“What’s in a name?" said Juliet to Romeo. Indeed, what is in a name when it changes from Mercedes-AMG SLK 55 to Mercedes-AMG SLC 43? Well, there are a few things going on here, so let’s examine them.
The old SLK has been given a mid-life refresh – new headlights, tail-lights, bumpers and grille – and in the process it has been rebranded as an SLC. This is to further align it with the Mercedes C-Class, but essentially think of it as a re-nosed SLK.
Then we have a new engine for this, the sporty AMG halo model. Out goes the huge, 5.5-litre naturally aspirated V8 petrol and in comes a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that offers nigh on the same performance but with improved emissions and fuel economy.
Rivals include the new Porsche 718 Boxster and the Audi TTS Roadster, both of which come with a choice of manual or optional automatic gearboxes. The SLC 43 doesn’t. As standard there's a new nine-speed automatic gearbox, which can mimic a manual if you use the paddles behind the steering wheel.
What’s the 2016 Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 like to drive?
This new engine might not sound as bassy as the old V8 but it still makes you smile. It’s higher-pitched and raspier when you rev it hard, with chucklesome crackles and pops when you change gear. Occasionally it resorts to a less inspiring drone, but it still sounds more interesting than the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines in either the TTS or the Boxster.
It feels fast, too. Turbocharged engines can be a little hesitant at low revs, but almost as soon as you put your foot down the SLC picks-up and accelerates hard to the engine’s limiter, at which point the auto ’box slips smoothly up a gear. Switch the gearbox to its sharper Sport + setting and you can execute mostly rapid manual changes with those steering wheel paddles.
At town speeds we’d like the steering itself to be lighter and have a stronger self-centering action. Happily it evolves when you pick up the pace, building weight progressively as you apply lock and feeling more direct than the standard SLC’s helm.
That’s very much the theme, actually. On all counts the SLC 43 feels sharper and nicer to drive than the lesser models. The sports suspension is better damped, which delivers tauter body control. That means less lean in bends, with more grip and stability over rougher roads. It makes the ride firmer but, without the unwanted secondary movements bouncing you around, the reality is that it’s more comfortable.
Yet it’s still not as sweet to drive as the Boxster, or even the TTS. Both the SLC and the Boxster are rear-wheel drive, but the SLC is much twitchier when the rear tyres lose grip. The four-wheel-drive Audi might not be as playful but it’s got better traction in slippery conditions.
The biggest bugbear is the chassis' stiffness: it just isn't taut enough. This has a dramatic effect on refinement as the SLC shimmies and flexes along bumpy roads, causing the roof joints to chirp. Put the roof down and it's less noticeable, and without much buffeting at speed, the SLC 43 transforms in to a decent open-top cruiser.
What’s the 2016 Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 like inside?
Inside it’s very similar to the old SLK. There are detail changes, such as the new, thick-rimmed steering wheel trimmed in Nappa leather, an IWC-branded clock and a larger 7.0in infotainment screen, but nothing more radical than that.
The two seats offer plenty of space for a couple of tall adults and you’ll find the driving position top-notch courtesy of the amount of seat and steering wheel adjustment.
Mercedes has a reputation for great interiors but the SLC feels a little ordinary inside. It’s an old design, and that shines through when you compare it with the modern and minimalist-looking Audi TTS’s cabin.Perceived quality doesn’t feel as good either, especially when you play with some of the switches, such as the rotary controls for the air conditioning. In the Audi they click precisely; in the SLC the wobble.
There’s loads of storage space with a big glove box and a large cubby under the centre armrest. By class standards the boot is big, too. You should just about be able to squeeze in a golf bag thanks to the wide boot aperture, but only with the roof up. With it down, the boot space reduces by roughly a third.
The SLC 43 is more expensive than the TTS or the Boxster but does get more equipment. For example, sat-nav, front and rear parking sensors and Airscarf neck-level heating are all standard. You also get extra safety kit, including adaptive LED headlights and emergency city braking.
Should I buy one?
The Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 is a decent car in many respects, but it’s not the best performance open-top you can buy for the money.
Yes, you do get more equipment than in either the TTS or the Boxster, but this is offset to some degree by its higher list price. It’ll cost you more to run, too, thanks to higher average fuel economy and emissions.
But this is a sports car, which means it should be amazing to drive. In this vital aspect the SLC is average, and the TTS is leagues ahead. The Boxster meanwhile, is simply class-leading.
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Mercedes-AMG SLC 43
Engine size 3.0-litre, turbocharged V6 petrol
Price from £46,360
Torque 384lb ft
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel economy (official combined) 36.2mpg
CO2/BIK band 178g/km, 32%