Design - Love at first sight

Mar 15, 2004
  • Exterior: an expression of athletic power and sporting prowess
  • Interior: form and function, technology and aesthetics in perfect harmony
  • Colours: 50 different ways of making the SLK more personal
The new SLK-Class by Mercedes-Benz is an automobile that was primarily designed from the heart. The lines of this roadster bear the signature of talented and enthusiastic designers of both sexes who have defined its character by stylishly combining technology with aesthetics and function with emotion.
This is already shown by the first sketches with which they lent expression to their ideas. These present the SLK as a powerful sports car with large wheels, muscular shoulders and a dynamic wedge shape. The new two-seater was to be given more masculine lines than the preceding model, and show at first glance that it is more powerful – but also that it has grown up.
The front end plays an important part in the implementation of this concept. It symbolises sporty attributes such as power and performance by means of a long bonnet with a wide, slightly raised central axis, which tapers towards the striking front section and gives the Roadster a new but familiar face. In this way the SLK-Class echoes a stylistic feature of the successful Mercedes Silver Arrows from Formula 1, while demonstrating unmistakably that it possesses the genes of the legendary Mercedes racing sports cars.
This muscular appearance is reinforced by two horizontal wing sections in the radiator grille, as well as an extended front apron with a large lower air intake, vertical vanes and spoiler edges swept well to the sides. The designers have used styling features like this to emphasise the width of the body and underline the powerful presence of the Roadster.
Headlamps: striking to the last detail
The large headlamps likewise provide an unmistakable emphasis, both by day and by night: during daylight the highly polished surfaces reflect sunlight to make the lighting units sparkle like precious gems, and at night the state-of-the-art projection lamps characterise the lighting concept of the SLK-Class and show that the sophisticated design is backed up by equally sophisticated technology.
On looking closer one discovers a design refinement which shows the attention to detail by the Mercedes designers: the outer areas of the lenses continue the muscular contour jointly formed by the wing and bonnet, stylishly extending this to the front as a prominent curvature. The projection lenses of the headlamps follow precisely this shape, protruding forward and reminding one of high-quality camera lenses with their chrome surrounds.
In this way the headlamps both stand out and blend harmoniously into the lines of the front end: precision in both form and technology. This is particularly obvious in the version with bi-xenon headlamps. In this case the chrome surrounds of the projection lenses are partly transparent, which also provides interesting lighting effects when viewed from the side.
Side lines: muscular flanks
The new SLK-Class also shows its unmistakable character when viewed from the side: a long bonnet, wide doors and a short rear end – these are the typical features of a sports roadster, and they are even more prominent in this case. This is partly because the wheelbase is 30 mm longer and the body 72 mm wider than in the preceding model. These new dimensions emphasise the powerful proportions typical of a roadster. Owing to the extremely short front and rear overhangs, the gaze is focused on two very important features of a sports car, namely the wheels.
The 16-inch wheels underline the muscular, and active nature of the new SLK-Class when viewed from the side. Widely flared wings extend around the well-filled wheel arches like perfectly tones muscles, symbolising the athletic power of this roadster. The body language is clear: in these areas the metal skin is intentionally tailored to be rather tight and "body-conscious", with pronounced curves that arouse curiosity about the muscles concealed beneath it. This impression is even more striking in the six-cylinder SLK 350, as Mercedes-Benz uses 17-inch wheels as standard here.
The wheel arches form a dramatic contrast to the large, smooth flanks of the body-work. Here the design exudes a sense of calm, and it is here that the Mercedes designers have placed their masterly signature by allowing lines and surfaces to interplay – thereby achieving stylish effects.
One line is sufficient to lend tautness to the entire side of the car. This rises slightly to the rear from the front wheel arch and creates a visual link with the rear end, defining the wedge-shape of the body. At the same time this line breaks the light and provides an interesting contour arising from the dramatic interplay between convex and concave surfaces.
