by Jay Traugott
The Mercedes-Benz SLC 300, the only non-AMG SLC available in the US, and its folding hard-top, can be an attractive choice for someone looking for a small luxury sports car, particularly as it starts at less than $50,000. However, if you're expecting Porsche Boxster levels of dynamism or BMW Z4-like technology and modern design, you will be disappointed. With a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 241 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, the smallest Merc roadster isn't to be completely ignored though. Sending power to the rear wheels, the little cabriolet uses a nine-speed automatic gearbox to make shifting a stress-free pleasure. With numerous options available, the SLC 300 could be a perfect fit for those who aren't enticed by athletic accolades or the latest tech. But even with a new design from a few years back, sales are declining as the SLC struggles to shake the hairdresser stigma.
The aging SLC is completely unchanged for 2019, with the exception of the AMG division's 43 model, which we've reviewed separately. Power, available options, and standard features are all identical to those found in SLC 300's of yesteryear.
|SLC 300 Roadster||
2.0-liter Turbo Inline-4 Gas
Designed to look new and fresh when first introduced for 2017, the SLC now looks like a weak refresh for the ancient SLK that it replaced because the bits beneath the surface are still those of the 2011 SLK. The refresh still did the roadster well, as the sculpted lines are not offensive and are certainly more curvy than those of the angular SLK of yore. The SLC features LED running lights and taillights in conjunction with xenon headlamps. If you'd prefer LED headlights, you'll have to shell out extra for the lighting package. 17-inch wheels are also the standard choice, with 18-inch variants including AMG styles available at an added cost or at no charge, depending on if you add an AMG package or not. The crown jewel in the SLC's design is the 'diamond grille' with dozens of diamond-shaped studs radiating outward from the three-pointed star.
A petite little roadster, the SLC is only 162.2 inches long with a wheelbase of 95.7 inches. Width measures 79 inches and maximum height with the top up is 51.3 inches. Despite the complexity and inherent mass of a folding hard-top, the SLC 300 has a not-too-lardy curb weight 3,296 lbs. Thanks to these diminutive dimensions, the car is easy to park and place on the road, and the four-banger doesn't have to strain too much to get up to speed. The BMW Z4 with its folding soft-top is negligibly lighter, at 3,287 lbs.
10 color choices are available for the 2019 SLC, two of which won't add to the end cost: Black and Polar White. Obsidian Black, Brilliant Blue, Selenite Grey, Iridium Silver, and Indium Grey are your $720 metallic color options, while designo Cardinal Red - also a metallic - costs $1,080. Designo Diamond White Magno costs $1,515 while designo Shadow Grey Magno is the most expensive of the lot at $2,020. The latter Magno hue is a matte finish, but due to the maintenance required to keep this looking its best, nevermind its cost, we'd rather splash out a little less and go for Cardinal Red.
The SLC 300's 2.0-liter four-pot is fitted with a turbocharger to help hide the fact that this body style is no longer offered with a soulful and sonorous N/A V6. In current boosted guise, it develops 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque and sends its thrust to the rear wheels only. A nine-speed automatic gearbox is the only option. The sprint from 0-60 mph is completed in 5.8 seconds, which isn't too offensive for a vehicle with sporty aspirations. If you'd like something with more oomph in the same style, the AMG SLC 43 is considerably quicker, but that starts at over 60 grand. For cruising or for town driving, the baby SLC is decent enough, with a top speed still sitting at an electronically limited 155 mph. With relatively small wheels and a smooth transmission, the SLC 300 is never frightening to drive but will never excite or get the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up either. Taking corners is never tricky and the SLC handles reasonably well, but you can feel that with a small-capacity forced-induction engine, the SLC has lost its soul and its character. With rivals like the Boxster starting at only $10,000 more, or the comparably priced AWD Audi TT, the SLC should be your last choice for small open-top thrills.
