The Mazda MX-5 is regarded as perhaps the only true roadster on the market, as a simple, lightweight package with a twin-cam four-cylinder naturally-aspirated engine up front and driven wheels at the back, and seating for just two. With 160 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 200Nm of torque, progress isn’t exactly fast even in the latest fourth-generation MX-5, but it’s brisk, and more importantly it’s fun.
A true roadster as defined by the English who invented the thing, shouldn’t be overpowered anyway. With the original generation NA MX-5 launched back in 1989, Mazda was famously inspired by British cars such as the Lotus Elan, which similarly had a 1.6-litre twin-cam engine and made something over 100 horsepower…
Today the MX-5 is the only little roadster you can buy, really, but it’s just gained a rival from the unlikeliest of sources — Stuttgart. Mercedes-Benz has decided to expand its SLC (the car previously known as the SLK since the nameplate made its debut with the fabulously stocky Bruno Sacco-designed 1995 original) roadster range with a new SLC 180 model that eschews its own name with a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-pot making 156bhp and 250Nm of torque.
Back when it was first released, the SLK tag stood for sport, light, and kurz for short, but recently Mercedes changed it to SLC to bring it in line with its latest naming convention. Three decades ago the SLK weighed 1.3 tonnes and measured under four metres long so the name applied, and perhaps it’s just as well that it’s been changed because the new models can weigh over 1.6 tonnes and come up way over four metres.
The new SLC 180 however can be your alternative ‘luxury MX-5’, with decent performance included despite the Mazda-like power — 0-100kph takes 7.9 seconds and the Merc will top out at 225kph. That’s half a second slower in the sprint than the Mazda, but the Merc has longer legs at higher speeds since the MX-5 can only manage 214kph.
Best of all you can debadge an SLC 180, so no one will be the wiser where onlookers are concerned, particularly if you fit the optional AMG Line with 18in wheels, Artico seats, sports suspension and sports brakes.
We think a 1.6-litre engine is a brave move from Mercedes in their roadster, and we’re all for it if it entices rivals like BMW to bring back a truly small Z3 (they can call it a Z2) or Porsche to resurrect the mid-engined 914 to fit in the range one rung under the 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre 718 cars.