by Gabe Beita Kiser
Ever since Mercedes unveiled tits SLK roadster redesign in the form of the SLC, the car has felt a little more grown-up and looked a little more svelte. That exterior redesign came back in 2016, and very little was changed beneath the surface from the 2011 SLK. Now, with more power from the 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6, the AMG-badged SLC aims to give Beverly Hills hairdressers more "O.M.G. moments" and Chihuahua fanatics everywhere more reason to hold onto their toupees. Still generating 384 lb-ft of torque, twist remains the same, but power increases to 385 horsepower. Plenty of optional extras are included as standard equipment too. The infotainment system has not been updated, though, and is starting to look a bit dated; but Mercedes is hoping that a color called Graphite Grey, which makes its debut here, will round out the package sufficiently. With rumors on the horizon that the SLC may soon meet its demise, could this be the convertible's last hurrah?
While relatively small, the updates for 2019 are worthwhile. This year's model gets a boost in power of 23 horsepower, while creature-comfort perks like auto high-beam with adaptive headlights and automatic dual-zone climate control are all included as standard in the AMG. Graphite Grey, a new color for the baby Merc, also announces itself. As is to be expected, the features and options lists have been updated for the new model year, with the usual higher prices to boot. The 2019 model will cost you $2,550 more than last year's model before options.
Traditionally, spotting AMG models can be a tricky task, thanks to the subtlety of the styling. That has not changed here. LED daytime running lights and adaptive LED headlights feature, as well as a panoramic glass sunroof integrated into the folding hardtop. Coupled with the usual AMG styling cues like flared arches, a trunk spoiler, quad exhaust tips, and on the SLC 43 the diamond grille, you have to get close to positively identify the AMG. AMG multispoke wheels, 18 inches in size, also set the SLC 43 apart from its junior roadster siblings.
The SLC 43's has a curb weight of 3,541 pounds, with a wheelbase of just 95.7 inches. An overall length of 163.1 inches and width of 71.2 inches (with the mirrors folded) combined with a height of just 51.3 inches, mean that this is a roadster you won't have trouble parking or placing in traffic. Despite its classic proportions, its diminutive size is the reason that one either loves or hates cars like this. Not everyone can pull off the look of driving a compact roadster, but at least the AMG styling cues add some machismo to the overall vibe of the car.
As you'd expect when purchasing a premium German roadster, you're truly spoilt for choice with twelve different exterior color options, one of which is the new Graphite Grey. This replaces Diamond Silver Metallic. Besides plain Black and Polar White, every other color option costs a little more. Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, and Selenite Gray add $720 to the asking price, while designo Shadow Grey Magno, a matte finish color, costs $2,020 extra as the most expensive option. Designo Selenite Grey Magno is also a special variant, but can only be applied if you spec the AMG Performance Studio Red Art package, which is a really expensive and long-winded way of saying that there is a trim package with red accents scattered EVERYWHERE. Speaking of scarlet, designo Cardinal Red Metallic ($1,080) is a stunning shade that pops in the sun, while Brilliant Blue ($720) is also worth a look for its understated class with some added sparkle.
All Mercedes-AMG SLC 43s, regardless of what additional package is added, feature the same 3.0-liter V6 bi-turbo engine sending power to the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission. That V6 makes 385hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 mph is dispatched in 4.6 seconds according to the official literature, but we suspect that this figure is a conservative estimate, especially when last year's model had the same figure with slightly less power. Merc, like many German automakers, also has a history of under-promising and over-delivering on performance. Top speed is limited to the industry standard 155 mph.
Compared with its traditional rivals from premium rear-wheel-drive brands like Porsche and BMW, the SLC 43 is far more powerful than the much pricier 718 Boxter S and peppy 2.0-liter turbo-four in the Z4. We suspect that a quicker Z4, the M40i - which is on its way with an engine shared with the new Supra - will be stiffer competition for the Merc. For now, the AMG rules the roost in terms of outright performance bragging rights - at least on paper.
