The Mercedes-Benz CLK offers sporty performance, elegant design, and interior luxury. The CLK-Class represents a full line of two-door coupes and convertibles. With its stylish exterior and elegant interior, the CLK is a treat just to look at or sit in, and carries Mercedes cachet to the front door of any destination.
Out on the highway, the CLK is even more satisfying, with responsive performance. The ride is firm but comfortable on high-speed interstates; with confident, level cornering the CLK is even more satisfying on backroad curves.
Drivers seeking high performance can opt for the powerful V8 in the CLK500, and the enthusiast might even take on the CLK55 AMG, but most owners will be very happy with the 215-horsepower CLK320. The CLK320 has a five-speed automatic transmission with manual override. The mid-level CLK500 has been upgraded for 2005 with a new seven-speed automatic transmission.
Its relatively small size makes the CLK easy to park and maneuver. At the same time, with back seats roomy for two adults, this is no cramped sports car limited to two occupants.
Three models comprise the CLK-Class and each is available as a two-door coupe or cabriolet. Each offers progressively higher levels of performance, but are otherwise similarly equipped.
The CLK320 coupe ($45,250) and cabriolet ($52,700) are powered by a 3.2-liter V6, which develops 215 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 229 pound-feet of torque from 3000 to 4600 rpm. Power is transferred through a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with software that adapts shift points to suit the driver's style. The TouchShift system allows the driver to shift manually.
The CLK500 coupe ($53,750) and cabriolet ($61,200) get a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 302 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 339 pound-feet of torque from 2700 to 4250 rpm. The engine is coupled to a seven-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with driver-adaptive shift points and TouchShift, now with steering-wheel-mounted gearshift buttons.
The CLK55 AMG coupe ($69,900) and cabriolet ($80,850) are limited-production, ultra high-performance models with a 5.4-liter V8 rated at 362 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 376 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The CLK55 is fitted with an AMG-modified SpeedShift five-speed driver-adaptive automatic transmission that can be shifted manually using the gearshift lever or Formula 1-style controls on the steering wheel.
All CLK models boast a long list of standard equipment including: 10-way adjustable power seats with three memory settings; ABS with emergency brake assist; electronic stability control; and dual-zone climate control with pollen and dust filter. All boast extremely well-equipped and attractive interiors, with two-tone leather and aluminum trim available as an option on the CLK500 and an exclusive, monochromatic black interior on the CLK55 AMG. An appearance package featuring 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, low profile tires and various chrome, brushed-aluminum interior burl wood trim pieces is now standard on the CLK320.
A notable addition to the line's robust list of standard features is Mercedes' Tele Aid system, which calls an emergency response center and gives the car's location in the event any seatbelt tensioning retractor or airbag deploys. The cabriolet also boasts a new design of side-impact airbag mounted in the front seat that adds head protection to the usual chest protection expected from such systems.
Options include a navigation system combined with a computerized management system for stereo and air conditioning ($2,210); Distronic, an adaptive, radar-based cruise control ($3,010); SIRIUS Satellite Radio ($679); a Comfort Package available only on the CLK320 and CLK500 and consisting of ventilated seats and multi-contour front seats ($1,200); a keyless automatic-unlocking and engine-start system ($1,060); and Parktronic, a park-assist system ($1,080).
The Mercedes-Benz CLK is automotive elegance, restrained and sophisticated, reeking of high-end European class.
The three-pointed star stands proudly in the grille. That emblem has been a hallmark of Mercedes coupes, making them immediately identifiable on the Autobahn, and suggesting that drivers of lesser cars skedaddle into the right-hand lane.
The coupe dispenses entirely of the B-pillar, an attractive touch reminiscent of an earlier age of sporty coupes. The rear windows slide all the way down into the body, creating an exceptionally open environment.
With its fabric top up, the cabriolet is nearly indistinguishable in silhouette from the coupe, with only the barest hint of a break in the roofline where it meets the trunk lid. The fabric top is fully lined and insulated and tucks neatly into the boot, where it fills up about a third of the trunk's limited space, which already gives up almost 2 cubic feet to the coupe's. Rearward vision is impressive for a convertible, although not the equal of the coupe. In the event of an imminent collision or roll-over in the cabriolet, two roll bars deploy and lock in place within 0.3 seconds. Until needed, they are stylistically integrated into the rear-seat head-restraints.
A nice touch is the absence of any visible antenna for radio, cellular telephone or navigation system. This is made possible by replacing the conventional steel trunk lid with a composite design that allows the integration of the antennae into the lid's structure.
It's a tribute to the CLK's design that the car looks much smaller than it actually is. The CLK shares its platform with the C-Class, and despite its compact appearance it's actually longer than the C-Class sedan.
