsepower and pushes it to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds via a 9-speed automatic. It’s plenty quick, but lacks the instant-on thrust of older V-6 SLKs. The SLC43’s twin-turbo satisfies deeply, with power uprated this year to 385 hp, sent through a tougher 9-speed to the rear wheels, with or without a limited-slip differential. With the diff and with a sport-tuned suspension, the SLC has higher limits to explore, and better balance, too—not to mention a faster 4.6-seconds 0-60 mph time.

The snug SLC cockpit has enough head and knee room for its two passengers, but leg room could be more generous. We’ll have more trunk space while they’re at it, and more in-car storage, too. The top’s quick action and unruffled top-down drive make up for some of those sins.

No crash-test data exists for the latest SLC-Class, but Benz fits it with automatic emergency braking and attention assist. A bundle of active-safety features can be had at huge expense on the SLC300. Among other features, the SLC has standard Apple CarPlay, a 7.0-inch screen, navigation, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and a regrettable deck of infotainment controls.

Styling
The Mercedes-Benz SLC gets the sports-car essentials right.
The 2019 SLC-Class offers a leaner counterpoint to the increasingly bloated BMW Z4 that’s new this year—but it’s no 718 Boxster or Cayman.

We think it’s a 7 for styling, worth a point above average both inside and out. 

With each passing generation, the formerly anodyne Benz SLK grew more insistent and edgy. Now that it’s an SLC, its mission to anchor a sports-car lineup based around coupe-convertibles seems to be on the wane.

It’s still a pretty design, wedgy where it should be, thin where it needs to be. The SLC’s snout wears an open grille darted with chrome points, underscored by chiseled panels beneath it. The latest pedestrian safety standards have made most cars adopt taller front ends, and from the side the SLC doesn’t digest that as well before it tapers off at the tail. The rear’s recent redesign puts it in better harmony with the road, but there’s still a sense that the SLC is overdue for a complete rework, which it may or may not get.

It’s also true that hardtop coupes with short wheelbases can be difficult to draw attractively; drop the SLC’s top and you’ll see what the stylists has in mind first.

SLC300s have fairly minimal jewelry, but the SLC43 tacks on black air deflectors, silver fins, a metallic front splitter, and a diamond-patterned grill to go with gloss-black wheels and mirror housings to make sure you know it’s the costlier version.

Some Mercedes cars have moved cleanly into a new interior design ages, one in which screens dominate the driving experience. Not in the SLC. It’s still in the past decade, and a deck of identical metallic buttons and an audio system framed by tiny black switches serves as a constant reminder. The screen’s grown to 7.0 inches, at least, and most of the controls are grouped to avoid confusion—except, of course, for the wheel-driven COMAND controller down at hipside on the center console. The SLC wears an interior textured and finished in a high-quality sheen, but the control systems themselves read as if NASA had let that piano-playing Muppet dog design the UX.

Performance
The SLC300 has confident handling, but the SLC43 pulls together more rewarding drives thanks to its twin-turbo V-6.
We rate cars based on their more popular editions. In the case of the 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class, the SLC300 posts up a score of 6 for performance, with a point above average for its dialed-in handling.Were we rating the AMG-tuned SLC43 instead, it’d be at least a couple points higher.

The SLC300 adopts a drivetrain that spins off legitimate sports-car performance, but takes a half-step to gather itself. The powertrain pairs a 241-hp, 2.0-liter turbo-4 with a 9-speed automatic. So equipped, the SLC300 can hustle to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds.

The SLC feels quick off the line. Most drivers will find it responsive and strong, as long as the most challenging corners and roads only get driven in a sport driving mode. Push it hard, and its inside rear wheel will scramble for traction.
In Comfort mode, the SLC’s slight turbo lag and slightly drawn-out shifts compile into an impression than the turbo-4 just isn’t as perky as the former V-6 units in the old SLK350. Once the turbo’s spooled and the power shows up to work, it’s ample across a fat slice of the powerband, so there’s no need to rev it constantly.

SLC43, we choose thee

We’ll take the AMG SLC43, though. Buffed and polished from the drivetrain to the tires, it’s an altogether more satisfying car to drive, one that doesn’t feel squirrely or harsh like the old SLK AMG once did.

The SLC43 gets a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6, uprated this year to 385 horsepower. Hooked to a tougher version of the same 9-speed automatic, it bursts to 60 mph in only 4.6 seconds. Acceleration is linear and sets on in a rush, and the V-6 rumble has more aural appeal than a 4-cylinder windup.

Both the SLC300 and SLC43 have driver-selectable power modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Individual. In addition to changing the throttle map and stability control, the system also tweaks steering boost.

Engage Sport+ mode on the SLC43, and roads that sent the old SLK55 skittering across pavement become conquerable and predictable. It’s the same with the SLC’s variable electric power steering appears on both models, but the SLC43 has somewhat better weighting and feel.

