► Mercedes SLC 300 packs 241bhp, costs £39k
► AMG version is faster but costs £7000 more
► Can this Merc close the gap to the new Boxster?
The Mercedes-Benz SLC range (which replaces the old SLK line-up) is bookended by two models that, between them, cover pretty much everything you’d want from a posh-looking roadster.
At one end you’ll find a diesel version, for comfort and fuel economy (chosen by 70% of previous SLK customers), and at the other one with AMG written on the boot lid – for speed and exhaust volume.
In the middle ground, however, you’ll find a pair of turbocharged four-cylinder petrols – badged SLC 200 and 300.
New name, new look
The whole range has been revamped for 2016. There’s a new name (a nod to the C-Class), plus some tidying up of the exterior design – and de rigueur LED light signatures front and back.
You’ll find big changes inside too. A 7in instrument screen sits behind a racier-looking wheel, and the folding metal roof now works up to 30mph – provided you activate it while stationary.
While the less powerful SLC 200 and diesel 250d come in Sport and AMG Line trims, the SLC 300 we’ve got on test is top-spec only. That means 18-inch alloys and an AMG body kit, sports brakes and lowered suspension, plus a flat-bottomed steering wheel with contrasting red stitching.
There’s also a new sports exhaust system for cars with the nine-speed automatic gearbox – standard on everything but the SLC 200 – so our more powerful SLC 300 features both.
Of course, the main attraction is the extra power under the bonnet. This car’s 241bhp means it boasts 60 more horses from its four-cylinder, 2.0-litre petrol engine than the similarly endowed SLC 200.
That figure may not strike you as particularly high considering the previous flagship standard SLK featured a 301bhp V6. However, thanks to its punchy turbocharger, the SLC 300 packs an identical torque figure when compared to the SLK 350, plus considerably better claimed fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
In terms of pace it’s about as fast from 0-62mph as the old car and it would match a previous-generation six-cylinder Boxster in the straight-line acceleration stakes. Unfortunately the new turbocharged 718 is about a second quicker, and will monster away from you at the lights. Still, 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds feels suitably sporty.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the chassis, and as a driver’s car the Mercedes offering hasn’t caught up with the Boxster yet. It’s simply not as sharp, and its general lack of communication doesn’t inspire much confidence in the driver. Whether or not that makes a similarly equipped Porsche worth an extra £4500 will be down to personal choice.
Where the four-cylinder Porsche can take a lesson, however, is at the exhaust pipes. The SLC 300 does a great job of disguising its diminished size and piston count. There’s a crackly overrun and decent burble at low speeds, plus a raspy exhaust note at higher crank speeds that will put a smile on your face.
So back to the original point, then: why bother with a middle-of-the-road version that is neither as efficient as the diesel nor as fun as the AMG? For a start there’s the £6970 gulf between the SLC 300 and the SLC 43. Given that the AMG version no longer features a characterful V8, and isn’t the last word in driving dynamics anyway, this version consequently feels like a better bet.
A diesel convertible would never be our top choice either, which leaves us back in the middle ground. Admittedly the Boxster still looms large over the petrol four-pot drop-top Mercedes – but the SLC commands some merit thanks to its folding hard-top, arguably more exciting noise and its lower price. This time around, the SLC can legitimately claim to have recovered some ground.