by Karl Furlong
Not everything has the stubborn longevity of the Fast and the Furious movie franchise, a reality that also applies to the Mercedes-Benz SLC. Previously known as the SLK, the little drop-top won over many hearts through the years thanks to its slinky looks and the versatility of that power-retractable hardtop, despite - and sometimes because of - its poser image. But times have changed, and these attributes are no longer enough to keep the SLC in contention in the face of opposition like the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z4. It's why the little roadster is set to bow out gracefully this year with the SLC Final Edition to mark the success of the SLK/SLC model line, with over 700,000 units being sold globally. Whether for nostalgic purposes or the added refinement brought about by that roof, opting for one of the last SLCs means you'll also have to deal with its mediocre interior quality, its heavily outdated infotainment interface and a driving experience that is muted alongside other competitors, in spite of a peppy 241-horsepower turbocharged engine. While Vin Diesel may reprise his role as Dominic Toretto for many more years to come, it's time to bring down the curtain on the current SLC's final performance.
The main news for 2020 is the availability of the special Final Edition of the SLC300. While it has the same engine as the SLC300, the Final Edition is painted in Selenite Grey and features more aggressive AMG styling. There are also 18-inch AMG wheels in a gloss black finish. Other enhancements to this model include a lowered sport suspension, two-tone Nappa leather, and SLC Final Edition badging.
The SLC may not have aged gracefully in every aspect, but there's no denying that the slinky looks remain one of its most appealing aspects, an impression that's only heightened when you press a button and the retractable roof theatrically does its thing and vanishes behind the seats. As standard, the SLC300 rides on 17-inch alloy wheels and also gets a panorama roof, along with LED lamps beneath the side mirrors that project the three-pointed star badge onto the ground. The SLC300 Final Edition sports AMG body styling and 18-inch wheels with a black finish.
Although it has a long hood, the SLC still measures a compact 162.8 inches in length, 51.3 inches in height (with the top up), and 79 inches wide including the side mirrors. The wheelbase comes in at 95.7 inches. By comparison, the new BMW Z4 is similar in all key dimensions besides length, where the Bimmer is 7.9 inches longer. The SLC300's curb weight works out to 3,384 pounds, which is nearly 100 lbs heavier than the Z4 sDrive30i.
The SLC's color palette spans 11 unique shades. Those that don't cost extra are only Black and Polar White. An extra $720 unlocks metallic shades like Selenite Grey, Obsidian Black, Iridium Silver, Graphite Grey, Brilliant Blue, and Indium Grey. Three designo shades cost even more. They are Patagonia Red Metallic ($1,080), Diamond White Metallic ($1,515), and Shadow Grey Magno matte ($2,020). As for which looks best - taste is subjective, but Iridium Silver and Brilliant Blue suit the sleek lines of the junior Merc convertible.
Besides the fire-breathing AMG model which we review separately, there is only one engine doing duty in the SLC: a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four with 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, transferred to the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission. The combination is enough to complete the zero-to-sixty run in 5.8 seconds - it's rapid but not as quick as the base BMW Z4's time of 5.2 seconds. The top speed is electronically limited to the usual 155 mph. The SLC's performance is all very composed and easily attainable, but it's also not what you'd call dramatic or exciting. If you want something with more of a kick, go for the AMG model, but even then, you'll miss the old V8 howl.
Merc's baby roadster was once offered with a bellowing naturally aspirated V6 in base form, but the SLC300 has used a more efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder with turbocharging for a few years now. The outputs of 241 hp and 273 lb-ft are plenty for most needs. The engine is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a Dynamic Select system that allows drivers to alter throttle response and the gearbox's shift points from the efficient ECO mode to the more intense Sport +.
The SLC300 treads a neat balance between cruiser and mildly sporty roadster. Off the mark, some turbo lag is present and the car doesn't always respond instantly to throttle inputs. It's not bad, it's just not as good as the best. Passing power is otherwise ample and the transmission executes smooth up- or downshifts, although it can be slow to respond in manual mode. Driven hard, the SLC300 feels out of its element, preferring a more mellow approach that will appeal to many but frustrate those looking for a more engaging experience.
The SLC does many things well without ever truly setting your pants on fire. There's reasonably well-weighted steering that lacks feel but is reassuringly accurate, sufficient grip when pressing on, and a nimble feel that makes many larger Mercs feel properly bloated. Switch over to Sport + mode, and the transmission and engine take on a sportier character - the steering gains some more heft, too, but even this mode doesn't evoke much feel from the helm. It's all very composed and far from dull, but the little SLC simply isn't as razor-sharp as the Porsche Boxster or the BMW Z4.
The ride isn't as cushy as Mercedes-Benz owners might expect, with sharp bumps transmitted through to the cabin and quite a lot of noise with the roof down. It's not unlivable, but neither is it especially relaxing. That said, when you close the roof and the road smoothes out, the baby roadster is a pleasant boulevard cruiser.
The braking system is up to the job and easy to modulate, with the right amount of stopping power relative to how hard the pedal is depressed.
