Vehicle Comparisons

Mercedes-Benz SLC

Mercedes-Benz SLC

After two decades of selling its SLK model in the compact roadster segment, Mercedes re-launched the car in 2016 as the 'SLC', the name change acknowledging this model's traditionally close relationship with the brand's C-Class saloon, a car with which it shares most of its technology. Fresh additions to the model line-up have revitalised the range: the sporty top-of-the-line Mercedes-AMG SLC 43 variant for example - and the entry-level SLC 180 derivative. In visual terms, stand-out SLC features include the standard-fit diamond radiator grille and the optional LED Intelligent Light System.

The mainstream engines start with the SLC 180 which features a 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine developing 156bhp. Next up are the 2.0-litre petrol variants, the SLC 200 which offers 184bhp and the SLC 300 which delivers 245bhp. The efficiency champion remains the 204bhp diesel model, the SLC 250d. For high performance, there's a fresh range flagship, the Mercedes-AMG SLC 43. This car mates a 367bhp, 3.0-litre V6 biturbo engine with a modified version of the AMG sports suspension familiar from the old Mercedes-AMG SLK 55, and the combination is reflected in the sporty performance figures, with the SLC 43 accelerating from rest to 62mph in 4.7 seconds.

The SLC 180 and SLC 200 models are fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The brand's latest sport/comfort-oriented 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission is available for these models as an option and fitted as standard in the SLC 250d, the SLC 300 and the AMG SLC 43. Mercedes thinks that a big SLC selling point will be its 'DYNAMIC SELECT' vehicle dynamics system, one of those that enables you to alter your car's engine, transmission, steering and suspension characteristics at the touch of a button. The five modes - 'Comfort', 'Sport', 'Sport+', 'Eco' and 'Individual' are easy to select using the DYNAMIC SELECT button in the upper control panel on the dashboard console.

The selected mode is shown on the colour multifunction display and also appears as a pop-up message on the head unit display. DYNAMIC SELECT is a standard feature in the SLC 300 and SLC 250d. In the SLC 200 with 9G-TRONIC, transmission mode selection is available as an option. The SLC 43 features an AMG Sport exhaust system as standard and uses the two adjustable exhaust flaps to adapt the sound to the mode selected via DYNAMIC SELECT. This is optional on some other models and keen drivers will also want to look at the extra-cost 'Dynamic Handling package' which features a 10mm lower chassis, an adaptive damping system, a direct steering system and the brand's clever 'ESP Dynamic Cornering Assist' package.

As part of the facelift that's transformed the SLK into this SLC model, the Mercedes-Benz designers have tried to further hone this roadster's sporty look. There's a re-styled front section that sees the steeply raked diamond radiator grille elongate the appearance of the arrow-shaped bonnet. In addition, there's a bumper which features striking air intakes, dynamically modelled contours and high-quality chrome trim at the lower edge, along with distinctive headlights incorporating LED daytime running lamps, plus there's the option of an LED Intelligent Light System.

The side view of the SLC reveals the typical features of a roadster, with a long bonnet, a passenger compartment that is set back and a short rear. The silhouette is defined by a variety of things; the gently rising beltline, the sweeping curve of the roof, the powerfully moulded wheel arches, sporty 16 to 18-inch light-alloy wheels and the ventilation grilles in the front wing.

Inside, Mercedes has tried to give the cabin a higher quality feel, with extra flashes of aluminium and carbon fibre, plus electroplated control elements for the electrically adjustable seats and gearshift paddles. The instrument cluster looks smarter too, with the tubular instrument surrounds now featuring black dials and red needles. A large, multifunction, colour TFT display with a 4.5-inch screen sits between the two dials, with a black-dialled analogue clock available as an option. The main central infotainment display between the two ventilation outlets in the centre console goes up in size from 5.8 to 7 inches. There's also a smarter flat-bottomed steering wheel trimmed with DINAMICA microfibre. As with the old SLK, you get an electrically-operated panoramic folding hard-top vario-roof that you can operate at speeds of up to 25mph. This can come with a 'MAGIC SKY CONTROL' option allowing you to lighten or darken the glass top at the touch of a button. Plus, we'd also want to pay extra for the 'AIRSCARF' neck-level heating system. The 335-litre boot continues to be the biggest in the segment.

