I test drove an R129; comparison to R171 - Mercedes Benz SLK Forum

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#1 Old 04-26-2019
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I test drove an R129; comparison to R171

Yesterday I was enticed to have a look at a silver 2001 SL500 sport package with 63k miles.

My goals for the test drive was to determine if I wanted to get back into an automatic car and if it would be more comfortable than my SLK350.

I'm a fan of the SL. The R107, the R129, the R230, just gorgeous and I get it, it's a GT not a sportscar. I've never driven an SL, and I suspected that the R171 was a derivative of the SL with similar dynamics given M-Bs penchant for family traits.

First impressions, the car was in great shape, though there was some minimal curb rash on two of the wheels, and what appeared to be some discoloration of the bolsters on the driver's seat. Otherwise, everything else was perfection. The sport package includes heated seats, some lower body treatment, firmer suspension, staggered wheels, etc.

As soon as I sat in the car and tried to adjust the seat the action of it felt very familiar to the R171 as the seat back went vertical the further back it went; I'm 6'3". The seat height itself is higher off the floor than is the R171. The seats are more deeply padded than the R171 (which occasionally feels on the thin side).

Getting situated, the steering wheel is comparatively huge; very M-B old school. The cabin materials are top notch, substantial; the wood alone looks to be as thick as a house beam. My R171 interior is black, this is a light gray so it feels almost airy. Not having the trunk wall just behind the seats also lends a roomy feel, however as I mentioned before the reality of it is you can only move the seat back so far. Off we go...

With the soft top up, I pull out on the road. The throttle tip in results in, well not much, you need to give it some angle to wake it up. The brakes are also softer than my car. The steering is not as immediate as the R171 (which itself I would put behind a Boxster as far as being direct) and feels very soft when you realize it's also a very large diameter wheel. We're talking some serious steering angle to change direction.

I take it out on a back road with many switchbacks and elevation changes. It takes a little getting used to, but it feels ok. It's certainly a more substantial feeling automotive experience. Becoming more comfortable, I can dig into the corners a bit more and it's nice. It's a solid beast and it will turn in, you just have to become familiar with the steering wheel angle that produces some real change in attitude.The suspension is German firm, but in no way is it rigid nor sharp over pavement imperfections.

Up onto the highway, it will certainly get moving. Cruising at 80 mph, I forget the actual RPMs in top gear (5 speed auto) but it didn't strike me as overly relaxed nor overly excited. In comparison the 2005 6-speed R171 works out to 3k RPM at 80 mph. I notice how quiet it is at 80 with a soft top up; my R171 is louder with the hard top.

On the reverse loop I pull over and lower the top. CRACK! BANG! SNAP! Damn this thing is loud as hell!! Releasing the rear of the top caused it to snap a bit, releasing the leading edge of the convertible top, at the windshield, almost had me convinced that I had broken the damn thing. It's also much slower to lower the top than our SLKs. I don't know if the top just hadn't been exercised recently or if the mechanics of it just create lots of noise, but it wasn't elegant.

Off I go with the top down. I'm struck by the lack of air pouring onto the top of my head. The sun visors act as a bit of a spoiler and the windshield doesn't appear to be as raked as the SLK; results in less air on my head. I confess to being a bit tall for the R171; when I'm on the highway on my car the top of my head takes a bit of a wind beating.

The exhaust note is more muted than our factory exhaust. I mean, I can hear the exhaust, but it's not as nice sounding as what is coming out of my 350 under load. There's maybe a bit more shake in the R129 than our R171 (which to me is very solid), but overall a very solid feeling convertible that just requires a bit of adjustment when coming out of a R171.

I decided after all of that, it's just not for me. There's not more room in it for me, and in fact it feels as if there is less legroom. Once I was finally adjusted in the seat I felt too upright with not enough leg room and that sealed it for me.

Jumping back into my SLK, it felt lighter and more direct, though with the top up there's more noise (creaks, snaps, wind). I appreciated the steering wheel diameter and the handling right away. The seat fit me better with better thigh support and back angle (I like the seat with high thigh angle and reclined more than most). The SLK provides a ton more confidence in corners, or maybe I'm more familiar with it, but it is a more dynamic vehicle in my opinion.


Tomorrow I'll be checking out an R230.
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#2 Old 04-27-2019
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Great review, but the R129 isn’t a patch on the R230, especially in looks. The R129 is starting to appreciate in value in the U.K. (purely on age grounds) while the R230 is still at the bottom of second hand values.
I’d suggest you try a post 2007 350 or 500 R230, you’ll really notice the difference, not least because it has a proper vario roof. Also much more modern tech.
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#3 Old 04-27-2019
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Agreed. The 129 appeals due to the simpler make up of it all; less to worry about, 129 main weakness being the complex roof hydraulics. With the 230 you need to focus on the ABC, the SPC, the dual batteries, the potential leaking boot issues; all expensive to repair, but oh so beautiful.

All that said, at the end of the day, the 171 is still tough to beat.
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