The SLC's EPA-rated economy estimates match those of the BMW Z4 while bettering the Porsche Boxster's figures. It achieves 23/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, enough to travel about 429 miles when the 15.9-gallon gas tank is filled up. This is better than the latest available figures for the Porsche Boxster (22/29/25 mpg in its most fuel-efficient guise) and nearly identical to the BMW Z4 sDrive30i's 24/32/27 mpg, but it's worth noting that the SLC requires premium gasoline.
It's here that the SLC has really fallen behind the pack. Sit inside a new E-Class or even an A-Class, and the SLC's plethora of buttons and fussier controls will come as a bit of a shock. Still, that's no great surprise for an interior design dating back to 2011. There are still some redeeming aspects to the cabin, though - we like the traditional analog gauges, the nicely finished seats, and the available Airscarf system. But there's no getting away from the seven-inch screen that suddenly looks especially undersized, the older version of the COMAND infotainment system, and the lack of space. While there are some nice materials, others lack the polish of newer Mercedes products. Age has not been kind on the SLC.
The SLC seats just two people, and they'd better not be tall because the headroom with the roof up is a problem. If the seats dropped down low enough, this wouldn't be an issue, but they're simply set too high no matter how much you play around with the adjustments. On the plus side, ingress/egress and the SLC's visibility are quite good for a roadster. Occupants of average height should also find the seats to be comfortable enough.
A much wider range of interior colors and upholsteries are available for the SLC300 than is typical for the average Mercedes-Benz, with 29 different combinations. As standard, the seats are upholstered in MB-Tex in either Black or Sahara Beige. The faux leather isn't bad, but most will opt for the genuine leather upgrade ($770) or even more premium Nappa leather ($1,400), with the latter available in color combinations like Saddle Brown, Bengal Red/Black, and Platinum White/Black. Finally, there is designo Nappa leather at a cost of $2,800 and it's available in shades like Classic Red, Auburn/Black, and Sand/Black.
The default trim is aluminum with Dark Carbon grain, but available upgrades are Burl Walnut wood, Black Ash wood, and designo Black Piano Lacquer. The hand-stitched steering wheel with Nappa leather feels great to hold.
Pop open the SLC's pert trunk lid and access is gained to 6.5 cubic feet of space. It's not much at all, but it's also not surprising bearing in mind that this is a small two-seat roadster. That's with the roof down - with the retractable hardtop up and shielding you from the elements, trunk capacity grows to 10.1 cubes, enough for about two carry-on cases. A useful electric trunk partition separates the trunk's available space between the roof being up or down - this avoids overloading the trunk and later being unable to lower the roof.
The cubbies that are provided in the cabin are all rather small, while the middle armrest is equipped with a cupholder for each occupant. At least the small storage compartments are covered so items won't go flying around.
Even though it sits below the AMG version, the SLC300 ships with a decent amount of standard equipment, although some features that should be standard will cost extra. Both front sport seats are power-adjustable and have memory settings, although it's disappointing that seat heating is an option for a luxury roadster, as well as Merc's Airscarf neck-level heating which is standard on almost every other convertible it sells. Air conditioning is standard, while dual-zone climate control is available. Other standard features include a power steering column, a HomeLink garage door opener, a panorama roof, and power-folding side mirrors. The safety specification includes attention assist, a rearview camera with on-screen guidelines, and tire pressure monitoring. On the options list are amenities like multi-color LED ambient lighting and the Airscarf neck-heating system - the latter is a must-have.
Considering that newer Mercs feature dual 12.3-inch displays, the SLC300's seven-inch central screen appears dwarfed by comparison. An older version of the COMAND system is mostly logical and operable by a central knob, but it does feel outdated and the sea of buttons across the SLC's dashboard is quite a throwback. The standard connectivity features amount to Bluetooth audio streaming, HD Radio, two USB ports, and an SD card reader, but you have to pay $350 if you want Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation also costs extra, although pre-wiring for the Garmin Map Pilot is inclusive. The audio system features a speaker count of eight, but a ten-speaker Harman Kardon upgrade is available. SiriusXM and in-car Wi-Fi are also available.
Although J.D. Power hasn't yet rated the SLC, the NHTSA hasn't had to issue any recalls for the model over the last three years. Coupled with the SLC's older, proven platform and familiar engine, there aren't any major reliability concerns.
The brand's four-year/50,000-mile basic warranty is in place if anything goes wrong, with coverage that extends to the powertrain as well.
Both major local safety authorities - the IIHS and the NHTSA - have not evaluated the SLC for crashworthiness, and with the end in sight, they're unlikely to anytime soon.
All the expected safety features are fitted, although the SLC is light on standard driver aids. Eight airbags (including knee airbags) protect the driver and passenger in the event of a crash, and these are complemented by a rearview camera, attention assist, tire pressure monitoring, rain-sensing windshield wipers, Neck-Pro head restraints (reducing the chances of whiplash), and active brake assist.
Blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, active LED headlamps, pre-safe, and ultrasonic parking sensors are all available, but they cost extra.
