Growing pressures over CO2 emissions in the EU are threatening to force powerful luxury cars into extinction, but Mercedes’ SLK update shows it has what it takes to survive. Adding more power and torque while decreasing emissions is a real engineering feat, and that’s just what Mercedes has done. Throw in segment-leading style and no-compromise luxury appointments and you have one of the best roadsters money can buy.

Three engine options are available for the 2008 model year: four, six, and eight-cylinders can be had depending on what balance of power and economy you seek. The four-cylinder in the SLK 200 Kompressor and the six-cylinder in the SLK 350 both increase the available power and torque over outgoing models, while the V8 in the SLK 55 AMG keeps its 360hp/510Nm (376ft-lb) rating.

Special focus is placed on improving the efficiency and power of the four- and six-cylinder engines. The four-cylinder gains 21hp for 184hp total and torque is up 10Nm (7.4ft-lb) to 250Nm (184ft-lb). Emissions are down 27g/km to just 182g/km, a decrease of 13 percent. Similarly, the six-cylinder powerplant is bumped to 305hp, an increase of 33hp and 360Nm (265ft-lb), an increase of 10Nm (7.4ft-lb), while decreasing emissions by 28g/km to 227g/km CO2.

The three updated SLKs (the 200, 280 and 350) all receive six-speed manuals as standard equipment, while the top-end 55 AMG is fitted with the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic as standard. A new ‘direct-steer’ system is also standard on the 55 AMG and optional on the other models, and promises easy driving around town and suitable sportiness at higher speeds with its variable assist. Although the 55 AMG is basically untouched mechanically, it does receive some new visual cues. The front end gets a new apron with black-painted cross member and side air outlets in addition to darkened headlamps.

The whole range gets new audio and telematics and an updated interior. The NTG 2.5 audio and telematics suite offers easier operation and more functions, including integrated hands-free system with Bluetooth, a glove-box mounted media interface that allows full iPod integration and Mercedes’ Linguatronic voice-operated control system is available as an optional extra.

A new three-spoke sports steering wheel is common to the line, featuring multifunction controls to access the car’s various without taking your hands from the wheel. Also new are the optional ‘gullwing red’ leather appointments reminiscent of the 300 SL Gullwing. Other new interior options include nappa leather in natural beige and pale burr walnut and black ash grain wood trims.

Pricing starts around €36,500 (US$52,500) for the entry-level SLK 200 Kompressor and goes all the way to the seriously fast SLK 55 AMG at €69,000 (US$99,300). US pricing is yet to be announced.

Disappointingly, Mercedes has decided not to upgrade the AMG model to the newer and more powerful 6.3L V8 engine as found on other models. Hopefully it will make an appearance on the all-new next generation SLK due in a few years.