Mercedes-Benz is a company that is often underestimated. It understands its audience and knows how to develop cars that tap into their needs and aspirations with laser-guided accuracy. The latest SLC is no different. The road tests virtually write themselves but magazine writers don't have the same forensic grasp of what sells. Expect this car to continue the SLK's record of solid achievement.

If anything, it's a car that's become more finely attuned to market conditions than ever before. The efficiency of the engines and the increasingly impressive technology integration mean that the SLC slides effortlessly into a position that makes many of its rivals seem from a prior generation. If you believed that the two-seat roadster was becoming a selfish and irresponsible indulgence, Mercedes clearly thinks it can persuade you otherwise.

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Audi TT Roadster

Audi TT Roadster

The third-generation Audi TT Roadster plays it safe on the styling front but packs in some interesting equipment, is built from all the right stuff, undercuts its German rivals on price and gets some great efficiency numbers. Buyers get the options of diesel or petrol, front or quattro all-wheel drive, with potent TT S and TT RS models at the top of the range.

The engines and transmissions on offer mirror those of the coupe model, which means you can expect an entry-level 184PS two-litre diesel which comes with either front wheel drive or quattro 4WD and in front-driven guise, will get to 62mph in 7.3 seconds. Look beyond the black pump things get a bit more serious. There's a 180PS 1.8-litre petrol unit at the foot of the range but beyond that, the 2.0 TFSI petrol unit gets the same 230PS as the Golf GTI and here again, you get a choice of front or quattro all-wheel drive. Both will hit a top speed of 155mph, with the manual front-wheel drive car getting to 62mph in 6.0 seconds and the S tronic twin-clutch quattro model taking a mere 5.3s.

The top of the four-cylinder range is marked by the 310PS Audi TTS Roadster. It covers the standard sprint in 4.7 seconds and its top speed is electronically governed at 155mph. Here, the 2.0 TFSI engine produces 380 Nm of torque between 1,800 and 5,500 rpm. A manual transmission is standard, with an S tronic transmission incorporating launch control, which regulates maximum acceleration from a standstill, available as an option. The flagship model is the 400PS 2.5-litre five-cylinder TT RS model, which only comes with S tronic auto transmission and can get to 62mph in 4.9s.

The TT Roadster features an electrically actuated fabric top. This roof features excellent acoustic and thermal insulation, with particular attention paid to the frequencies generated by the passing airflow. A thick fleece layer on the black inner headlining helps reduce the noise level in the interior by up to 6 dB compared with the previous TT Roadster.

Compared to the coupe, the body of the Roadster has been modified to compensate for the lack of a roof. The windscreen pillars each conceal a second steel member in their interior, which in turn houses a solid steel tube. Internal steel ribbing ensures the aluminium sills have high-strength properties. Additional bracing reinforces the zones underneath the engine compartment and the luggage compartment and connect the axle carriers. In other words, this isn't the typical soft-top blancmange to drive.

The challenge for the designers of the TT Roadster is easy to appreciate. The signature styling element of the TT coupe has always been its roof; that bold arcing line with the turret-like glasshouse. Saw the roof off and replace it with a fabric structure and you lose that hallmark aesthetic. Our suspicions that the drop top TT would continue to look a bit challenged with the roof up weren't deflected by the fact that Audi initially launched a batch of 25 photos of the car with not one featuring the hood in place.

In fact, not a whole lot's changed in the roofline department. There's still a flat boot and then a rather abrupt tent of a roof. It's a lot less elegant than the job Porsche, for instance, has done on its latest 911 Cabriolet in mirroring the silhouette of the hard-top car. Perhaps that was never Audi's aim.

That said, the third-gen TT is undoubtedly a handsome piece of pen work. The big front grille gives the car a meaner look and there are some lovely details. The fuel flap on the right-side panel is the classic circle surrounded by socket screws. This shape is again reminiscent of the first-generation TT, although here there is no filler cap beneath the flap. This means that there is nothing to be unscrewed and the pump nozzle slots straight into the tank neck.

The interior is a real piece of work. Pure, clean lines dominate and seen from above, the instrument panel resembles the wing of an aircraft; the round air vents - a classic TT feature - are reminiscent of jet engines with their turbine-like design. The vents also contain all the controls for the air-conditioning system, including seat heating where applicable, temperature, direction, air distribution and air flow strength; as an option they can also house small digital displays which show the chosen setting. The boot measures a modest 280-litres but the good thing is that folding the roof doesn't encroach on this capacity.