Rear end: dominated by dynamism
The swept-back A-pillars accentuate the dynamic silhouette of the Roadster. These continue the lines of the bonnet and transfer them to the rear end in a curve when the varioroof is closed, the C-pillars dipping down gently into the boot lid and characterising its slightly curved form. One might compare these flowing lines with a cord of muscle, too; it extends over both outer areas of the boot lid and gently transfers its strength down to the rear apron. This provides a visual separation from the spoiler lip, as it slightly raises the centre area of the boot lid, forms a horizontal line and contributes to the outstanding aerodynamics of the new SLK-Class.
Other styling features at the rear of the SLK-Class include two oval exhaust tailpipes in chrome, striking tail lights with LED technology and an integral, powerfully accentuated rear apron. These too emphasise the uncompromising athleticism of this unique automobile.
In other words, the new SLK-Class cuts an impressive figure from any angle and viewpoint.
Interior: man and machine combined
This also applies to the interior. The aim was to transfer the dynamic and emotive design language of the exterior to the interior, thereby reinforcing the active character of the car. The result is a success: the interior design uncompromisingly follows the roadster philosophy and ensures a harmonious link between man and machine.
One finds out what this means in practice when getting into the new Mercedes sports car. The design of the dashboard is sporty and technically oriented, with a clear priority on practicality but without appearing cool or featureless. The interesting colour contrast formed by the silver-coloured controls and the black surfaces on the steering wheel, centre console and transmission tunnel already conveys the distinctive design concept of the new SLK-Class. Here superior technology not only impresses by its reliable operation, but also by its sophisticated design.
It is particularly the cockpit that forms a focal point for a successful combination of form and function, technology and aesthetics: two large, clear dial instruments supply the driver with the most important information – vehicle speed, time, engine speed and fuel level. When designing the dials the stylists followed the example of high-quality chronometers – one glance at the white needles is sufficient to give the driver precise information. Despite being highly functional this concept is special in stylistic terms. This is ensured by the silver-painted tubes which surround each of the two dial instruments. Their elliptical faces are heavily slanted and inclined towards each other, providing the driver with an excellent view at all times. This is a fine example of ergonomics and aesthetics in perfect harmony.
Dashboard: a bridge to the interior
With its embossed centre surfaces and semi-oval upper ventilation grille, the dashboard continues the design theme of the bonnet and transfers it to the interior with a flourish. The centre console and tunnel cladding extend these flowing lines to the rear wall of the passenger compartment.
The SLK designers used the muscular surfaces of the dashboard to integrate two further striking features: the vertically arranged ventilation outlets that flank the centre console on both sides. In addition to fulfilling their task of supplying fresh air to the interior, these vents meet the intention of combining technology with emotion. At the same time they lend more formal expression to the centre console and accentuate the cockpit feeling typical of a sports car.
This important effect was also a primary consideration when integrating the dashboard and door linings. When the doors are closed the two components blend together in both form and colour. On entering the car one immediately feels comfortable and safe.
Colours: in line with the trend
A tasteful colour scheme and carefully selected materials perfect this all-round ambience. Depending on customer requirements the door linings in the SLK are in a two-tone design: when leather upholstery is specified, the centre panel, armrest and parts of the magnesium door handle share one of the interior colours.
And since colours are also to some extent a sign of the times, the specialists in Sindelfingen also produced a new range of colours for the SLK-Class. Whereas strong, very intense colours were the order of the day in 1996, when the Roadster was first launched, there is now an unmistakable trend towards more discreet colours. Indeed, these suit the new SLK and its sporty character very well. The evocative names of the metallic finishes already say something about the current colour tastes of car buyers: tanzanite blue, andradite green, cubanite silver, benitoite blue. Incidentally, the last of these exterior finishes is reserved exclusively for the new SLK-Class.
The SLK-Class offers the most varied colour range in conjunction with leather upholstery. In this case SLK customers have a choice of six interior colours: black, universe blue, orient beige, dusky red and alpaca grey. In conjunction with the twelve exterior colours this provides a host of different ways of achieving an individual colour scheme for the sports car. Mercedes designers recommend 50 combinations that go particularly well together. In addition, the Mercedes-Benz designo range of appointments includes twelve special metallic paint finishes, ten leather trim shades, single-tone leather/Alcantara trim and Alcantara roof lining. The designo appointments come in exquisite Japanese ash or natural poplar.