Mercedes-Benz SLC 43 Nice-12

In an age where intervals for all-new models have started to become much shorter, five years is a bit of a wait for a mid-life refresh, but that’s how long it has taken for the mid-life cycle of the third-generation Mercedes-Benz SLK to come about.

It’s no longer called that, of course, the appearance of the facelift bringing along a new name as well – the revised R172 is now known as the SLC, the car’s new moniker announced back in 2014 as part of a complete overhaul of the brand’s fresh nomenclature for its model line-up. The change to the “C” suffix to the Sport Light supposedly reflects the roadster’s close ties with the C-Class.

New name aside, there have also been a few changes to the models available in the range. At the top end of things, the normally aspirated 5.5 litre V8 is now history, the removal of the SLK 55 AMG from the lineup leading the list of changes from before.

The new range-topper is a downsized 3.0 litre V6 model, albeit turbocharged – does the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43, which wears a numerical badge last seen in the ’90s on the first-gen W202 C-Class, have what it takes to fill the 55’s boots? We try the car out in the south-east of France to find out if it has the necessary cojones.

Mercedes-Benz SLC 43 Nice-63

The styling changes brought about for the SLC – revealed last December ahead of its working premiere in Detroit – are quite subtle. In front, there’s a new bumper and standard-fit diamond radiator grille as well as revised headlamp design with integral LED daytime running lights, while the back also gets a reworked bumper design, integral tail-pipe trim and redesigned, slimmer tail lights with new graphics.

The base look can be dressed with AMG Line and Night Package styling add-ons – the former brings about an AMG bodystyling kit (sportier bumpers, side skirts) and 18-inch AMG five-spoke alloys as well as a sports suspension and larger braking system with perforated front brake discs. Red seat belts are also to be found. As for the latter, high-gloss black dresses up a number of elements.

Like the exterior, much of the cabin is carried over from the pre-facelift R172. While the general layout has been retained, as witnessed by the centre console panel, new trim material (aluminium or carbon-fibre finish) and a redesigned instrument cluster help dress up the presentation. A new three-spoke multi-function steering wheel also gets plonked on.

Elsewhere, the dashboard-integrated display screen is now larger, a seven-inch screen replacing the previous base 5.8-inch unit, and the COMAND Online infotainment system has been updated with new graphics, improved navigation and the inclusion of the latest Mercedes-Benz apps.

The model’s vario-roof mechanism has also been reworked – it can now be operated at speeds of up to 40 km/h, and gets a new automatic boot separator if the car is specced with the optional vario-roof convenience feature or a Keyless-Go system. The separator automatically moves down when the roof is opened – if not enough space is available, a warning message will appear on the instrument cluster.

The panoramic glass vario-roof continues with the Magic Sky Control option, which allows for the glass to be lightened or darkened to suit exterior lighting conditions. Also present, an Airscarf neck-level heating system and Airguide.

No shortage in terms of upholstery and trim selection, with a multitude of fabric, nappa and Exclusive nappa leather, Dinamica microfibre and designo leather options available for the former, while six choices are abound for trim. Two new interior colour options make their way on to the SLC – saddle brown and platinum white. As for the exterior, 12 colours are available, three of these designo paints.

Moving on, we get to the powertrain changes that have come about, aside from that of the SLC 43. The facelift debuts a new base model, the SLC 180, which is powered by a M274 DE 16 AL 1.6 litre turbocharged four offering 154 hp (156 PS) at 5,300 rpm and 250 Nm between 1,200 and 4,000 rpm.

Mercedes-Benz-SLC-roadster-powertrain

Previously, this entry-level spot was taken up by the SLK 200, which has been retained here as the SLC 200. On this one, the M274 DE 20 AL 2.0 litre turbo unit offers 181 hp (184 PS) at 5,500 rpm and 300 Nm at 1,200 to 4,000 rpm for output numbers.

The 2.0 litre M274 also powers the SLC 300, but with a higher state of output tune at 241 hp (245 PS) at 5,500 rpm and 370 Nm from 1,300 to 4,000 rpm. As before, there’s a solitary diesel version, the SLC 250 d replacing the SLK 250 CDI – things remain the same, with the familiar OM 651 2.1 litre four-cylinder diesel engine continuing on with 201 hp (204 PS) at 3,800 rpm and 500 Nm from 1,600 to 1,800 rpm.

The SLC 43’s 3.0 litre V6 – first seen on the C 450 AMG 4Matic last year – turns out 362 hp (367 PS) at 5,500 to 6,000 rpm and 520 Nm of torque, available from 2,000 to 4,200 rpm. Performance figures for the M276 DELA 30 mill include a 0-100 km/h time of 4.7 seconds (just a tenth of a second slower than the SLK 55’s 4.6 seconds) and an electronically-limited 250 km/h top speed.

All variants of the SLC will be offered with a nine-speed 9G-Tronic torque converter automatic transmission, this being an option for the SLC 180 and SLC 200, which come with a six-speed manual as standard.

Mercedes-Benz SLC 43 Nice-11

On the SLC 43, the 9G-Tronic sports transmission comes equipped with specifically-adapted software for shorter shift times, and it also features multiple downshifts and a double-declutching function in Sport and Sport + modes. In the latter, partial ignition interruptions provide even faster shifts, and if Manual mode is selected, shifts are accomplished twice as fast as in the other modes.