One engine option is available for the Mercedes-Benz SLC - a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that generates 241 hp and 273 lb-ft. This is mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox dubbed 9G-Tronic. Despite its relatively lowly numbers, the SLC accelerates moderately well from a standstill, although many have noted the apparition of the turbo-lag gremlin. This plagues it even when overtaking abruptly, as the throttle takes a moment before opening during sudden lead-footed driving, but is otherwise fairly responsive. The auto tranny is impressive and shifts smoothly and quickly whether you're going up the gears or are your way back down. That said, the SLC won't be a fan of excessively spirited abuse, and will ultimately disappoint if you're biting at the heels of a nonchalant Z4 driver. Overall, the experience delivered by this powertrain is a lukewarm one, and for most buyers will neither gratify nor infuriate. As a little runaround for taking the handbag-bound Chihuahua to the groomers, the SLC 300 is good enough.
The SLC encourages one to drive with vigor and can be rewarding when momentum is well-held and the perfect line is chosen, but thanks partly to its slightly lofty driving position, it feels wrong somehow. Look, it turns in well, steers well, and builds confidence, but it never truly feels exhilarating, something that the Boxster's engineers have mastered. For more flamboyance, driving the BMW Z4 will give you more of a tingle too, allowing the occasional slide, whereas the Merc tracks more plainly. No understeer and no oversteer can be a good thing in a car with less power than many rivals though. That said, even the typically vanilla Audi TT can be more visceral than this in the corners, more eager to eat up the next turn. At the end of the day, we're comparing the SLC to some of the best roadsters on the market, and the bottom line is that the little Merc does have an abundance of mechanical grip that is only compromised over rough, broken asphalt. In the city, the auto stop-start system can frustratingly jerk the car before you've come to a complete stop; but, when you need to stop more rapidly, the brakes are impressive and easy to gauge.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC 300 features a turbocharged four-cylinder with two liters of capacity. Official figures from the EPA tell us that the roadster manages 23/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. With a gas tank of 15.9 gallons, the estimated average range on a full tank is calculated to be around 429.3 miles. It is worth noting that Mercedes explicitly demands that the SLC run on premium gas only. The SLC performs better in terms of gas mileage than the base 718 Boxster, which only manages 22/29/25 mpg on the same cycles, but is outdone by the 2.0-liter turbo variant of the BMW Z4, scoring 25/32/28 mpg.
As you'd expect from any vehicle bearing the three-pointed star, build quality is excellent in the SLC. However, the design and layout, particularly of the button-crazy infotainment system, is quite clearly from a couple of generations ago. Synthetic leather is standard, with the genuine article available, and the two-seater's chairs are 10-way power adjustable with lumbar support. Heated seats are available, but unfortunately without ventilation, while Airscarf is only optional on this base SLC. Dual-zone climate control is a paid-for option, as is Magic Sky Control, which tints the standard panoramic sunroof at the touch of a button. Overall, the interior is well put together, but taller individuals will find it a little claustrophobic and everyone will have to spend extra to make it more user-friendly. Like tie-dye, this car is a blast from the past in all the wrong ways.
Strictly a two-seater, some taller drivers may argue that it's a 1.5-seater with the roof up due to extremely limited headroom. Despite 10-way power-adjustability, the SLC's seats never go low enough, and even those who won't find the interior stifling will feel a little too highly perched. As a result, the rearview mirror can get in the way when plotting some right turns, but otherwise, visibility is acceptable. Getting in and out is surprisingly easy, even with the roof up, and this is one of the few sports cars that doesn't have overly aggressive bolsters that you'll rub on every entry or exit.
Standard upholstery is fashioned from MB-Tex, Merc's synthetic leather. Black or Sahara Beige are your choices here. If you'd like to pay extra for leather, that will cost $770 and can be had in the same colors or in black with contrast red stitching and red seatbelts. Four different variations of Nappa are available for $1,400 each, while premium colors and other two-tone leather finishings cost a maximum of $2,800 each. Colors range from shades of white, brown, and red, to Deep Black. Trim panels can be finished in aluminum at no cost while Burl Walnut and Black Ash wood variations are $325 each. Black Piano Lacquer can also be had for $950, and multicolor LED ambient lighting can be added for $310. For a more premium feel, your steering wheel can be trimmed in Nappa leather too, for $250.
