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What Lifestyle Car Can You Get For Less Than RM 200k?

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Urban jungle warrior

Picture this scenario. You already have a SUV or a sedan as a daily ride or for that occasional “balik kampong” (home-coming) trip during the holidays. You are successful, have about RM 200k to spare and looking for a lifestyle vehicle to accentuate that you have reached a certain social status. You want a 2-seater so you can bring your wife/husband/mistress* off for a dirty weekend. How does a 2-seater convertible (or cabriolet, depending on which continent you are from) sound? Let me tell you top 3 reasons why a convertible is the best choice in this matter.

  1. Convertibles respond to your mood. Roof up when you don’t want to show your sour face and roof down when you are cheery.
  2. Convertibles are great for relationships. With the roof down, it would be too noisy to engage in arguements anyway. Oh and remember that dirty weekend*?
  3. Convertibles are fun. Wind in your hair, sun on your face and the smell of nature. A beautiful day would be amplified by driving with the roof down.

Cheery!

Which brings me to the Mercedes Benz SLK 200 Kompressor. This third iteration of SLK was launched this year, sporting a new face. This means the 2nd generation SLK would be affordable and will fall just right under your budget of RM 200k. Codenamed R171, it was launched in 2004 and is Formula One inspired in design (at least, the front is). The SLK was named as one of Car and Driver’s “10 Best Cars” in 2005 and in 2007, it received a facelift, particularly in the engine department in comparison to its predecessor.

Roof up, it's dark in here

The Good
Despite the moniker 200, the engine size is only a 1.8 litre. Boosted by a supercharger, the engine outputs 161 hp, which isn’t a tarmac scorcher but sufficient enough for city and highway use. This means that road tax fees are easy on the pocket. The retractable hard top roof is a plus compared to the canvas roof as the latter is susceptible to thieves who has no qualms on slicing the canvas open. The canvas also needs TLC in hot weather like ours. Roof folding is quick. Transformation from roofed to roofless takes about 12 seconds.

Roof down, so much airy

Despite the retractable hard top, the boot is spacious enough to swallow a ladies’ travel bag. The view out from the driver seat and the cabin space is also pretty good for a roadster. There is even a spare tyre (despite its mini size) in the SLK. Ergonomics and build quality is typical in German engineering. Shod with 205/55/16 tyres, the ride is surprisingly comfortable, good enough for long distance cruising. The bucket seats hug you well for spirited driving. The handling could have been better with a bigger wheel (about an inch), without sacrificing the comfort though. On the inside, you get a good sound system with a 6 disc changer, in-car phone, cruise control, rake adjustable steering, auto headlights and rain sensing wipers. It wouldn’t be German if it wasn’t filled with features. The SLK is blessed with a barrage of safety devices such as ABS, EBD, traction control and dual front and side airbags.

Natural element

The Bad
Every Rose has its thorns and the SLK is no different. I find the rear thick B-pillar hinders view from the side, especially if you are reversing out from a car park. Being a roadster, the front bonnet is long, meaning you would need very good judgement in order to avoid hitting something in front.

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With the standard size tyres, push it too hard into a corner, you would find body roll and understeer. The electrically assisted steering responds well to input but it lacks feedback from the road. On the interior, the SLK could be better if not for silver painted plastic knobs and buttons. If you mask the Merc logo and put, say, a cheaper Japanese brand, it can possibly fool a few people who aren’t savvy about cars.
Verdict
A good 2nd hand unit, manufactured in the year 2006, costs circa RM 180k now, which was almost half of what it was when it was new. For the same amount of money, you can get a brand new VW Scirocco TSi or a Toyota Camry 2.4, but those aren’t convertible. Combined with good looks and mechanical reliability, the SLK 200 Kompressor would probably appeal most to those whose definition of life is to leisurely stroll to their destination, taking things slow, nice and easy.

No red bits or carbon fibre bits here

What to look out for when buying a convertible?
  • There are convertible owners who shun the sun, which means that its very likely the car was never driven roof down before. Do check if the roof can move in one swift motion without any hiccups in between. Walk away immediately if you encounter any problems as this  usually means hefty repair bills later.
  • Look out for the condition of the rubber and seals surrounding the roof. If the car is parked under the sun for long time, it is very likely that the UV-rays has already worked its magic on it and signs of deterioration can be seen. Badly worn rubber also means that during heavy rain, water may leak into the cabin.
  • The underside of the front bumper may be scratched due to long overhang but is a norm with any low slung car. Ensure that the car is accident free. Certain independent Mercedes Benz workshops provide car inspection services for a fee, which includes both computer checks and body and chassis checks.
Happy roof-down motoring!
Note: *TCG does not condone adultery.

About Jack Lee

Jack Lee is an unqualified petrol head (some say, to be one, you have to own an Alfa Romeo) who is disappointed with cars which are getting more and more electronics and the lack of interest in cars shown by today's youths in general. He owns an almost 20 year car from Germany, which has almost 50:50 weight distribution, 3 pedals (manual, FTW!) and believes that everyone should spin at the last corner of Sepang circuit at least once in their life. He also holds the distinction in TCG as the person with the lightest right foot, of course, when compared with his colleagues' mutated cast iron right foot.

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  • Allan Cheongyh

    Nice post! Would be great if TCG could also write a review on other convertibles ie. Z4, MRS etc.