Mercedes-Benz has introduced its new R172 SLK, with three model variants of the third-generation roadster available at launch, all with a BlueEFFICIENCY suffix. Two are 1.8 litre four-cylinder versions, the SLK 200 BlueEFFICIENCY and SLK 250 BlueEFFICIENCY, offering 184 hp and 204 hp respectively – performance figures include a 0-100 kph sprint time of 7.0 sec for the SLK 200 and 6.6 secs for the SLK 250. The seven-speed 7-Gtronic Plus gearbox is standard fitment on the SLK 250, and an option on the SLK 200.

The immediate range is completed by the SLK 350 BlueEFFICIENCY – the V6 block, which features third-generation direct injection, piezo injectors and multi-spark ignition, pumps out 306 hp and manages a 0-100 kph sprint time of 5.6 secs. Mercedes says that despite the level of performance, the trio is up to 25% more economical than their predecessors.

Shape-wise, the front represents quite a bit of change from the previous generation R171 – the upright radiator grille, with its contoured fin, is certainly eye-catching, and together with the clearly defined headlamps (now equipped with LED technology) bring about a look that not only follows on the link with the SLS AMG and new CLS but is also a homage to the hallowed 190 SL of the past.

Other cues also offer a nod to the past – the ventilation grilles in the front wings, with a chromed fin, are reminiscent of the famous Mercedes-Benz roadsters of the 1950s. Not that it’s all just to do with style – the bonnet and wings are now made of aluminium to bring weight down and, despite the larger, more striking frontal area, the R172 SLK is aerodynamically slicker than its precedessor, with a Cd of 0.30 to the R171’s 0.32.

For the interior, there’s plenty of plush, from brushed aluminium trim bits in the base version to the high-gloss dark brown walnut or high-gloss black ash wood as things move up the scale. Other bits of kit include a multifunction sports steering wheel with a flattened bottom section and a thick leather crown as well as optional sun-reflecting leather.

There’s also Airguide, a new draught-stop system consisting of pivoting transparent plastic layers attached to the reverse of the roll-over bars – the driver or passenger can swing them to the centre of the vehicle in a flash to tame turbulent air flow.

It’s on this SLK that Mercedes is offering, for the first time, a choice of three variants of the lightweight-construction vario-roof. The base version is a roof painted in the vehicle colour, and alternatively there’s the option of a panoramic vario-roof with dark-tinted windows.

The third variant is a world premiere item – a panoramic vario-roof with Magic Sky Control, with the glass roof switching to light or dark as you wish at the press of a button. In its light state the roof is virtually transparent, offering an open-air experience without the air, and in its dark state the roof provides, well, welcome shade.

Three is also the number of suspension versions SLK buyers can choose from – a conventional steel suspension comes as standard, with the second being a sports suspension with harder springs and dampers. The third is a Dynamic Handling package, with an electronically controlled fully automatic damping system that includes a Direct-Steer system and Torque Vectoring Brakes as part of the parcel.

Since it’s a brand new SLK, Merc has decided to celebrate its arrival with an “Edition 1” special model, which comes in a special paint finish in glacier grey, and standard spec equipment for this one includes a panoramic vario-roof, the Dynamic Handling package, AMG bodystyling, two-tone designo nappa leather with contrasting top-stitching and Airscarf.

Gallery after the jump.

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