The third generation SLK pays homage to the stunning 1955 190SL and in turn the ultra-modern SLS supercar.

SLK is the entry-level convertible from Mercedes Benz and as such must appeal to hearts as well as pockets. We all know that Mercedes Benz does not make cheap cars, but the German firm does offer excellent value for money in its range.

The E Class, for example, is a relative bargain for the car you get. The new CLS and C Class offer a lot of car for their asking price too. Fans of Formula 1 racing will be familiar with the Mercedes SLS supercar, as it is used as race safety car. It also pays homage to classic Mercedes sports cars with its breathtaking appearance and, of course, 300SL-like gull wing doors. SLS also has a massive engine that makes a rumble that can reduce petrolheads to tears – it is that primal!

The SLK hopes to tap into some of the SLS’s attributes but at a fraction of the price. Starting at under €50,000, the very handsome SLK is a realistic option for drivers who want to look the part and enjoy life.

At its launch in 1996, the SLK was innovative. It was the first production sports convertible to get a folding metal hard top. These days, while there is a trend towards cloth roofs, MB has stuck with the more solid looking roof that takes just 20 seconds to open or close.

The clear glass roof can be turned opaque electronically with the flick of a switch. Air Scarf was an important innovation in the second generation SLK (2004) and it continues in the new car also. This feature of seat-mounted air vents is great for winter, top-down blasts – something all true convertible lovers cherish, especially around Christmas time. The new SLK also features 'air guide' that helps reduce turbulence in the cabin – very important for keeping the new hair-do in place.

Under the skin the SLK is built on a unique platform with suspension from the C Class and some electronic controls from the E Class. The standard car is not a focussed sports car. SLK by default is a very comfortable car that cruises with little fuss and absorbs bumps and road imperfections well. You will find yourself taking the twisty way home but not because you want to enjoy brisk cornering, instead you’ll be very content just soaking up the countryside and enjoying the overall build quality.

More sport-oriented options are available for the enthusiastic driver, should you want more of a BMW Z4 type of drive. The rear-wheel drive SLK may not overly encourage you to press on hard but don’t be fooled into thinking it doesn’t have poke; it does – even the entry level car can feel pretty quick.

The big news is that for 2012 delivery you will be able to get, for the first time, a diesel SLK! Yes, the tried and tested 250 Cdi engine (tax band 'B'/€156 road tax) goes into production in December this year in the new SLK. It will offer great low-end pulling power and superb economy at the same time.

Michael Sheridan