Details distinguish the three models: The CLK320 has neutral-tinted glass and gray vanes on its grille; the CLK500 gets blue-tinted glass, high-gloss black vanes with chrome trim on its grille, and an AMG rear spoiler; the CLK55 is distinguished by a styling package that includes a front valance with three separate sections and mesh grillwork, and unique rocker panels, rear valance and alloy wheels.
The CLK320 and CLK500 are equipped with 17 inch wheels, 7.5 inch wide in front and 8.5 inch wide rear, with 225/45ZR17 tires front and 245/40ZR17 rear. The wheels on the CLK320 are a light-alloy five-spoke design and on the CLK500 are AMG-styled monoblock design. The CLK55 AMG has 18 inch front wheels, 7.5 inch wide in front and 8.5 inch wide rear, in a high-polished double-spoke AMG design, with lower profile 225/40ZR18 tires front and 255/35ZR18 rear.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK is almost 2 inches longer than the previous generation, and all the benefits accrue to interior space. Mercedes claims to have increased interior space by 2 inches, but it feels like considerably more. The first-generation CLK coupe and cabriolet were classic in both exterior appearance and a relatively cramped cockpit. The new CLKs offer generous room even for tall drivers.
Even better, the back seat actually does have enough room for two adults to travel comfortably. You might not want to take a couple friends for a daylong jaunt, but no one is going to get out of the back seat looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. This latest-generation CLK is roomier than the first generation. Rear-seat knee room, for example, has grown 1.5 inches in the coupe and 1.7 inches in the cabriolet.
Mercedes made access to the rear seat easier with handy quick-release front seats that slide forward and up. Seatbelt "presenters" automatically extend forward from behind the door opening to make the seatbelts handy for front-seat occupants, then retract. The coupe's rear seats are split 60/40, and fold down to add to the cargo capacity of the coupe's 10.4 cubic-foot trunk.
The interior materials are the finest in any recent Mercedes. Soft polyurethane sprayed onto the dashboard provides an attractive appearance and a luxurious feel. While there have been complaints about the use of plastic in the M-Class and C-Class, it's hard to imagine anyone not being seduced by the look and feel of the CLK interior. Nice touches of wood and gathered leather on the doors panels make for a very attractive cabin. The cabriolet has a beautifully lined top. The cup holder on the passenger side is attractive but cantankerous, and was the only thing negative we could find in the interior.
The instrument panel is a departure for Mercedes, but it works admirably. A large round speedometer and tachometer dominate the center of the gauge cluster. Small thermometer-like gauges for the fuel level and coolant temperature flank them, harking back to a Mercedes design of the 1950s. While they take some getting used to in a brief test drive, the design has the look of something so intuitive for daily use that it's a wonder nobody else uses it.
The sound system has been upgraded for 2005 to a Harman/Kardon LOGIC7 system with seven-channel digital surround sound.
The Mercedes CLK is a luxury two-door you can drive hard without even realizing it. The chassis has the kind of stiffness with which Mercedes has only in recent years endowed its upscale SL roadsters. Torsional rigidity has increased a very welcome 40 percent in the coupe and 10 percent in the cabriolet compared with the previous-generation CLKs.
In mixed driving along a stretch of Detroit's Woodward Avenue that varied from 1900-style brick to pool-table smooth asphalt, the coupe's suspension swallowed unpleasant bumps without complaint while communicating steering input fluently back to the steering wheel.
A few miles north of downtown Detroit, on the winding lakeside roads of Oakland County, the coupe handled curves at speed with the easy grace of a thoroughbred horse stretching out in the home stretch.
A spirited romp in the cabriolet along the California coast and through the Golden State's coastal range was similarly impressive and more enjoyable. Unlike many convertibles, the CLK feels solid, like it's carved from one thick piece of rigid material. Extensive use of high-strength steel alloys of varying thickness in the cabriolet's unibody panels and structure combine with liberal reinforcements of transmission tunnel, cross struts and rear bulkhead to add torsional stiffness and bending resistance and minimize vibration. Mercedes claims that the stiffness of the cabriolet's body is equal to that of the coupe. All of this contributes to its precise handling and taut but comfortable ride quality.
The CLK's front suspension combines two low-mass lower control arms with a strut, coil springs, dual-tube shocks and a stabilizer bar. Mercedes chose to use the two lower control arms to improve impact absorption for better wheel control and damping. The rear suspension is the latest refinement of Mercedes proven multi-link design. It has been tuned for improved absorption of vibration and more predictable handling when driven hard. The CLK has very little squat or dive during hard acceleration or braking.
We found some apparent differences in handling between the CLK320 and CLK500, perhaps a factor of weight differences or suspension tuning. The CLK320 seemed a little softer than the CLK500, with steering that was a little lighter on center and a little more play. Response when turning from left to right to left, and turn-in for corners didn't seem quite as crisp. The net result was handling that was more comfortable, but a little less involving on the CLK320 when compared to the CLK500.
