Mercedes-Benz SLC Convertible (2016 - ) review
Different in name, but otherwise very similar to the SLK it replaces. Like that car, the SLC competes with the Audi TT Roadster and BMW Z4The Auto Trader expert verdict: 3.0 The Mercedes SLC seems pretty appealing in isolation, with smart looks inside and out, a strong image and some impressive economy figures. However, when you compare it with talented rivals like the Audi TT Roadster in these areas – plus pretty much every other one, for that matter – then the Merc’s weaknesses become more apparent.
- Smart looks and posh image
- Economical diesel engine
- Good standard safety kit
- Lacklustre to drive
- Interior quality and ergonomics
- Some basic kit missing
At a glance
The SLC cuts a very familiar shape, but in a variety of different ways. From the rear and the side, the car is virtually indistinguishable from the SLK that it replaced, which is hardly surprising given that the two cars are pretty much identical in all but name. At the front end, by contrast, the styling cues are more recognisable from the larger SL roadster than they are the SLK, with the same spangly grill design and rounded headlamps. The resemblance to its bigger, more luxurious brother does give the SLC a certain amount of extra glamour, but rival cars like the Audi TT Roadster aren’t exactly short of glamour, either. Both trim levels – Sport and AMG Line – come with alloy wheels and a folding metal roof, but the higher-trimmed car has beefier skirts, a spanglier grille and a more hunkered-down stance thanks to its lowered suspension.
In isolation, the quality inside the SLC seems generally pretty high, with materials that feel similar in poshness to those found in an A-Class, CLA or one of Merc’s other small cars. However, compare it with the incredible plushness you get from an Audi TT’s cabin, and the SLC falls way behind. Sadly, it’s a similar story with the ergonomics: the centre console is festooned with a huge number of small, poorly marked buttons – many of which are completely pointless, given that most of the same functions can be accessed through on-screen menus selected by the wheel controller that’s placed right next to these buttons – and some of the other controls have the usual Mercedes quirks; wiper controls on the indicator stalks, anyone? The heavily offset pedals will limit how comfortable you’ll be, and with the roof up, your rear visibility isn’t that great.
This isn’t the reason you buy a two-seat roadster, but nevertheless you’ll want enough practicality to let you enjoy a weekend spent blatting around the countryside. The SLC’s cabin has enough space for two fully formed adults to sit in comfort, and there’s plenty of storage space for odds and ends dotted around the place. Storage space for luggage is rather more of a mixed bag, if you’ll pardon the pun: you have loads with the roof up - 335 litres, in fact – but with the roof down, you have to cram your bags underneath a fold-down load separator, which reduces the space to 225 litres, space that’s also extremely difficult to get to without raising the hood entirely. And, while rival roadsters let you raise or lower the roof while trundling along at low speed, so you don’t have to pull over when a sudden downpour (inevitably) hits, the SLC’s roof demands that you be stationary. That means you’ll be getting pretty soggy if you can’t find a convenient bus stop.
Ride and handling
It may have a different name, but the SLC is barely any different to the old SLK underneath, and that means it feels like distinctly old technology. The biggest problem is the ride comfort, or rather, the shortage of it. The car jitters and fidgets over small bumps, then thuds and thumps over bigger ones. Adaptive dampers are available that vary the behaviour of the suspension according to which of the three driving modes (Comfort, Sport, Sport+) is selected, but even these can’t remedy the problems. All this is exacerbated by the fact that the body shakes and flexes more than it should, and as soon as you hit a less-than-perfect surface, squeaks and rattles start intruding from all over the place. The handling is decent, with strong grip and reasonable body control, but the SLC is nowhere near as poised or as playful as rivals like the Audi TT Roadster.
So far, we’ve only driven the SLC with one of the engines available, the 2.1-litre diesel that will be the biggest seller. The performance is pretty much what you expect – there’s a good slug of low- and mid-range torque for decent flexibility – but ultimately, it doesn’t feel as quick as the power output of 201bhp suggests. The nine-speed automatic gearbox swaps gears smoothly and cleanly, but the grumbly noise made by the engine detracts from the level of refinement, especially when you have the roof down, leaving you more exposed to the noise. Three more engines are available, all turbocharged petrols. There are a couple of 2.0-litre units in the SLC 200 and SLC 300 giving 181bhp and 241bhp, respectively, and a 3.0-litre V6 in the SLC 43 AMG. All models except the 200 get the nine-speed automatic ‘box as standard (that version has a six-speed manual instead), but you can add the auto’ to the 200 as an option.
Prices for most versions of the SLC are pretty much spot-on with those of its biggest rival, the Audi TT Roadster; but, strangely, a couple of versions make the Merc look very expensive in comparison, so choose carefully. The sleek looks and desirable badge should mean the SLC holds its value pretty well as it ages, meaning more palatable whole-life costs, but the Audi will probably do better on that score. Compare the petrol models, and the SLC is nip-and-tuck with the TT for fuel economy and CO2 emissions, but the diesel-powered SLC has the comprehensive beating of its Audi counterpart with an average figure of 70.6mpg.
Mercedes has had a rather mixed reputation for reliability over the years, and things still aren’t as good as they should be, according to Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index. The company features pretty low down in the study’s manufacturer rankings – alarmingly low, some would say – and, although reliability data for the SLC itself isn’t yet available, the SLK hasn’t exactly proved to be one of the firm’s hardier models. That said, the owner reviews on our own website paint a much rosier picture about the SLK’s reliability, and like all Mercedes models, the SLC comes with a fair-to-middling three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty.
The SLC comes with all the safety kit you might expect from a prestige roadster, including six airbags, stability control and a high-performance braking system. It also comes with one or two bits you might not necessarily expect, such as autonomous braking, a pedestrian-friendly pop-up bonnet and a system that warns you if you’re getting tired. Several other clever systems, like blind-spot monitors and lane-keep assistants, are also available by way of various option packages. The SLC hasn’t yet been crash tested by Euro NCAP, and the SLK hasn’t been tested since 2002, either.
Sport models form the entry point into SLC ownership, and even these models come with a half-decent amount of kit, including air-conditioning, electric windows, DAB radio, cruise control, Bluetooth and a fabric wind deflector. Upgrading to AMG Line trim will earn you a whole heap of aesthetic enhancements inside and out, but virtually nothing in the way of extra luxury toys. The SLC 43 version gets extra mechanical bits to handle the extra power, along with neck-level heating, reversing sensors, heated seats and sat-nav. However, you could argue that those last three items should be standard-fit throughout the range, rather than being left on the options list.
Because you’re attracted by the image of the three-pointed star, and by the sleek good looks of the SLC. However, if you’re not absolutely sold on either of those things, we’d suggest you also give the Audi TT Roadster a look. It has all the SLC’s prestige and beauty, but adds a nicer interior and better driving experience on top.