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Happy 20th birthday, Mercedes-Benz SLK!

A Mercedes-Benz model is celebrating an anniversary this month that will make just about everyone feel old; the SLK-Class is turning 20 and it's not even called the SLK anymore. That's how much time has passed.

Codenamed R170, the roadster made its debut at the 1996 Turin motor show offering two-seater thrills at a significant discount from the SL-Class, which was already looking dated by the middle of its product cycle.

But the SLK was very different from the two existing Mercedes-Benz convertibles of the time, which included the W202-based CLK-Class in addition to the range-topping SL. Envisioned as the spiritual successor to the 190SL of the 1950s, the SLK-Class featured an innovative folding Vario-Roof and four- and six-cylinder engines, with the SLK 200 kicking off the lineup.

The model you're likely to remember better is the supercharged SLK 230K that was one of the more popular stateside flavors, though it wasn't long before the U.S. lineup was joined by the SLK 320 and the SLK 32 AMG. The latter made a splash when it debuted in 2001 with a 354-hp, 3.2-liter V6 on board.

The SLK-Class had to battle the Porsche Boxster and the BMW Z3 right from the start, all three of which debuted months apart. The three German roadsters arrived at a time of relative economic prosperity, so there were plenty of buyers to go around, depending on which marque you preferred.

The SLK-Class turned out to be a success for Stuttgart, and Mercedes sold 311,222 examples of the roadster between 1995 and 2004, when it was renewed for a second generation.

For its third generation, which debuted in December 2015, Stuttgart has renamed the model SLC-Class to fit with its new naming scheme, but the roadster is still Sportlich, Leicht and Kurz; sporty, light and short.

Published: Tuesday, April 19, 2016

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