The 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 engine that powers the quickest SLC in the range is still not as powerful as the old SLK 55 AMG used to be, despite the boost over the 2018 model. Mercedes claims that less weight means they don't need the power of a V8, a V8 that used to make clouds of smoke erupt from the rear wheels, but was also heavier and far less efficient. The newer V6 and nine-speed AMG SpeedShift TCT auto 'box combo are far more agile while the benefits of a turbocharged smaller-capacity engine can also be felt at the pumps.
That's not to say that this 385 hp, 384 lb-ft combo is bad from a straight-line performance perspective. The SLC 43 AMG is still a potent machine, with plenty of go. Together with its small proportions and reasonably low weight, acceleration is effortless, whether from a standstill or when taking advantage of overtaking opportunities. The auto 'box is silky smooth and quiet but wakes up when you stab the loud pedal, making sharp and quick shifts while maintaining the refinement that you expect from an automatic Mercedes.
The sportiest of the SLCs, the AMG, comes with stiffer suspension that helps to encourage spirited driving while still maintaining comfort. Thus, this is not a knife-edged racer and will be comprehensively outdone in the corners by Porsche's offerings, while its BMW rival will also outmaneuver it. As is usually the case with AMG, their sports models seem to generally convey a sense of being 'hurried' rather than 'racy'. The core ethos is usually a focus on comfort with a large dollop of power rather than driving dynamics, and that is abundantly evident here. This bi-turbo V6 makes enough grunt to feel suitably fast, but never overpowering - nor is it a handful. As a result, the SLC 43 is a roadster with sufficient power and luxury, but not an excess of either. Corners are neither its best friend nor its enemy - the AMG simply deals with them.
Overall, this is a baby SL, a mini grand tourer. The smaller dimensions and weight seem to indicate that this is just that, a smaller version of a bigger car, rather than its own type of Mercedes. Long drives, short drives, spirited drives - they're all good, just not as exciting as Stuttgart and Bavaria would have you believe they need to be. If that's what you want, though - a mini sports GT with better handling than its big brother - then you've got to give the SLC 43 a look.
The 15.9-gallon gas tank in the SLC is not that of a typical AMG. It doesn't seem to have a hole in it that gets bigger every time you look in the direction of the accelerator. Official EPA figures are respectable, at 20/29/23 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. The gas tank is one that should give you a range of 366 miles on average per fillup - not dissimilar to the figures achieved by the smaller-capacity four-pot in the Porsche Boxster. The engine in BMW's Z4 is even smaller and manages much better figures, but doesn't quite sit in the same power bracket in 2019.
The interior is a snug (read: small), comfy place to be, but if you've experienced bigger, newer, AMGs you won't be blown away. Taking a look around, there isn't much space, but the seats are supportive while avoiding feeling like straight jackets. Unfortunately, those seats cannot be ventilated, even in this top trim. They are, however, heated and power-adjustable. Leather is also liberally swathed over everything, and fine stitching reminds you that this is a luxury car. The infotainment is reasonable if you spec options like Apple Carplay and Android Auto, but the interface is quite clearly a few generations behind what we've come to expect from Merc and could really use an update. Luckily, a Harman Kardon surround-sound system is included as standard, as is Bluetooth audio streaming.
As you can guess from the pictures, soccer moms probably shouldn't consider this as a daily runaround. Two seats are all you get, and that's it. Those seats are pretty easy to get into but don't expect massive headroom, as the seats won't lower quite enough. Fortunately, the steering wheel can be adjusted so that you find a decent driving position, but seeing out is still not as easy as it ought to be unless you tuck the roof into the rear. That said, legroom for six-footers is not bad at all, and with the top down, taller individuals won't look cartoonish.
With 25 different colors and types of leather upholstery, finding the perfect interior cow-hide to suit what you'd like to sit on every day is quite the process. Various shades of brown and beige and red and black, and even yellow, can be had in different upholstery styles. Different variations on white leather can also be optioned, with each of these being a choice between monochromatic color schemes or two-tone twists, some of which blend Nappa with suede. Should you not take the standard, free, black with red-stitching, your red seatbelts will get swapped out for black. A few SLC 43-specific combinations exist too, like black Nappa leather/Dinamica combination seats with red stitching, or Nappa leather in black and silver pearl with red piping - exclusive to the AMG Performance Studio RedArt Package. Dash trim comes in four options, including a traditional black ash wood selection, and exclusive to the SLC 43, AMG carbon fiber.
