Comment from someone who's owned both: Though my friend, dynhm6, thinks my current 2007 280 looks like a Star Wars defector, I love it. I owned a 2000 230 Limited Edition model before and I loved that, too. There's no question that the R170 is a classic shape and always will be. I anticipate that my R171 will seem to age more rapidly when MB returns to the less-dramatic new SLK styling, but it's ageless in my book.
Beyond looks, though, the comparison gets more substantial. The new one is bigger (inside where it counts) and far more comfortable. It's quicker even with the smallest engine available, and has many more creature comforts. It's my everyday driver and I appreciate the enhancements every day. Yes, I can still look at every 170 I pass and tell myself that I could have kept the 230, but...
Simple fact is that you can't go too far wrong with either one from a style, fun and pure enjoyment factor. Neither one will attract super models to you; both will break you with traffic tickets if you want to play the role the vehicle is made to play.
In the end, here's the difference that will make you settle on the 171: the visor swings out to block the sun over the header. The 170 never did. And the SmartTop module is pure genius for either one.
If I could figure out how to do it, I' leave you with a direct comparison of both models in the same driveway (sadly, not at the same time). But let us know where you end up.