A partition in the SLC's trunk protects the single carry-on suitcase you can fit in the car with the roof down. If you'd like to take two carry-on-sized suitcases, you'll have to keep the roof up and avoid trying to cram anything more than a small toiletry bag in the back. Official volumes are 6.4 cubic feet with the roof down and 10.1 cubes in its most practical state.
In the cabin, a pair of cup holders are provided inside the center armrest, as well as a pair of shallow bins in the center console, one of which is just big enough to fit a smartphone. The door pockets are negligibly small, but a reasonable glovebox exists for a few sundry items. Whether you're traveling for a weekend away or going to pick up your designer dog from the groomer, it's best to avoid trying to take a lot with you.
The SLC comes with a panoramic sunroof which can be specced with automatically-tinting glass. Standard features include a rearview camera, Mercedes-Benz Emergency Call, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and a drowsy driver warning. Auto wipers and heated mirrors are standard as well, while options include adjustable suspension, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, keyless entry and start, park assist, adaptive LED headlights, heated seats, and customizable ambient interior lighting. Two must-have options are Magic Sky Control, which can tint the standard panoramic sunroof to prevent excessive heating or glare in the cabin, and Airscarf, which adds vents to the seats that waft warm air onto your neck - a useful feature for when you want to take in the stars and feel the wind in your blow wave in winter.
Still have a flip phone? Maybe you'll fall in love with the numeric keypad and pointless buttons scattered about the SLC's dashboard. The standard infotainment system is a far cry from what Mercedes offers in most of their other products and is a clear sign of the cost-cutting measures taken to keep this car's base price below 50 grand. At least the system works smoothly, but you still get a tiny seven-inch display and have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Navigation and SiriusXM are also optional. Bluetooth, an SD card reader, and HD Radio are luckily included as standard. Your nostalgia-kindling music comes via an eight-speaker sound system, with a Harman Kardon Logic7 surround sound upgrade available.
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC has not yet been rated by J.D. Power for reliability, but fortunately, no recalls have been issued for the vehicle either, nor for the previous year model. In the event of improper function of any part of the car, Mercedes covers the roadster with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, with options to extend as part of the order process. The SLC is covered for the same period in terms of its drivetrain and against corrosion too.
Neither the 2018 nor the 2019 Mercedes-Benz SLC have been rated by either the IIHS nor the NHTSA in a crash test. Europe's NCAP ratings organization has also not yet given the SLC a safety rating.
The SLC's standard driver aids don't form a particularly long list, with Mercedes-Benz Emergency Call, a rearview camera, automatic pop-up roll bars, forward-collision warning with auto emergency braking, and a drowsy driver warning being the main features. Optional safety features include adaptive cruise control, adaptive LED headlights with high-beam assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and Presafe, which closes the windows and pre-tensions safety belts when an imminent crash is detected. Eight airbags are standard though, with dual front, torso-level and head-level side-impact, and individual knee airbags included.
The Mercedes-Benz is not a bad car, but it's not great either - not when compared to the other open-top sports cars available on the market. Yes, the Merc is the only luxury roadster in this price bracket that has a folding hard-top, but unfortunately, it's just not dynamic enough in terms of performance, technology, style, or standard features to make it a stand-out choice in the segment. The infotainment system could have been borrowed from Fred Flinstone's runabout, and the gearbox is just as uncomfortable to use on downshifts. Overall, it's not an excessively offensive car, and the price is certainly attractive, but when you consider that you can have an absolutely brilliant Porsche in your garage for around $10k more, or a far more striking, modern, and dynamic BMW Z4 at $250 less, the SLC seems like a poor choice. As a sweet 16 present for the spoilt prep-school resident and future Instagram model, the SLC may be amazing. To everyone else, the SLC fails to cut it.
Available in one trim only, the SLC 300 roadster is on sale at a starting price of $48,950. Fully loaded, a Shadow Grey Magno SLC with multi-spoke AMG wheels and AMG body styling, adaptive LED headlights, Harman Kardon audio, Nappa leather, navigation, dual-zone climate control, and pretty much every other available feature, will clock around $72,000. Both prices are still subject to Merc's $995 destination and handling charge, as well as other taxes and fees that may be applicable.