The TT Roadster is an extremely smart car and deserves to do very well. We can't help but think that Audi could have been a little more expressive with the car's styling, given that this was once one of the most extreme-looking cars sensible money could buy, but hey, we all grow old and ditch the fashion duds for sensible slacks at some point. What's encouraging about this car is that it includes so much into a package that doesn't compromise on the ideals of its predecessors. It's light but feels built from granite, it's quick but returns the fuel figures of a supermini and, should you need it, there's always the reassurance of Audi's quattro transmission to offer a welcome safety net.

Of course, there will be some who claim the TT Roadster was a compromise to begin with. Whereas the BMW Z4 and Mercedes SLC were clean-sheet sports car designs, the TT began life as a strange amalgam of platform-shared parts and that hasn't really changed. Perhaps that's the genius in this car; that Audi's mix and match collection worked out better than the blue-sky thinking of its rivals. Who knows? What's not up for debate is that this one's going to do very well for the Ingolstadt crew.

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Mazda MX-5

Mazda MX-5

Lighter, sharper and better engineered than the car it replaces, this fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 does everything right. It's offered with a 1.5 or 2.0-litre petrol engine and what it lacks in outright power it more than makes up in agility and tactility.

This rejection of a 'more is better' philosophy is a bit of a running theme throughout this 'ND' MX-5. The car's offered with either a 1.5-litre 131PS engine or a 2.0-litre 160PS unit. Mazda's chassis engineers will steer you to the 1.5-litre powerplant as they feel it's the purest specification for the MX-5 and also the lightest, tipping the scales at around the tonne. That makes this the lightest MX-5 since the original first generation 'NA' car of the Nineties.

This fourth-generation design conforms to five key criteria that Mazda claim define the MX-5 - rear drive with a front-mid engine layout, 50/50 weight distribution and an eagerness to change direction, plus a low kerb weight and an affordable price. All models get six-speed manual gearboxes.

The MX-5 isn't about straight-line pace, it's about agility and tactility. Because the engines are smaller than their predecessors, this allows them to be tucked down and back in the car. That means they can be set 13mm lower and 15mm further back than on the previous car. Mazda reckons the bonnet and overhang used here are the lowest and shortest of any production model.

Weight has been pared back by using aluminium for the bonnet, boot and front wings, while the soft top hood is also lighter, improving the centre of gravity. Much of the front suspension is aluminium, as is the gearbox casing, the differential casing and the bracing that runs down the car's backbone. The virtuous circle of weight saving means that the smaller wheels only need four bolts as opposed to five. Lower rotational masses mean that the brake assemblies can also be made smaller, simpler and lighter.

The shape of the MX-5 hasn't changed radically from generation to generation. This one's no exception, but there's a bit more aggression about the detailing, the car looking like a shrunken Jaguar F-Type roadster from the rear three-quarter. Some have thought there's something a bit fishy-looking about the front end but it'll probably grow on you. See one in the metal and you'll be amazed at just how tiny it is. It's fully 105mm shorter in overall length than the outgoing version, despite the wheelbase only being 15mm less. It also stands 20mm lower and 10mm wider. Lower and wider is always good for a roadster's stance.

In another clever touch, the seat cushions are supported on netting instead of the usual metal springs, allowing Mazda to reduce weight and seat the driver's hip point closer to the road. A lower driver then means the windscreen header rail can shift backwards, in this case by 70mm, which in turn means the hood is shorter and lighter, and also easier to package when folded. See what we mean about that virtuous circle?

Weight is the enemy. Excess weight in a car dulls its responses, makes it harder to turn, stop and accelerate, ensures that it drinks more fuel and puts greater stresses on virtually every moving part, parts which then have to be beefed up and made heavier to cope. The Mazda MX-5 reverses that cycle, stripping weight off which in turn allows it to pare more weight back with other simple lightweight componentry. It's a brilliant piece of engineering.

It also goes to show that you can probably have more fun with 1.5 litres worth of MX-5 than you can with some supercars. No, that's not hyperbole. Try it and you'll see. If you measure your cars in terms of smiles per mile, the MX-5 has to be right near the top of your shortlist.

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