2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 250 d review
Mercedes' two-seat open-top SLK gets a new look and a new name: SLC. We drive the traditionally best-selling 250 d diesel in sporty AMG Line trim. Is it a better bet than the equivalent Audi TT R...
The changes to Mercedes' naming convention continue apace, with the latest model to receive the update being its two-seat open-top, no longer the SLK but instead now the SLC. For the record, the new 'C' replaces the old 'K' because the SLC shares much of its technology with Mercedes' C-Class saloon.
The SLC is offered in two basic trims, Sport and AMG Line, with two turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engines of differing power outputs and a 2.1-litre diesel. At the top of the range sits the turbocharged 3.0 V6 petrol Mercedes-AMG '43' model. It's the first of many V6 43 performance variants that will be introduced across the Mercedes range.
Here we focus on what has been the best-selling model in the car's old SLK guise: the 250 d diesel. Its combination of decent pace and low running costs were what made it popular in the past, and that combination is even more attractive this time around. The SLC 250 d offers 201bhp and a 0-62mph time of 6.6sec, yet officially manages 70.6mpg and emits a company-car friendly 114g/km of CO2.
Compelling figures, yes, but the SLC faces fierce competition from other premium open-top rivals. BMW doesn't produce a diesel Z4, but its 2.0i petrol version offers similar performance for similar money. However, an even bigger threat is Audi's diesel TT Roadster, which is our favourite two-seat open-top of the moment.
What's the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 250 d like to drive?
Unlike Mercedes' recently revealed E-Class, the SLC doesn't benefit from the firm's most current diesel engine. As such, it's the same 2.1-litre four-cylinder unit found in the old SLK, which means it still feels nicely muscular from 1500rpm but allows for a usefully wide band of pull. Unfortunately, it also remains less refined than the newer unit, juddering to life when firing and on its start-stop function and making an audible fuss at high revs.
The SLC gets the same basic underpinnings as the SLK, too, but Mercedes has fettled its electronic power steering to improve the handling. The result is that the SLC still struggles to remain decently composed across potholes and broken asphalt at low speeds (our AMG Line car's lowered sports suspension and optional £100 18in alloy wheels didn't help), but the fact that it grips well and changes direction precisely complements the diesel engine's relative potency.
It remains difficult to enjoy a meandering B-road as much as you would in, say, an Audi TT Roadster, though. True, the Audi isn't the last word in handling finesse, but the SLC's steering simply doesn't offer as much consistency as the Audi's does, while the SLC's standard Dynamic Select function made the steering overly heavy in its sportier settings. Its Sport and Sport+ modes stiffen the suspension, too, if you spec the £995 Dynamic Handling Package. Set accordingly, the adaptive dampers keep the SLC's body better controlled both vertically and side to side, but mid-corner intrusions still force it off course over particularly bad surfaces.
You still need to come to a complete stop to start raising or lowering the SLC's metal folding roof, but now, once the process is under way, up to around 25mph is possible while the job finishes. Its boot separator also now moves down automatically if it can. Roof down and side windows up, both passengers are protected well from wind bluster, with only the top of a tall adult's head being ruffled. Even so, Mercedes' £395 neck-warming Airscarf option is reasonably priced and recommendable. Roof in place, tyre and wind noise are mostly kept outside, although there's a fair amount of creaking during hard cornering as the heavy glass and metal roof is forced this way and that.
What's the 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 250 d like inside?
It's an upgrade, but it's not the best or most up-to-date interior Mercedes is capable of building. That's because, once again, the SLC is really only a reskinned SLK on the inside. Two tall adults will find a great amount of space, though, and in an AMG Line model, the driver is treated to comfortable, widely adjustable sports seats and steering wheel.
Perceived quality is better than a Z4's, especially with the AMG Line's added sports steering wheel and leather-topped dash, but it lags behind that of an Audi TT. The SLC's buttons and rotary climate control dials don't feel as nicely damped either, and much of its dash plastics don't look or feel so plush. Our car's Comand infotainment system remains one of the better systems on sale to look at and work with, even if it's not ultimately as user friendly as Audi's MMI or BMW's iDrive. However, it is a pricey £2095 option.
Behind the two seats sits an easily accessible, decently proportioned 335-litre boot with the roof up and separator lifted, making a load space that is easily big enough to take two or three large, soft weekend bags. That space drops to 225 litres when having to store the bulky roof, and getting at it is more difficult. A Z4's boot is similarly restricted by its own metal roof, but the TT's fabric roof leaves a bigger space when down.
Emergency city braking, 17in alloy wheels, cruise control, air-con, Bluetooth, a 7.0in colour screen, DAB radio and two USB ports come as standard on Sport SLCs. AMG Line models add bigger 18in alloys, leather seats, upgraded brakes, sports suspension and a whole host of aggressively sporty visual upgrades.
Should I buy one?
If you do, the 250 d certainly makes the most sense. Okay, so that doesn't get you the quickest, most refined or best-sounding SLC, but its competitive CO2 emissions and agreeable fuel economy at least make it the cheapest to run, and there's enough performance and agility (in our AMG Line experience) to keep the majority of buyers happy.
However, while this SLC offers a similar price but better dynamics and keener running costs than the equivalent petrol Z4, it's difficult to ignore the sizeable price gap between this AMG Line 250 d SLC in favour of an Audi TT Roadster S line 2.0 TDI 150 . The Audi is also better to drive, feels higher quality inside and is more practical with its fabric folding roof. As such, it remains our preferred two-seat open-top.
What Car? says...
Rated 3 out of 5*Rivals**
BMW Z4*2016 Mercedes-Benz SLC 250 d AMG Line**
Engine size 2.1-litre diesel
Price from £36,940
Torque 369lb ft
Top speed 155mph
Fuel economy 70.6mpg