In its final year of production, the current Mercedes SLC continues to charm but finds itself outclassed by rivals like the much newer BMW Z4 along with more modern models from the same stable. The cramped cabin and dated controls are two of the clearest signs that the market has moved on, while the driving experience underwhelms and the dearth of standard driver aids disappoints. None of this means that the SLC300 won't still please brand loyalists looking for a lukewarm, stylish roadster that still has one of the most impressive retractable hardtops in the business. If you can get hold of one of the Final Edition models, its extras spice up the appearance appreciably, while there will be a certain novelty in owning one. If you want the best small two-seater roadster, though, the SLC isn't it.
At an MSRP of $49,950, the SLC300 is $250 pricier than the BMW Z4 sDrive30i. This price excludes tax, licensing, registration, and Mercedes' destination charge of $995. Mercedes hasn't yet announced how much the Final Edition variant will cost but expect a premium over the regular SLC300.
Merc's baby roadster is available in two trims: the SLC300 and the SLC300 Final Edition. Power is derived from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine with outputs of 241 hp and 273 lb-ft, sending power to the rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission. The Final Edition features a sport suspension lowered by 10 mm.
The power-retractable hardtop is one of the SLC's defining features and comes as standard along with a panoramic roof, 17-inch alloy wheels, and logo light projectors underneath the power-folding side mirrors. The snug cabin is trimmed in MB-Tex upholstery and both seats are power-adjustable with memory settings. Air conditioning with a dust/pollen filter is standard, but this can be upgraded to dual-zone climate control. For the driver's convenience, there is a rearview camera with guidelines, a four-way power steering column, heated side mirrors, a brake hold feature, and a HomeLink garage door opener. Infotainment comprises a seven-inch color display with HD Radio, Bluetooth, and USB ports, with sound channeled through an eight-speaker audio system. Eight airbags, blind-spot assist, and an attention assist system form part of the standard safety package, but lane keeping assist and pre-safe are options.
While Mercedes-Benz hasn't yet released the price of the SLC300 Final Edition trim, this version receives AMG body styling, 18-inch wheels in a black finish, two-tone Nappa leather, Airscarf neck-heating, and heated seats.
Various packages exist to upgrade the SLC300's exterior, starting with the Exterior Light package at $1,650. It bundles together active LED headlamps and adaptive high-beam assist. The AMG Line Exterior package costs $2,175 and beefs up the looks with AMG body styling, 18-inch wheels, and a diamond-block grille with chrome tips. Adding gloss black accents to this package increases the price to $2,575. Mercedes' Magic Sky Control - which changes the transparency of the panoramic roof - goes for $2,500.
In the cabin, the $2,300 Premium package combines dual-zone climate control with Airscarf, keyless go, heated seats, and SiriusXM with a six-month all-access trial. Apple CarPlay/Android Auto will cost you $350, while the Multimedia package combines these smartphone integrations with navigation for $2,250. For $1,800, the Driver Assistance package contains pre-safe, Distronic radar-based cruise control, and lane keeping assist.
The most worthwhile standalone options are the Harman Kardon sound system ($850), Parktronic ($970), multicolor LED ambient lighting ($310), and a rear spoiler ($350).
Until the price of the Final Edition is finalized, we'll stick to the regular SLC300 for our recommendations. To start off, we'd spec ours with the Premium Package as the heated seats and Airscarf system are essential, dramatically increasing comfort levels with the roof down. We'd also go for the Smartphone Integration package. The AMG styling packages seem a bit out of kilter with the SLC300's softer nature, so instead, we'd spec ours in one of the darker metallics, with the sportier 18-inch wheels, and with the leather trim upgrade. The total works out to over $55,000, but hey, this is your last chance to get an SLC, so it's worth getting one that is appropriately dressed up for its farewell party.
Introduced last year, the Z4 is off to an immediate advantage by being a lot fresher than the SLC. The price-competitive Z4 sDrive30i also uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder - even though it's just as efficient as the Merc, the Z4 shaves more than half a second off the SLC300's sprint to 60 mph. The Z4's eight-speed automatic is also the better gearbox, and partially because it's lighter, the BMW feels more athletic and urgent than the Mercedes. It's not only about dynamism, though, because the Z4's thoroughly modern cabin is better built, has a far superior infotainment system, and is more spacious (with almost an inch of extra headroom and 2.1 inches of additional shoulder room). The final nail in the SLC's coffin is the Z4's superior standard specification, with dual-zone climate control, frontal collision warning, and navigation requiring no added cost. The Bimmer takes this one easily.
Despite the loss of a letter in the badge, the SL is a giant step up in price, performance, and size. Like the SLC, the SL has been around for a long time but seems to carry its age a bit better than the smaller car. The cheapest version is the SL450 at $91,000, nearly double the price of the SLC300. That extra outlay gets you 362 hp from a 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6 and 0-60 mph in only 4.9 seconds. Like the SLC, the SL has a fantastic power-retractable hardtop, but the cabin is more spacious and of a higher quality. The SL also has extra gear like dual-zone climate control, genuine leather upholstery, heated seats, a Harman Kardon audio system, and more standard safety features. The much heavier SL rides with sublime authority, completely outclassing the choppier SLC in this respect. Both convertibles have outdated infotainment interfaces, though. If money is no object, the SL offers a more special drop-top driving experience.