Buyers Guide Mercedes-Benz SLK320 R170

Buyers Guide Mercedes-Benz SLK320 R170

Our second £5k pick is the R170 SLK320. There will always be some debate about whether the 230 is the one to go for, with its smaller, lighter engine, impressive torque, potentially better fuel economy and smaller running costs, but while a supercharged four-pot is fine, a lusty V6 is just so much more desirable, let’s be honest. The idea of a large engine in a small car is always one that will put a smile on the face of any motoring enthusiast.



The R170 has aged well – while the styling might be a little conservative by modern standards, there’s something appealing about this chunky little shape, with its SL300-inspired twin bonnet bulges, the headlights that make it look a little like a shrunken C140 CL from the front (if you squint) and give it some big-car presence, and it’s just an easy car to like. The folding metal roof, with its party piece two-way hinged boot, gave it an advantage over its soft-top-equipped contemporaries in terms of year round usability while the interior has that familiar nononsense appeal that all Mercedes from this period share. The 3.2-litre V6 is a peach, making a healthy 215hp and 229lb ft of torque, delivered smoothly and with a sexy six-cylinder soundtrack, which can be enjoyed all the more with the roof down. While the SLK320 won’t set your world alight in terms of performance, it still puts in a wholly respectable 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds but with the roof down and the wind in your hair that’ll feel even faster. The R170 comes in for criticism for its stiff ride but then again it is meant to be a sporty roadster so you’d be disappointed if it was a wallowy mess and, thankfully, it isn’t and this is a car that will definitely put a smile on your face from behind the wheel.


The good news is that your £5k budget will give you a selection of cars to choose from and you can pick up an SLK320 for around £1600, which is great value for money. Cars in this price bracket will be high-mileage examples – we’re talking circa 200k on the clock – but we spotted a 2000 example with 130,000 miles which looked like a great buy. Prices then jump to around £2500 but mileages drop significantly and all the cars we found from here on up had less than 100,000 miles on the clock, with a 2001 car with 70k up for a whisker under £3000. We also found one rather lovely blue example with just 47,000 miles for ever so slightly over our budget limit at £5495, but some shrewd negotiation could have dropped the price. We reckon pushing the boat out that little further to secure a car like that would be worth it.


Once again, rust is an issue on pre-2004 R170 SLKs so make sure you inspect the front and rear arches, the base of the front wings where the rust can spread out from behind the sills, the panel edges and even the roof. Check around the boot handle and boot keyhole and behind the front indicator lenses, while the front spring upper mountings can also rust and fracture, which leads to suspension collapse. Rusty brake pipes are also a common problem, and while most will have been replaced now it’s still an area to be aware of. The roof is reliable but needs care and regular maintenance – the linkages and joints should be coated in spray grease regularly and the roof also needs to be used regularly as otherwise the micro switches (there are nine in total) can seize, while the pump in the boot needs regular fluid changes. The pump can also fail and it costs £800 to replace – listen out for any noises and check that the roof raises and lowers smoothly. Blocked drain holes can cause water ingress, which can be identified by a damp boot carpet.

Engine-wise, the V6 is reliable but bear in mind that there are 12 spark plugs, which adds up come replacement time, and it uses four catalytic converters in two pipes, which cost £400-500 to replace. Front lower ball joints fail, which leads to clunks over bumps, but they’re cheap to replace at £40 each; rear springs, meanwhile, can snap the bottom coil, so listen out for thumps and bangs from the rear. On the inside, the plastics have a rubberised coating that flakes away and looks unsightly and the only thing you can do is either replace it or repaint it (there are guides online); seat wear is also a common problem.


While it might not be an ultimate performance Mercedes, at this price point the combo of a big engine in a small car does result in a very appealing machine. The V6 is the star of the show here, imbuing the diminutive R170 with strong performance and a sexy soundtrack and the rest of the package is not to be sniffed at either, making this a car that you will always enjoy driving. Buy with your head and not your heart and you’ll have yourself a great little sports car on a budget.

R170 has aged well R170 SLK320 3.2-litre V6 delivers impressive performance in the small SLK

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