With the Dynamic Handling package, the SLC43 drops its suspension lower, adds adaptive dampers and stiffer steering components, and takes on upgraded brakes and a limited-slip rear differential for a lot more control in tight esses. The adaptive dampers help soften coarse roads, but the ride on either can still get choppy; a short-wheelbase car on massive tires can’t do much better.

Comfort & Quality
Very good front seats and finishes balance out the 2019 Benz SLC’s terrible trunk space and limited numbers of seats.
The two seats offered up to SLC300 and SLC43 passengers get a good grip. The cabin’s trimmed out as you’d expect in a Mercedes, too.

But passenger space ends with two people, we don’t care how flexible you are, and the SLC’s tiny trunk sends a big message: you can’t bring it (all) with you.

It’s a 5 here.

Compared to a Fiat 124 or even a Porsche 718, the SLC-Class fares fine in people space. The space is somewhat generous in head room even with the top in place, and in knee room. The SLC needs a few more inches of leg room to make the tallest passengers feel welcome; most passengers will sense their seats are fairly close to the dash.

The SLC doesn’t do particularly well at storage either, though it’s no Toyota MR2 Spyder (look it up). A console bin can hold a DSLR and a kit lens, but the side pockets on the doors are shallow. Smartphones seem like an extravagant use of space.

At the rear end, the SLC’s trunk gets away with its meager 10.1 cubic feet of storage space (top up) because it looks good. If it were ugly and impractical, its 6.4 cubes of space with the top down would be excoriated. It’s saved, somewhat, by a backpack-sized space under the cargo floor.

The SLC’s folding hardtop charms where a soft-top roadster might falter. When closed, the car’s a coupe in all but name. It’s quiet, and shudder-free. It can be lowered under 25 mph, too. The SLC merits some points for its high-end cockpit trim, but much of the quality impression comes from its tight-fitting lid.

Safety
No one’s crash-tested an SLC in a long time—not in any official capacity, anyway.
Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has crash-tested the smaller Mercedes roadster in the recent past. Without any data, we can’t assign a rating here. 

We can map out the extensive safety features made standard on the SLC, which used to be the SLK-Class. Each one gets active head restraints and an attention assist monitor that keeps an eye on the driver and suggests a coffee break when it detects less sharp vehicle control.

Both SLCs get forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking. Options and feature bundles add adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control—which cost nearly $10,000 on the SLC300. Yikes.

Features
The 2019 SLC-Class has day-spa standard and optional features, but it deserves better than its kludgy infotainment system.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class sports cars can feel more like luxury cars than roadsters. In a bit of an homage to the bigger SL-Class, they even have a roof that can fold away or go transparent.

It’s an ultimate boulevardier touch that helps the SLC to a 6 for features. We appreciate its generous standard and optional equipment, but its infotainment system needs a reboot. 

Every SLC300 gets standard power features, leather upholstery, and automatic climate control. Each also gets an infotainment system with a an AM/FM/XM/CD/DVD deck, Bluetooth with audio streaming and voice commands, and two USB ports. Unfortunately it’s also saddled with the COMAND interface, which requires knob spins and switch clicks and disallows touching of the screen itself; it’s difficult to use easily and quickly at speed. A new system makes its way into some Mercedes vehicles this year, but not in the aging SLC.

New for 2019 are stand-alone options for blind-spot monitors, ambient lighting, parking sensors, an analog dash clock, and a Harman Kardon sound system.

Every SLC also comes with a fold-away hardtop that tucks itself in the trunk in under 20 seconds. It can be fitted with a glass roof that can tint and untint itself to block or allow light into the cabin. A climate-control system that places warm-air vents at neck height takes the lovely name of Airscarf, and doesn’t really need any more description. A mesh air blocker cuts down on some turbulence in the cabin.

SLC43 editions get performance and appearance extras, as well as the twin-turbo engine, LED headlights, and automatic high beams. Mercedes also fits them with an adaptive sport suspension and an uprated sport-handling package with a limited-slip rear differential, for a fee.

Fuel Economy
With the turbo-4 underhood, the 2019 Mercedes SLC delivers good sports-car fuel economy.
Thanks to a turbocharged inline-4 in its more popular configuration, the Mercedes SLC does well in our gas-mileage ratings.

It’s a 5, a relatively high score for a fast, racy-looking two-door without any hybrid or electric powertrains.

The most recent EPA ratings for the SLC-Class peg it at 23 mpg city, 32 highway, 27 combined. That’s for the SLC300; for the twin-turbo V-6 stuffed into the AMG SLC43, ratings still check in at a reasonable 20/29/23 mpg.

The SLC comes with stop/start to limit fuel use at stoplights, and it’s reasonably smooth in its restart of the engine.



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