Mercedes continues to improve its electronic stability program, which can help the driver maintain control by reducing skidding. In the CLK, the system is virtually transparent, intervening unobtrusively to prevent wheel spin, but without the heavy-handed reduction in power that marred some of its early applications.
The brakes on the CLK are superb. They're easy to modulate for smooth stops in normal, everyday driving, and respond very linearly.
The Mercedes V6 and V8 engines perform admirably and both benefit from a five-speed automatic transmission. The 215-horsepower CLK320 has all the power most drivers need, accelerating ably from a stoplight and driving the car smoothly through the gears.
The 302-horsepower CLK500 is a refined German muscle car, delivering thrilling acceleration performance with barely any deterioration in handling in spite of its greater weight. The CLK500 cabriolet can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 6 seconds, according to Mercedes. The automatic transmission is very responsive. The engine exhaust makes a pleasant sound.
The coupe, with its smooth aerodynamics and quiet manners is an excellent car for all seasons, but the convertible may be your preference if you enjoy top-down driving. Buffeting from the wind when the top down is fairly low with the windblocker in place. Put the top up and there's very little wind noise.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK is among the best of its class, a rolling statement of style and taste, and a design that's likely to age well.
The CLK320 is an excellent entry-level offering, and will satisfy most owners, while the CLK500 is a superb automobile in every respect, kicking everything up another notch. The CLK55 AMG is strictly for enthusiasts. As driving enthusiasts, we can certainly understand the desire for more performance, but it's hard to imagine needing all the performance of the CLK55AMG in most typical driving situations.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Santa Barbara, California, with Mitch McCullough in Los Angeles.
|Model Line Overview |
|Base Price (MSRP) |
|Model lineup: |
|Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Coupe ($45,250), Cabriolet ($52,700); CLK500 Coupe ($53,750), Cabriolet ($61,200); CLK55 AMG Coupe ($69,900), Cabriolet ($80,850) |
|215-hp 3.2-liter sohc 18v V6; 302-hp 5.0-liter sohc 24v V8; 362-hp 5.4-liter sohc 24v V8 |
|5-speed, TouchShift automatic; 7-speed TouchShift automatic |
|Safety equipment (Standard): |
|dual two-stage frontal airbags; front-seat head and chest side-impact airbags; rear-seat side-impact airbags; antilock brakes with brake assist; electronic stability program; automatic-deploying roll bars (cabriolet); rain-sensing windshield wipers; Tele Aid automatic emergency response notification system; front and rear foglights |
|Safety equipment (Optional): |
|radar-based cruise control; xenon headlights with heated washer system |
|Basic warranty: |
|4 years/50,000 miles |
|Assembled in: |
|Osnabrueck, Germany |
|Specifications As Tested |
|Model tested (MSRP): |
|Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Coupe ($45,250) |
|Standard equipment: |
|10-way power-adjustable front seats; 3-setting memory for front seats, steering wheel and exterior mirrors; auto-dimming exterior mirrors; 8-speaker, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo; dual-zone, automatic climate control with pollen and dust filter; automatic, front seatbelt presenters; programmable, remote opener; heated windshield washers; one-touch up/down power windows; power tilt/telescope steering wheel; keyless remote lock/unlock and top operation; and trip computer |
|Options as tested: |
|metallic paint ($680); and xenon headlamps and washers ($990) |
|Destination charge: |
|Gas Guzzler Tax: |
|Price as tested (MSRP) |
|rear-wheel drive |
|3.2-liter sohc 18-valve V6 |
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm): |
|215 @ 5700 |
|Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): |
|229 @ 3000-4600 |
|5-speed Touch Shift automatic |
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: |
|20/28 mpg. |
|106.9 in. |
|182.6/68.5/55.43 in. |
|Track, f/r: |
|58.9/58.0 in. |
|Turning circle: |
|35.3 ft. |
|Seating capacity: |
|Head/hip/leg room, f: |
|37.1/53.7/42.0 in. |
|Head/hip/leg room, m: |
|Head/hip/leg room, r: |
|35.8/45.9/33.0 in. |
|Cargo volume: |
|10.4 cu. ft. |
|Towing capacity: |
|Suspension F: |
|twin lower links, independent strut, coil springs, gas-pressurized twin-tube shocks, stabilizer bar |
|Suspension R: |
|5-link independent, coil springs, gas-pressurized shocks, stabilizer bar |
|Ground clearance: |
|Curb weight: |
|3515 lbs. |
|225/45ZR17 front; 245/40ZR17 rear |
|Brakes, f/r: |
|disc/disc with ABS and Brake Assist in. |
|Fuel capacity: |
|16.4 gal. |