The SLC is a halfway house. It’s not an all-new product; sharing its chassis, electronics and interior with the old SLK. This Mercedes-AMG version sits squarely in its own middle ground, too, between the common-or-garden SLCs and the traditional gap at the top of the range for a V8. At the moment we don’t know whether Mercedes will decide to make what would be an SLC 55, though, so for now the 43 is the hottest property you can buy in small AMG drop-tops.
The SLK was never the sweetest-handling of roadsters so we were managing our expectations anyway, but living with this car for a week threw up an animal of two very different halves. One side gives you big fun and the other all too much frustration. Here’s our run-down of life with the SLC 43.
The engine is a cracker
The one thing you always want in an expensive soft-top is an engine that means business, and the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 delivers in spades. Floor the throttle at low revs and there’s useful pull if you’re forcing the 9-speed automatic to stay in gear with the M for Manual button, but let it kick down in auto and you’re clobbered with a 384lb ft hammer blow of forward motion backed by an ear-splitting trumpet blare at the top end. In Sport+ mode there’s plenty of pop-bang action on the overrun, too. It sounds even better from outside the car than from the driver’s seat.
You run out of revs before the engine sounds like it’s going to, so it’s too east to whack the soft rev-limiter, but at least it treats you like an adult and won’t automatically up-shift in manual mode. Shifts feel a little artificially blunt at full chat, but the gearbox is a decent companion overall. The first four gears are quite short, the fifth marks a transition and the top four are clearly long, for better fuel economy. Motorway cruising at 70mph brings up just over 1,500rpm in ninth.
The everyday noise needs work
When you’re biffing around in the 43 it sounds a bit fake. The droning parp from the exhausts seems to resonate through the back of the seat and it leaves us cold. Keeping the revs more towards 3000rpm won’t help your fuel economy but at least the car sounds better that way. It’s just one of the everyday frustrations the SLC 43 asks you to deal with…
It’s Mercedes’ worst interior design
Perhaps we shouldn’t criticise it too harshly. The SLC has the old-style interior inherited from the SLK, and while it’s pretty solid, the silver textured plastic centre console trim looks cheap and the old telephone dial-pad feels like a relic. Nobody ever really used it after Bluetooth and colour touch-screens arrived. The navigation screen is another victim of time’s cruel embrace. Whoever thought of having the road-ahead layout end shortly ahead of the car in favour of filling the top quarter of the screen with fake sky should be put on the naughty step. Rest assured this won’t make it to the next SLC.
It’s also a bit of a problem when you look at the price. It’s a £47,600 car before options (and you’ll want some of those – this one is £58,475 as you see it) and you’d expect this level of interior quality on a car costing £10,000 less. The circular ‘star’ air vents are a stylish touch, but you have a right to expect something a bit more special if you’re looking at the thick end of £48,000, never mind £58,000. At least, according to our info, a Mercedes dealer will chuck £7400 or so into the bargain as a deposit.
There’s a huge difference between driving modes
On the menu there’s Eco, Comfort, Sport and Sport+, plus a driver-customisable Individual setting. Sometimes Comfort or the similar Eco are best, when the road is straight and you just want to iron out a few lumps and bumps. Those modes do that well. But the Comfort suspension tends to crash over harsher hits and there’s often a major – if brief – discord between what the suspension and chassis are trying to achieve. It’s not very, err, comfortable.
The only driving mode you should care about is Sport+. With it comes the fruitier exhaust noise, vastly better body control, especially on the vertical axis, and generally more cohesion overall. Switch to Sport+ and what is a pretty lacklustre effort comes alive with personality. The ride quality in Sport+, at speed, is actually better than Comfort is around broken urban streets. Just leave it in the most aggressive mode and move on.
Refinement is top-drawer
With everything turned to its sleepiest the SLC is very gentlemanly. It’s quiet, although you can always tell that the engine isn’t a boring four-pot, and it’s a smooth drive when left in automatic. Road noise smashes its way into your oasis of calm on coarser asphalt but the turbulence with the roof down is well controlled. Overall it’s an easy place to sit for long journeys, even on minor roads.
The roof mechanism motors make a racket
For a brand that prides itself on mechanical excellence, I’m not sure how the SLC’s roof motors made it past quality control. There are two; one for the neatly-folding roof and another for the boot lid. The former isn’t too noisy, but the latter is almost loud enough to make you think it’s broken. During the test we had the roof up and down a lot, and the motor noise got irritating. Fast.
Grip is outstanding; the steering isn’t
At the back you’ll find beefy 255-section tyres matched to 235-section rubber at the front. The car weighs about 1600kg with an 11-stone driver, so there’s quite a lot of Mercedes pushing quite a lot of tyre into the road. Grip is epic; you’d have to be doing something really silly to seriously break traction unless you were doing it deliberately. That translates to sharp, bitey turn-in that emphasises a nimble chassis, at least in Sport+ mode.
Unfortunately, the steering isn’t a match. The variable-ratio electric rack is pleasingly quick at speed, but always too light for the amount of grip you have; there’s a disconnect between what your hands and your backside are telling you. Nor does it have much in the way of feel, wobbling slightly when you hit a sharp bump, but never really inspiring the confidence to push hard through bends.
The SLC 43 has potential, but it also has to put up with plenty of compromises in its current guise. The next generation will solve some of its problems. For now we’re still happy to call it a really good roadster, but only if you leave it in Sport+, shift gear manually and leave the roof down.