New to the SLC is a Dynamic Select system, with five different drive modes on offer (Comfort, Sport, Sport+, Eco and Individual). The roadster can also be specified with an optional Dynamic Handling Package, which lowers the ride by 10 mm, adds an adaptive suspension system and a special ESP Dynamic Cornering Assist feature.

The SLC 43, meanwhile, comes standard with a sports suspension, but a box for an optional AMG Ride Control suspension with adjustable damping can be ticked. Common to both are the specially-developed front and rear axles, which offers precise wheel location and high camber stability on compression and rebound.

The three-link front axle features stiffer steering knuckles, improved elastokinematics and increased negative camber. In combination with new wishbone guide bearings, the revised front end is said to result in more agile – and faster – cornering as well as more precise and direct suspension feedback from the road.

At the back, the four-link axle also gets reworked elastokinematics, increased negative camber and special forged-aluminium track rods, which improves driving dynamics and makes the SLC 43 more controllable at the limit.

In addition, AMG mountings for the engine and rear-axle gear unit offer an ideal compromise between handling and comfort, and if that’s not enough, a mechanical limited-slip differential on the rear axle can be added as part of an optional Handling package.

As standard, the SLC 43 comes with a sports exhaust system equipped with two automatically map-controlled flaps – in Eco and Comfort transmission modes, the flaps remain closed most of the time, but open earlier and more spontaneously in Sport and Sport+.

So, plenty of promise on paper, but does the SLC 43 ably plug the void left by the big 55, or is it, in the words of some of the editorial team here, a poseur wearing an AMG badge? Having sampled it in some of the best driving terrain in recent memory around the Cote d’Azur, the latter surely isn’t the case, but it’s not quite its predecessor either.

There’s none of the wild effervescence of the 55, which could be rather insane if you had a lead foot – things are decidedly more measured with the new one, so accusations of it being a watered down substitute are inevitable.

It is, however, not as bad as it sounds. While not as dramatic as the SLK range-topper, it’s far more accessible than the old car ever was, and its appeal – and more importantly, reach – will be far wider because of that.

Eliminating the hardcore crowd and “no-replacement-for-displacement” NA purist crowd, the SLC 43 is set to appeal to a broader buying segment, just the trick for anyone looking for a fast, compact luxury roadster, especially if a Porsche Boxster doesn’t happen to be your thing.

No lack of speed, for sure – the AMG-badged offering is rapid enough, with no shortage of in-gear pace, as the challenging uphill sections of the D2204 from L’Escarene to Col de Braus showed. The car made short work of the plethora of tight hairpin sections, the mill ensuring that the ground in between turns was covered in immense fashion on Sport+.

Into the corners, response to turn-in was crisp and tracking clean enough, if a bit too meticulous in its feel – arguably, something like the Mazda MX-5 would have probably flowed neater and followed through better here, but the transitions across the entire uphill run would also have been more jagged with the NA Japanese roadster. Speed isn’t everything, of course, but consistency with it does help, most times anyway.

The exhaust plays its part in ramping the visceral factor up and add feel to proceedings – loud, spectacular, always inviting to the ear, the acoustic note is even better than that on the A 45, because the lack of roof provides far more immediacy.

It’s deceptive. There’s nothing to suggest its sonic workings when you rev the mill without load, but get stuck into it on Sport+ on the move and you’re bound to end up rowing the cogs with relish just to hear the aural assault. A winner? Absolutely.

Much to like with the 9G-Tronic’s immediate response rate through its paddle shifters in this application – the speed in which changes up and down the ‘box were accomplished during the entire time served to highlight how slow the 7G-Tronic is, even with newer, more responsive maps in place. Meanwhile, the brakes hold up well to repeated abuse, though on extended downhill runs some fade is noticeable, as was the case towards Sospel after Col de Braus.

Mercedes-Benz SLC 43 Nice-45

A note about the different suspension set-ups – the Malaysian group ended up with two SLC 43s, one with the standard sports suspension (the Fire Opal example seen in the photos), the other (the designo cerussite grey magno unit) with AMG Ride Control fitted.

Ambling along, both offer a ride with good refinement. In the car’s sportiest drive mode setting, the adaptive system felt tauter and better integrated across more complex sections, though that firmness also made it more unforgiving of surface imperfections – rough tarmac unsettled the car and left the steering vague. The standard sports suspension is not without its merits, because its softer presentation offers a looser tail when pushed, if that sort of thing appeals.

In the end, it’s all about tidying up that which is already there. The R172 has always driven decently, but now there’s more polish to the presentation and further refinement to the ride and handling, items that should also be evident across the rest of the SLC range.

As for the SLC 43, it’s a thoroughly engaging proposition, despite its less brazen approach. Purists will undoubtedly lament the passing of the wild 55, but as is the case with just about every automaker these days, plying a broader spectrum of accessibility (and pandering to environmental needs) means concessions have to be made. Even the most direct competition has had to walk that route – just look at Porsche and those blown four-pots in the 718 Boxster.