Hear us out.
First released in 1996, the SLK was made to fill a luxury roadster bracket, hence the name S-L-K (Sportlich-Leicht-Kurz) or Sport-Light-Compact.
Upon initial release, the SLK was offered with three different engine options. A 2.0L ‘SLK 200’, a supercharged 2.0L ‘SLK 200 Kompressor’, and the flagship 2.3L supercharged ‘SLK230 Kompressor’.
In 2000, a facelift meant that the 2.0L N/A was dropped, dubbing the SLK 200 Kompressor the base model. The 230 had also been given a slightly revised engine, and the addition of a powerful V6 ‘SLK 320’ was added to the lineup. AMG had also managed to get their hands on the popular SLK, and a year later created the menacing SLK 32 AMG – featuring the SLK 320’s V6 fitted with a huge – and we mean huge helical twin-screw supercharger.
The SLK 32 AMG is a great car, but prices are already on the rise. Therefore, the SLK 230 Kompressor is the one you want! Hear us out.
The 2.3L ‘Kompressor’ inline-4 produces a reasonable 145kW of power and 280Nm of torque, accelerating the sporty roadster from 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds. Quite reasonable for a car from the early 2000’s.
The 5-speed ‘722’ automatic doesn’t shift fast going on modern standards, especially compared to fancy dual clutches, Mercedes multi-clutch gearboxes and however-many-speed torque converters, but it’s definitely not a bad gearbox either – and the driving dynamics are great. In fact, we could almost say it has better dynamics than the more straight-line oriented AMG version.
With a kerb weight of just 1310kg, the SLK 230 Kompressor is 105kg lighter than the SLK 320, and a considerable 170kg lighter than the SLK 32 AMG – and because of that, the car handles well. We’re not talking Porsche Boxster well as it lacks the mid-engined weight distribution, but the steering is very precise and very refined, as a Mercedes should be. 145kW from the supercharged 4-cylinder meets the perfect threshold where the SLK is able to be thrown around corners with a great amount of force but also confidence.
Reliability also isn’t a concern, as the main components are solid, especially in the updated 2000-2004 models. The 2.3L engine has no major flaws, and never feels overworked, as maximum power is produced at just 5,500rpm – but in case it ever encounters issues, the engine is fairly accessible and easy to work on. The 5-speed gearbox was used in a variety of Mercedes-Benz and AMG models of its era and has never caused a fuss, so the only major component you’ll need to watch out for is the electric metal roof.
The great build quality flows around the car – especially to the interior, where a retro feel encases the car – and there are no cheap plastics like you might find with newer and cheaper cars. Leather seats, an actual handbrake instead of the usual foot park-brake, and the driver oriented dash and steering wheel all add a nice touch, and separates the SLK from other Mercedes models.
So, weight is an advantage, the power to handling ratio is solid, reliability isn’t really a concern, and the interior feels great. But what does the SLK 230 Kompressor have that makes it a great buy?
Short answer: the price.
You can pick up a used SLK 230 Kompressor in Australia for around $5,000 AUD, and in the UK, you can pick one up for under £1000. This puts it into close competition with cars like the Mazda MX-5 and BMW Z3, but where-as those cars are quite well known and popular in their segment in the Australian used car market, the SLK often gets left out.
We think the SLK 230 Kompressor deserves some more recognition as it’s just as fast and fun, if not faster and more enjoyable to drive than some, and we believe it will become a classic some day. Buy one now as prices won’t drop any further, but buy one only if you can live with an automatic.