Mercedes-Benz introduced its newly rebranded SLC roadster in France’s Côte d’Azur. A smart choice. Not because the climate and mountainous roads were ideal for testing out the sleek new droptop — although they were the stuff of dreams — but also because Mercedes juxtaposed the drive with the testing of another of the brand’s eminent convertibles: the S-Class Cabriolet.
Driving the two convertibles back to back allowed for what many would consider the SLC’s weakness—a confined cabin—to maybe not be seen so negatively. When compared with the luxo grandiosity (and opulence) of the S-Class Cabriolet, the SLC’s compact size was seen not so much an albatross around its neck but rather the characteristic most responsible for giving the SLC its agility and tap-dancing nimbleness.
But more on that in a second. First, a quick catch-up: Followers of Mercedes-Benz will remember the SLC under its former moniker, the SLK. In Merc’s new nomenclature, the SLC name means that the roadster pairs with the C-Class sedan. The same way the GLC SUV does (SL is the prefix for Mercedes convertibles, GL is used for its SUVs).
Confused? Fret not—it may take a couple years for casual enthusiasts to figure it all out, but the naming structure does make sense, and should shortly lend some order to the arbitrary alphabet soup that once was Mercedes’ naming logic.
Back to the SLK. It was launched in 1996, and the purpose of the 2-seat SLK was found in its name: Sportlich (sporty), Leicht (light) and Kurz (short). It was one of the first cars on the market to offer a power retractable hardtop roof, which Mercedes dubbed “Vario-Roof.” The SLK was an unmitigated smash—more than 670,000 have been sold worldwide since.
The third-generation SLK launched in 2011, and this “new” SLC is more like a mid-cycle refresh of that model, rebranded and with a slew of visual updates and engine upgrades (and, some might argue, downgrades).
Two SLCs will be offered in America: the base SLC300, and the AMG SLC43. We say Until now, however, if a Mercedes-Benz carried an AMG badge on its trunk, that meant the vehicle was powered by an engine handbuilt by the mad scientists over at AMG’s headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany. That badge meant a lot: The house of AMG was founded on a “one man, one engine” manifesto. Each engine produced by Affalterbach, in fact, came with a plaque bearing that builder’s signature.
Those days are sadly in the rearview.
Sure, most AMGs still boast a V8 engine handbuilt in Germany, but any models that have the 43 moniker do not. The 43 powerplant is a twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 found in numerous non-AMG applications across the Mercedes lineup. Is it a capable engine? Yes. Does it induce sweat-inducing fun in the SLC? Absolutely. But was it handbuilt by one man in a white lab coat? No.
In the boulder-strewn mountains crowning the French Mediterranean, however, the SLC43 engine didn’t disappoint. Paired with a 9G-Tronic 9-speed automatic and an ultra-stiff chassis, the SLC43 demonstrated itself to be an excellent canyon carver. Taking a virtually abandoned road up to the World War 2 village of Sospel, we zigzagged across the craggy green hillsides. With the sort of back-and-forth seen only in heroic Federer/Nadal tennis matches, the SLC43 bounced up hills, its 367-horsepower engine never lacking for juice. With 384 lb.-ft. of torque at only 2,000 rpm, and a quick-downshifting transmission, the SLC43 worked well in the tight switchbacks. With each shift, the rip emanating from the tailpipes echoed across the valley, letting the sun-kissed Frenchies below know that something wicked was playing in their hills.
The suspension is sprung tight, so the new SLC43 drives like a true sports car, aided by improved control-arm bearings, steering knuckles and forged-aluminum bits throughout. For the first time ever in the SLK’s life, the car has adaptive dampers. If the ride on your SLC43 is too stiff in the Sport setting (or even stiffer in Sport+), you can soften it by switching to Comfort.
Visual and technical highlights for the 2017 Mercedes-Benz SLC43 include fine-tuned fascias (with tweaked headlights and taillights), optional LED headlamps, 18-inch wheels, and an updated COMAND infotainment system. Of course, there’s the Mercedes Airscarf system in which warm air is gently blown on your neck to keep you toasty even if you choose to keep the top down in cool weather. The interior is very similar to the outgoing model’s, which is to say it’s beautiful in a very AMG/Benz way. There’s even an optional Magic Sky Control sunroof in the metal hardtop, which, with the press of a button, turns from transparent to opaque.
Beyond the car’s capability, however, another issue looms large with the SLC43: brand dilution. Up until now, anything with an AMG badge was guaranteed bonkers — the sort of vehicular monstrosity that sent people running to the hills. Now, the Mercedes-AMG name is being pivoted to mean “top of the line” for Mercedes-Benz, almost a trim level. That last sentence must make AMG engineers cringe.
The last two generations of SLK were powered by fire-breathing, naturally aspirated V8s. The last 5.5-liter version generated 421 horses and 398 lb.-ft. of torque — that’s 54 more horses than the SLC43. Rarely in the modern automotive arms race do you see subsequent generations of vehicles lose power. But the million-dollar question has to be asked: Is that much power in such a small car really necessary?
This is where the SLC43 versus SLC300 dynamic comes into play: What are you looking for in a roadster of this sort? Are you looking for a droptop speedster that can go toe-to-toe with a Jaguar F-Type S? Or are you looking for a sporty weekend cruiser that looks great while you’re catching a tan? If you’re seeking the former, the SLC43 is more than enough. If you’re seeking the latter, the SLC300 is sufficient.
We love power as much as the next enthusiast, but each car must be considered on an individual basis. The SLC is a pure roadster — a fun 2-seat vehicle made to take in the sun with someone beautiful riding shotgun. You don’t want to be driving so maniacally that you’re making that special someone nauseous all over the perforated leather and carbon-fiber trim.
Which is why we’d recommend the SLC300 over the SLC43. The majority of SLC buyers are looking for an enjoyable, comfortable roadster that lets them enjoy the simple pleasures of open-air motoring. The SLC300 is ideal for the job.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2017 Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2016 Mercedes-Benz USA