HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Heat waves ripple off black asphalt in Pit Lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway spread across swampy Florida marshes, where the high-revving engine of a sleek SLK350 two-seat sports car from Mercedes-Benz of Germany purrs at idle as a driver straps into the contoured driver's bucket for some hot laps on Homestead's spaghetti-wiggly 2.1825-mile infield road course.
The new styling for this car looks hot too.
It hunkers low on big alloy wheels capped by speed-rated 225/40R18 (front) and 245/35R18 (rear) low-profile tires below a sleek package that suggests swift movement even when parked in the pits.
An aggressive prow on the SLK350 -- a design homage to the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG supercar -- focuses on a large grille studded with the tri-star Mercedes emblem and flanked by a horizontal bar and optional adaptive bi-xenon headlamps posted on the front corners.
Body lines are classic for a roadster with a long front hood that sweeps up the steep rake of a windscreen and over the two-seat cockpit to a brief boot in back.
But there's more: Mercedes takes the concept of a breezy ragtop roadster one step beyond the expected by adding a hardtop that folds origami-fashion and tucks away in the trunk. The transformation from a weather-tight hardtop coupe to airy convertible is a high-tech mechanical operation accomplished in only 20 seconds.
For the 2012 SLK350, Mercedes offers three versions of the folding hardtop roof: There's the conventional body-color roof panel, a panorama roof panel composed of tinted polycarbonate, or a new Magic Sky Control glass roof panel containing a film with chargeable particles which vary the tint from light to dark at the press of a button.
The 2012 SLK350 represents a new generational design built on a new platform. The car measures 1.5 inches wider, 1.5 inches longer and 0.5 inches lower than last year's model.
Independent suspension elements are tuned for tight control and sporty traits.
Components include MacPherson struts up front with two-piece lower control arms and coil springs, while at the rear there's a multi-link arrangement with anti-lift and anti-squat geometry plus single-tube gas-pressurized shocks.
Steering mechanism is a direct and responsive rack and pinion system.
The SLK350 also stocks an array of computerized electronic hardware for vehicle control and safety.
There are devices aboard to stabilize forward movement and tire traction, rollover sensors to gird for an impending accident, plus smart brakes with anti-lock (ABS) and brake assist (BAS) systems.
With the electronic stability program (ESP), sensors measure wheel speed and lateral acceleration and can brake an individual wheel to correct potential skidding or spinning of the car.