While a hard-top makes sense for better noise insulation and rigidity when closed, it eats into the available cargo space quite heavily, and when the SLC's maximum available cargo volume is 6.4 cubic feet to start with, even a bag of junior golf clubs won't fit. A couple of shopping bags will fit, but if you're planning on putting the top down, be careful where exactly in the trunk you place those bags, or your fancy glass roof will flatten them. If you can commit to keeping the roof up, a pair of overnight bags are manageable, but further than that you'd be pushing your luck.
In the front, two average cupholders paired with narrow door bins and a small glovebox, mean that storage space is at a premium. One more spot exists between the seats, but that is just big enough for your phone. Keys and change may have to go into the cupholders.
The cabin feels a little bigger thanks to a panoramic glass roof as standard, while heated power seats with memory (no ventilation option is available), potent dual-zone auto climate control, and AIRSCARF - which wafts warm or cool air via a vent behind your neck - do an excellent job of keeping things pleasant when the top is down and the mercury is too. Rear park sensors are an option, although a rearview camera is included as standard. Active LED headlamps, blind-spot assist, and adaptive braking are also thrown in, but further safety driver aids like lane departure warning and radar-guided following distance monitor systems cost extra. Keyless entry and power-adjustable seats also feature, along with remote start.
Should a V6 snarl not be to your liking from an auditory perspective, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, but these cost you extra, as does COMAND navigation. The standard COMAND interface comprises a seven-inch color display, HD Radio, Sirius XM, Bluetooth streaming, auxiliary input, and a ten-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system. The system works well and responds to input quickly, but with the top down, or sunlight coming in at the wrong angle, some buttons can be difficult to read. The user interface is also clearly an older type, so if you're used to newer infotainment systems, digging through sub-menus may be frustrating. On the plus side, that sound system is more than capable of satisfying fans of top-down cruising.
Mercedes-AMG does not offer any standard service and maintenance plans with the sale of a new SLC 43, but there is the option to spec one off the options list. Two years or 20,000 miles, three years or 30,000 miles, and four years or 40,000 miles are the options available, costing anywhere from $970 to $1,760. You do also get bumper-to-bumper, powertrain, and roadside assistance warranties as standard, covering you for the first four years or 50,000 miles of ownership. Not to worry too much, though, this is not because there is something wrong with the car - in fact, there have been no recalls for 2019 models, with the last recall occurring in 2017. Predicted reliability ratings from JD Power also puts the SLC 43 at three-and-a-half out of five.
The 2019 Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 has not been crash-tested by either the NHTSA or the IIHS, so no safety ratings are available at this time.
With safety features aplenty, the AMG is well prepared to prevent crashes and protect occupants if one should occur. Forward collision warning featuring automatic emergency braking, is included as standard, as are blind-spot monitoring and brake assist. Adaptive cruise control helps to maintain a safe following distance, while lane departure warning keeps you where you need to be. When backing-up, park distance control can be added to supplement the rearview camera, making parking in and exiting a space a breeze. A complement of seven airbags protects the driver and passenger, including a driver's knee airbags.
With numerous rivals out there, some of the best coming from the homeland of Mercedes, the AMG only really caters to the badge loyalist. If you're comfortable with older tech, an auto gearbox only, minuscule storage and interior space, and a relaxing - rather than invigorating - driving experience, then this Merc is everything you'd expect it to be. Quiet, refined, quick, and old-school.
If you're looking for a roadster that actually lives up to its sporty styling suggestions, the slower but certainly more alive and more modern BMW Z4 is truly engaging, while the lighter, more luxurious, more contemporary, more precise Porsche Boxster is, well, more. The Boxster has an upper-class air to it, and it's driving dynamics make it a far better weekend cruiser too. Both the BMW and the Porsche stow more in the trunk as well with their soft tops folded away.
Ultimately, the SLC 43 is old even in 'new' guise. It's about to be axed, and the people can't be blamed for not buying it. This car just isn't cool anymore, and its rivals have leapfrogged it a long time ago.
