A few weeks ago, I brought you a review of the Mercedes-Benz CLK63 AMG Black Series, which is my favorite AMG car — the perfect performance, the perfect styling, the perfect everything. It’s lovely. I’ve always felt the CLK is one of the most attractive, simple Mercedes-Benz models, and the CLK63 is the ultimate iteration of that. See the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class models for sale near you
Or is it?
As far as regular production cars Mercedes-Benz sold in the United States, it certainly is — the Black Series was the fastest and most impressive. But the vast-reaching Mercedes-Benz CLK lineup stretches all the way from a 130-horsepower 4-cylinder version (CLK200) to a mid-engine, V12-powered race car for the road (CLK GTR) — and the CLK63 AMG Black Series is by no means the last word in CLK performance, even though nothing above it was ever sold in North America.
And yet, a few weeks ago, I traveled to Southern California to film a video with the CLK DTM, which is decidedly on the next level of CLK performance. One of just 180 in existence and a mere 100 coupes, the CLK DTM was effectively the road-going version of Mercedes’ CLK DTM touring race car. In terms of performance, it trounced the Black Series: it had 580 horsepower (to the Black Series’ 500) and 590 lb-ft of torque to the Black Series’ 465. It does zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds. It could hit 200 miles per hour. One recently sold at auction for $400,000.
But it was never sold here. So how did I drive it here?
Three words: show or display. Although the United States government is very strict on the fact that most vehicles can’t be imported to this country unless they’re 25 years old, an exception is made for historically significant cars that are imported solely for show or for display — so vehicle collectors and enthusiasts can appreciate them and enjoy them at car shows, even if the car isn’t 25 years old. The vast majority of cars that apply for "show or display" are rejected, but the CLK DTM was approved — and about a dozen of the 180 examples have made their way to the United States.
So with that out of the way, here’s a general overview of the DTM: It’s like the Black Series, but far more of a race car. While the Black Series has handsome, rolling fenders, the DTM has giant fenders, resembling a dually pickup, that stick out from the body abruptly — with (fake) vents to match. While the Black Series sports a clean overall look, the DTM has a huge wing on the back.
And the best part of the DTM is its unusual interior, with tremendously tight sport seats, minimalist door panels, and race car-style buttons on the steering wheel (which look cool, but actually control the gauge cluster screen and the stereo volume) — along with cool toggle switches where the ash tray would be. The interior shares a lot of stuff with the regular CLK, but it ditches the back seats in favor of a giant carbon fiber panel and a huge crossbar that adds rigidity. Oh, and did I mention there’s a racing harness?
The CLK DTM is a little intimidating when you climb inside because the seats are incredibly tight, and because you put on the racing harness and because there’s not that much sound deadening, so you really hear the thing when you start it up. Then it becomes even more intimidating when you turn the wheel, which is impossibly heavy to move. It’s hard to believe you see a Mercedes-Benz emblem when you look down while struggling to turn the wheel at low speeds.
And then you get going, and here’s what you discover: the CLK DTM is pure joy. I mean it. First off, it’s incredibly fast. The 3.8-second 0-to-60 time would’ve been monstrously quick when this car came out in 2004, but it’s still very fast by today’s standards — and it feels fast. Power comes on in a relatively linear manner, but when you get to the top of the rev range, it totally explodes both in power delivery and noise. I’ve heard cars with better engine notes, but I’ve heard few modern cars with this much sound blasting in your ear, reminding you — if you had any doubts — that this isn’t your mother-in-law’s Mercedes CLK. At one point in the video linked above, I describe it as sounding like you’re flanked by two other supercars.
Handling, also, is excellent. That heavy low-speed steering lightens up when you’re moving, and it delivers very predictable exotic car handling that’s not at all what you’d expect from a Mercedes CLK. With that said, this is made possible with tremendously tight suspension that beats you up when you’re inside the cabin — and the sport seats do no favors either, as they’re only somewhat comfortable, with especially restrictive grip on your shoulders.
Although most people don’t know about the CLK DTM, this is a car I’ve always wanted to experience — largely because it’s the "next rung" on the CLK ladder, falling just short of the truly ridiculous CLK GTR. Plus, I’ve always felt this car was sort of a harder-edged Black Series for serious drivers who didn’t need creature comforts like light steering or comfortable seats — and it turns out, that’s correct.
But is it worth $400,000? Consider it this way: This is a 200-mile per hour exotic car that’ll do zero to 60 in 3.8 seconds, made by a major automaker, and limited to just 180 units — and only 100 in this body style. In that sense, the answer is undoubtedly "yes," as a Ferrari with those details would probably be going for double that figure. As I see it, the car’s only real drawback is its CLK badge — and its CLK roots. And trust me when I say you forget about those the moment you twist yourself over that sport seat and strap on that racing harness. Find a Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.