Officially, this pert little roadster is a Mercedes concept car which may never see the light of day; unofficially, it forms the basis of the SLK sports car which will go into production in September 1996.

With a few detail changes - including the replacement of the design study's courageous new grille and lights with more conventional Mercedes items, and the use of twin steel roll-over protection loops (which are designed to pop up in the event of an accident) instead of the fixed humps behind the seats - the concept vehicle, first unveiled at the Turin Motor Show in April, is almost certain to join the German firm's UK line-up in 1997.

Affordability will be the key to the SLK's appeal. The standard model, which will be powered by the company's familiar I50bhp 2.2-litre 16-valve engine, will cost around pounds 24,000 at today's prices.

This compares with pounds 37,270 for the cheapest Mercedes drop-top, the four-seat E220. There will also be a 204bhp supercharged model for pounds 4,000 more.

Wieldiness will also be an SLK strong point: the roadster will be a mere 1in longer than Mazda's cheeky MX-5, and weigh less than 1400kg.

Performance sounds promising, with the normally aspirated model boasting a claimed top speed of 131mph and a sub-8sec 0-60mph time.

The flagship model, whose supercharger promises to eliminate the lag in acceleration suffered by most conventional turbocharged engines, should achieve 150mph and 0-60mph in 6.5sec.

VW offers Trackers for high performers

Volkswagen is the first manufacturer to fit high- performance models with the AA's Tracker homing device at no extra charge. The pounds 385 hidden device emits a paging signal to enable police to locate the car if stolen. It will be fitted as standard on all Golf GTis and Cabriolets, Corrado Coupe and VR6 versions of the Golf, Vento and Passat.

Solar flair

Ford has launched a cut-price special edition Escort convertible. The pounds 13,950 Solar uses the Si model's 90bhp 1.6-litre 16-valve engine, and offers an electric hood as a pounds 715 option.

Audi warranty move

Audi now offers a three-year, 60,000-mile new car warranty, bringing it into line with rival European prestige car makers such as BMW, Jaguar, Saab and Volvo, and almost all Japanese makes. The move increases pressure on manufacturers which offer only one-year guarantees in the UK to follow suit.

Citroen revamps XM

Citroen has revised its executive XM range, and unveiled two new engines. The XM's old 2-litre model gains a more refined, 135bhp

16-valve unit, and there is also a smoother 2.5-litre turbo-diesel. All XMs now have driver's airbag, alarm and immobiliser fitted as standard. Prices start at pounds 15,995.

'New car laws' call

The AA and trading standards officers are calling for bold new laws to protect car buyers. Recommendations include random forecourt checks for unroadworthy cars and a revision of the Sale of Goods Act so cars must be of 'satisfactory', rather than of 'merchantable' quality.

(Photograph omitted)

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