Just one trim is available for the Mercedes-Benz SLC range - the 300 Roadster. This model is fitted with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 241 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to the 17-inch rear wheels via a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Standard features include a panoramic sunroof, faux-leather upholstery, a rearview camera, automatic rain-sensing wipers, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, 10-way power-adjustable seats, a variable sports exhaust, and a seven-inch infotainment system. This features eight speakers in the cozy cabin and allows connectivity via Bluetooth or two USB ports. An SD card reader is also standard as is HD Radio.
Options include navigation, 18-inch wheels, AMG body-styling, heated seats, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Other available extras like adaptive LED headlights with automatic high beam assist, adaptive cruise control, a dashtop analog clock, park assist, leather upholstery, and a Harman Kardon sound system upgrade are also available. You can also add various maintenance plans to the initial cost of your purchase when specifying the configuration of your SLC 300.
A number of packages are available to enhance the SLC's basic features. One of the most notable is the Driver Assistance package, which costs $1,850. This package adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and Presafe. The Smartphone Integration package is also worth a look. At just $350, this adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity systems. The Multimedia package does the same, but also includes COMAND navigation. However, this seems like a rip-off at $2,200. We'd rather put that money towards the Premium package, which equips the SLC with blind-spot monitoring, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, Airscarf, SiriusXM, and keyless entry and start. If you don't want all these, blind-spot monitoring can be had as a standalone option for $550, and the saved cash could be spent on an adjustable suspension setup that costs $990.
Since Mercedes-Benz offers only one trim level, the choice here comes down to what options to spec, if any. As the car is not particularly magnificent in terms of performance when compared to other German offerings, we'd skip the AMG styling packages and add plain black leather for $770 and the Premium package for $2,800. Blind-spot monitoring, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, and Airscarf are included here, making the SLC more comfortable. We'd also add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for $350, and the $1,850 Driver Assistance package with adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist. All-in, the price increases by less than $6,000 over the base starting point, bringing it to $55,800 before destination and other fees.
If you're considering the Merc rather than the Porsche, don't. The base 718 Boxster costs $59,000 versus the SLC's $49,950, but is far better looking and is, crucially, a much better car to drive and live with. The flat-four turbo makes 300 hp - almost 60 more than the SLC's inline-four can muster - and it can be had with either a slick manual or a brilliant double-clutch gearbox. Thanks to its soft-top, and more importantly its front trunk, it can also carry more stuff, with 9.7 cubic feet of trunk volume compared to the Merc's 6.5 cubes. In the cabin, you get a hard drive to store your music, a much more advanced and easy to read infotainment system, and a more premium-feeling interior. Satellite radio is also standard, and for those hot days, you can have ventilated seats - something the SLC does not offer. In terms of driving, the Boxster's rave reviews are glowing the world over. We'd disregard the Merc for this Porsche any day.
First of all, the Z4 can be had with a Supra-shared straight-six turbo. But in the interests of a fair battle, let's look at the sDrive30i variant. This Bimmer's turbocharged four-banger offers better fuel economy and still makes 14 hp and 22 lb-ft more than the Merc's own four-pot. It also has a bigger trunk, at 9.9 cubes, and gets Apple CarPlay as standard (although Android Auto is not offered). The Z4 also has access to a head-up display and standard dual-zone climate control, as well as an optional heated steering wheel. The features and specs aside, the BMW has a much more simplistic, yet modern, feel to the interior and feels like it was designed yesterday, whereas the Merc's interior feels like it was scavenged from blueprints buried deep in the archives. The exterior is also arguably better proportioned and doesn't appear to be a lazy attempt at keeping an aging car on life support. Plus, it handles like a dream and can be coaxed into the occasional drift without too much butt-clenching. As an all-rounder or as a sports car, the SLC loses to everything - unless you really, really must have a hard-top convertible.