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First Drive

2016 Mercedes SLC 300 review

The Mercedes SLC may bring a new name to the German brand, but there’s a familiar car underneath. Is it any better for that

Words ByAlan Taylor-Jones

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Twenty years ago, Mercedes introduced a small sports car with a novel folding metal roof. Called the SLK, it would go on to become a familiar sight on the UK’s roads. The SLK is no more, however. Now it’s time to introduce its replacement, the Mercedes SLC.

This isn’t a brand new car to go with a brand new name, though. Instead, this is a fairly substantial facelift of the SLK that was introduced back in 2011. There’s new exterior styling, improvements to the infotainment system and some new engines to boot.

The model we’re looking at here is near the top of the SLC tree. Called the SLC 300, it’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that promises quick, if not outright fast, acceleration. So, it's time to see if Mercedes’ tweaks are enough to keep it competitive against the likes of the Audi TT and Porsche Boxster.

What is the 2016 Mercedes SLC 300 like to drive?

Despite having just two seats and a retractable roof, the SLK was never really a driver’s car, even with the more potent engines. This is something Mercedes hasn’t changed in the SLC.

It is possible to cover ground rapidly, but you never feel particularly involved in the process. Corner hard and you’ll find that the steering doesn’t ever communicate the amount of grip the front tyres truly have. There is a Sport mode, but this just adds weight to the steering, rather than feel. Even so, it’s easy enough to place the SLC’s nose where you want it.

Body roll is kept nicely in check, but the car never feels as agile when changing direction as a Porsche Boxster or even an Audi TT does. Push beyond the limit of grip and you’ll almost always find the front end letting go first. Under normal conditions, though, the stability control will ensure that the rear can’t ever slide more than a fraction.

If you do decide to turn off the electronic intervention, the tail can step out quite abruptly due to the short wheelbase. At this point, you find out that off doesn’t actually mean off; with the rear sliding, you’ll notice the yellow stability control light flashing away in the corner of your eye. If you might be tempted by the odd track day, we would look elsewhere.

But as we’ve already said, this isn’t a driver-centric sports car. When you stop acting like a hooligan, you appreciate the smooth-shifting automatic gearbox that comes as standard and a ride that is comfortable – for a roadster.

Yes, you do feel rough roads, potholes and expansion joints, but these are dealt with quickly and effectively. Our only complaint here is that you get the old shake and shimmy from the body at the same time.

What is the 2016 Mercedes SLC 300 like inside?

Mercedes may have introduced a larger screen on the dash and a secondary colour display between the dials, but this is still an interior that’s starting to show its age. Despite costing nearly Β£40,000, there’s no standard sat-nav and the infotainment menus are clunky to use.

It may have this dial-controlled system as standard, but Mercedes still fits a bewildering number of buttons on the centre console. Compared with the modern minimalism of an Audi TT, it looks cluttered, while some of the buttons and other controls feel cheap.

There is still plenty to like, though. Ignoring the flexible and creaky plastic of the centre console, there’s lots of squishy stuff elsewhere and it’s easy to get comfortable. Even those over six feet tall will find there’s ample head room with the roof up.

If this puts you in the mood for a weekend away, then we’d best warn you about the boot. With the roof over your head, there’s about the same amount of boot space as in a Skoda Fabia. Fold the roof back, however, and you’ll instantly reduce it by almost a third; that's the price you pay for the clever metal roof.

Speaking of the top, it opens and closes at the touch of a button, but only if you come to a complete stop. Once it’s started moving, you can drive away at low speeds, though. It’s handy, but not as handy as a roof that can be raised or lowered without stopping.

Should I buy one?

We would advise you try the SLC’s key rivals before taking the plunge. A Porsche Boxster may cost more, but it will be faster and a much more entertaining drive. Alternatively, an Audi TT 2.0 TFSI 230 has a much better interior and is much cheaper to buy.

If you have your heart set on an SLC, though, we would opt for one of the lesser engines. Considering this is a car happiest when cruising, we would suggest saving your money and choosing either a less potent petrol model or maybe even the frugal 250 d diesel. Or, better still, buy a Porsche 718 Boxster.

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What Car? says...

Rated 2 out of 5


Looking for a cheaper alternative?


Rivals:

Audi TT

Porsche Boxster


Mercedes SLC 300

Engine size 2.0-litre turbo petrol

Price from Β£39,385

Power 242bhp

Torque 273lb ft

0-62mph 5.8sec

Top speed 155mph

Fuel economy (official) 47.1mpg

CO2 138g/km