Starting at $63,900, the SLC 43 is priced considerably higher than the Z4, although the Z4 is not yet available in a performance-focused model. The Boxster S, however, is not much more expensive than the AMG, and once you start ticking the Mercedes options boxes, the price quickly becomes rather high. We managed to get a fully loaded model, without any accessories like floor mats, up to the sum of $82,935. At that price point, the Porsche is certainly a better buy. Both the base model price and the fully specced option exclude the costs of taxes and Mercedes' $995 destination charge.
The Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 is the standalone AMG derivative at the top of the SLC line-up. It comes with one power output from a bi-turbo V6 engine and one gearbox configuration, a nine-speed auto. As the AMG model, it is fully equipped with all the options you would get with the lesser Mercedes-Benz SLC 300 Premium Package. The AIRSCARF neck-warming vents are featured, as is adaptive LED lighting for forward illumination. Bigger brakes, a sports exhaust system, stiffer suspension, leather interior trim, and heated power seats with heated power mirrors, also help to distinguish the AMG as a unique model. Blind-spot assist and adaptive emergency braking are worthy mentions too. You also get keyless entry and start, and dual-zone climate control as part of the included perks, while riding on a set of 18-inch AMG alloy wheels.
|AMG SLC 43 Roadster||
3.0-liter Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
Although a seemingly minor option, the AMG Night Package at $750 makes a big difference to the sportiness of the car's aesthetics, by blacking out some of the chrome trim. A must-have, though, is the multimedia package, adding navigation and smartphone integration through Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This will set you back $2,200.
If you'd like to try keep up with Porsche, AMG has you covered with a faux-suede steering wheel, a limited-slip differential, AMG-tuned sports suspension, an additional water cooler, and an IWC dashtop clock. All this comes in the AMG Handling Package, although some of the components are only decorative (red brake calipers, really?) and the differential and suspension upgrades alone could have sufficed. Nonetheless, it's a nice performance touch, even if it'll cost you $3,700 extra.
Lastly, the expensive $3,700 AMG Performance Studio RedArt Package adds black and red design elements to the wheels, brakes, and cockpit, and includes aluminum and Dark Carbon trim pieces. Magic Sky is an option that allows you to tint the glass roof to your liking, allowing in only as much light as you want - great for days when the sun is beating down hard.
With additional power being the most notable of the upgrades to the 2019 model, we would consider looking at a used model. However, if your heart is set on a brand new SLC 43, we'd spec the multimedia package and the additional driver aids to the SLC as is. This will give you navigation and smartphone integration, which will help make the infotainment more useable day-to-day. If you can spare it, the Magic Sky option is also a box that'll be worth ticking if you want to enjoy your SLC to the fullest.
The age-old rivalry between Mercedes and it's Munich-based nemesis does not have a clear favorite in this instance. In terms of outright performance, the pricier AMG has the Bimmer waxed. However, as an overall experience, things are not so clear-cut. The BMW is lighter and more fun to drive. It is also vastly more modern, and as such is a more enjoyable daily driver. At just on $50k, it's also approximately 13 grand less expensive than the Merc. The BMW is easier to justify in terms of space, as its folding rag-top takes up considerably less trunk space than the exquisite folding hard-top in the Merc. Slower, yes, but better to live with, the Z4 is worthy of looking at if you want a premium roadster. When the 2020 M40i version arrives, it will be a more direct competitor to the AMG in terms of performance and will cost almost the same.
If motoring nirvana is what you seek, there's only one brand that people remember Stuttgart for, and it's not Mercedes. Porsche enters the fight with their recently updated 718 Boxster, and with a price tag a couple of grand short of the one found on the AMG, you have to consider it. In terms of driving dynamics, the Boxster is one of the best handling roadsters ever made. In fact, it's also the car that single-handedly saved Porsche from the bean-counters years ago. Outstanding handling, unmistakable looks, and undeniable class (or snobbery) accompany that key. Plus, you can have it with a manual as standard, although the two-pedal option is incredible. If a dearer price doesn't bother you, the S is also an option and will still cost less than a fully loaded SLC. It's the best and always has been, plus it has more space and a better interior. The Merc doesn't stand a chance - unless you don't want to stand out.