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  • 2012 MERCEDES BENZ SLK 350 + 2012 TOYOTA CAMRY SE

    Unlike the somewhat drastic change that BMW made with the Z4, the SLK has not grown much. It’s 2 inches longer than the old car, with a minutely stretched wheelbase and an extra inch side to side. There is little new under the hood as well.

    2012 MERCEDES BENZ SLK 350

     Sure, the 3.5-liter V6 has gained direct-injection, and while that makes for a more significant jump in power on other Mercs like the C350, horsepower is only up two ponies to 302 and torque rises just 8 lb-ft for a total of 273. The result is a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds, matching the outgoing model certainly nothing to be ashamed of. More than just an occasional use car. Then take the SLK’s cargo space. Even with the top down there is a useable 6.5 cubic feet of cargo space, enough to fit an overnight bag on your way to the airport for a quick business trip. Plus, with the top up, the trunk can hold 10 cu-ft.

    Mercedes continues to offer just one transmission with the SLK, a 7-speed automatic, which comes with three different drive modes: efficiency, sport and manual. Continuously improved, the transmission’s Sport mode swaps gears effectively and is preferable to hitting the paddles yourself.

     Long before hardtop convertibles became as mainstream as they currently are, Mercedes offered the SLK, a car that continues to deliver incredible every-day practicality for a luxury roadster. With added refinement and much improved fuel economy, the SLK350 has moved further from being a weekend toy to becoming a feasible only car. At the same time, rather than lose some of the fun factor as it has matured, it now delivers a heightened driving experience. With the latest model, Mercedes is further proving that a luxury sports can in fact be your only car.

    2012 TOYOTA CAMRY SE

    More manufacturers are trying to eat Toyota’s lunch with dramatic mid-sized options aimed at taking at least a small number of Camry buyers away. The organic Hyundai Sonata and Euro-styled Kia Optima are the two biggest challengers for now, with a broad range of four-cylinder power options, including hybrid electric or turbocharged.

     But to appeal to the paper-thin slice that puts a greater value on driving enjoyment, Toyota has regularly offered an SE package that generally packs a thimble-full of extra visual punch. So, surprise. Toyota’s efforts on the new Camry SE go far beyond the usual wing&sticker brigade. After all, this is the same company that went above and beyond with the SE version of the Sienna minivan, turning it into a genuinely enjoyable machine.

     The Camry SE follows the same recipe, the front strut suspension is stiffened and lowered slightly, while the rear gets a more thorough makeover, including a fractionally longer, solid stabilizer bar that replaces the more pliant tube design. Also, Toyota engineers removed some of the fluid-filled bushings with more-rigid ‘pillow-ball’ designs for greater control. The result is hardly razor sharp and kidney-killing in its firmness, but compared to the regular isolation chamber Camry, the SE is a pleasant change.

     Like the rest of the Camry line, the SE is available with either a 2.5 liter four-cylinder that produces 178 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque or an optional 3.5 liter V6 with 268 horses and a useful 248 lb-ft of torque. Both engines use the same six-speed automatic transmission that drives the front wheels alone. Mechanically, they’re identical other than the V6 getting wider 225/45/18 all-season tires on 18-inch wheels, four-bangers get 215/55/17s on 17-inch wheels of the same design and dual chrome exhaust tips instead of one.

    E.J

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