Long ago, back in 2004, Mercedes-Benz created the SLK 55 AMG. And it was good. Good if you wanted a powerhouse, pocket-sized roaster with a massive V8 shoved in front. Today we have its successor, the SLC 43 AMG, with two fewer cylinders, two more turbos, and… less power. This sounds like a step backward, but the SLC43 AMG is a more refined version of the pocket rocket concept.
It’s also a car most people tend to forget about because Mercedes makes a lot of convertibles and sports cars now. The flagship GT (both a coupe and a roaster); the grand touring SL; all the coupe and convertible versions of the C-CLass, E-Class and S-Class. But the top-spec SLC has a lot to love, especially if you know you want a sports car but aren’t sure what kind you want. A convertible? A coupe? A back road bomber? A highway-ready quick grand tourer? How about an acceleration-happy muscle car? Yup, the SLC 43 AMG is all of those things, and you — like much of the enthusiast community — probably didn’t realize it.
The Good: The SLC 43 AMG is a car that can do most things well, though it may not be the best at each. The phrase “Jack of all trades” comes to mind. Though historically that turn of phrase has negative connotations, I mean it as a compliment. The SLC43 AMG has lovely steering. Its acceleration, a sticking point to those who compare it to the slightly faster SLK55, still borders into “excessively fast” territory. It’s reasonably comfortable for a sports car, which means it won’t drive you mad on long trips and commutes, making it more than just a weekend toy that you spend more than $60,000 on.
Who It’s For: Somebody who wants a sports car but isn’t sure what kind of sports car they want. The SLC 43 is a great middle ground for a lot of buyers. Further, though I tested this car in Southern California, the folding hardtop will appeal to buyers in… less fortunate climates.
Watch Out For: This is a car that comes with a few compromises. For one, the folding roof means trunk space is limited — I struggled to fit a carry-on hardshell, two backpacks and a camera satchel in back. So while the car is grand touring-appropriate in its driving dynamics, don’t plan on really long trips. And while the interior is well-appointed, the infotainment system feels outdated, since it lacks a touchscreen interface and instead defers input to a clumsy-feeling knob. Finally, while the SL C43’s suspension is stiff (great for aggressive driving) it doesn’t soften up enough for truly comfortable cruising.
Alternatives: Both the Porsche 718 Boxster S and Jaguar F-Type V6 stand out as viable alternatives in the SLK43’s segment in regards to price and specs. The former is down two cylinders buts still bests the SLC 43 regarding acceleration, though the Boxster has been highly praised for its razor-sharp handling and feel and ideally suited for corner-carving. The Jaguar is similarly a critical darling for its handling prowess (and gorgeous looks), though despite having similar power figures doesn’t match the SLC43’s acceleration.
Review: The SLC 43 AMG comes with baggage. The SLK 55 AMG that came before it was a veritable madman of a machine, as most AMGs are. The SLC, on the other hand, is often decried as “not a real AMG,” with critics angrily gesturing towards the twin-turbo V6 which is not handbuilt by AMG (as is tradition), but instead merely tuned by Affalterbach’s mad scientists. It’s slower than the outgoing model by one-tenth of a second, which is just a silly complaint since its 0-60 mph sprint in 4.6 seconds still feels like a swift punch to the gut. And that acceleration comes paired with an absolutely filthy, crackling and raucous exhaust note when you lay into the throttle.
It’s more than sufficient for highway passes, and more than you really need for fun in the corners. Thankfully its short wheelbase lends itself to agile cornering and its steering feels heavily weighted and incredibly direct, a pleasant surprise given that many electric steering systems can feel numb and disconnected. The car’s suspension is firm, negating any sort of body roll — this is great for cornering but the downside is that it doesn’t soften up enough in “comfort” mode for regular cruising. The nine-speed automatic transmission is fairly sharp itself, and will, fortunately, let you take the car to redline without intervening, if you so choose.
But when you choose to drive calmly, the SLC 43 complies. When the transmission is left in automatic mode it shifts smoothly, and the accelerator is not so aggressively calibrated that smooth, civil driving requires the most delicate of touches. But the greatest boon to the SLC’s cruising acumen is its folding hardtop. In many soft-top roadsters, you still feel a vague, lingering exposure to the outdoors, but the hardtop creates a sealed, comfortable womb of a cockpit silent from wind noise and raindrops.
Even for such a small car (which, as a real-world bonus, makes it very easy to park) I had no problem fitting my five-foot-ten frame in with room to spare, and the cockpit is well-appointed. The car even features a unique “Airscarf” system which blows warm air on your neck when you’re driving with the top down. On the surface, it sounds silly, but it makes driving with the top down in slightly-chilly weather a hell of a lot more comfortable.
Verdict: This is ultimately the SLC’s greatest appeal. Move past the fact that it’s not a “real AMG” and you’ll find the SLC to be a solid performance car that doesn’t compromise on comfort, top up or down. It may not be the sharpest sports car in its price bracket, but that’s not really why you buy a car like this. You buy the SLC 43 because you want the most diversified sports car experience you can get.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The SLC43 will likely sell in larger numbers than the SLK 55. It is friendlier, more efficient, and nearly as quick empirically. It would make for a good trans-European touring companion. It is not an AMG, and that’s probably okay for the majority of people.” — Brendan McAleer, Road & Track
• “All told, this is probably the most painfully rational roadster you can get for the money. It has all of the tech you could want, and some you didn’t know existed (“Magic Sky Control,” anyone?). It is extremely competent.” — Graham Kozak, Autoweek
• “It’ll take a while to get used to the idea of an AMG that’s a bit less vigorous than some of its rivals, of course, but although the SLC 43 meets your performance expectations more meekly than you might expect, there is more power to come from AMG’s V6.” — Matt Saunders, Autocar
Engine: 3.0-liter biturbo V6
Transmission: nine-speed automatic
Horespower: 362hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 384 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
0-60mph: 4.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 20/29 mpg (city/highway)
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