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With performance ranging from very good to stunning, the CLK coupes and ragtops offer all the sensible Mercedes' virtues of safety, comfort and intelligent engineering along with an engaging personality.
Sleek styling, solid chassis, composed ride, comfortable front seats.
Heavy steering, tiny backseat/large blind spots in convertibles, some cheap-feeling interior switches, intrusive traction control system.
Available CLK-Class Models
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TeleAid comes standard on every CLK model this year, and the front windows lower slightly when you open the doors and seal (foop!) tight when you close them.
Luxury is synonymous with Mercedes, and the CLK lives up to that name. Standard equipment is generous, and the interior is swathed in wood and leather. Based on previous-generation C-Class sedan running gear and available with either a V6 or V8 in coupe or convertible format, the CLK appeals to people who place sports car performance and the availability of manual transmissions secondary to comfort and convenience. But this Benz is no slouch in the driving-satisfaction department.
A 3.2-liter V6 engine making 215 horsepower and 229 foot-pounds of torque powers CLK320 models. Mercedes asserts that the 320 Coupe goes from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. CLK430 models receive a 275-horsepower 4.3-liter V8 engine, which cranks out 295 foot-pounds of twist. This shaves nearly a second off the 320's 0-to-60 time. The quickest CLK (and the quickest Mercedes ever sold in America) is the CLK55. This road rocket uses an AMG-massaged 342-horsepower 5.5-liter V8 to catapult the CLK55 from 0 to 60 in just over 5 seconds.
Regardless of engine, power is transmitted to the rear wheels through an adaptive-logic five-speed automatic transmission that features Touch Shift manual control for drivers wanting to micromanage their automatic's activity. All CLKs feel well balanced in turns, but a little heavy. The 320 drives more like a sedan than a sports car -- surefooted and steady rather than agile and quick. The speedy 430 and neck-snapping CLK55, on the other hand, are tuned for a firm ride and taut handling. In any trim, the CLK is an attractive car that turns heads.
Both the CLK320 and the CLK430 can be had in convertible form. The soft-top versions offer open-air thrills when the top is down, but inordinately large blind spots when it goes up. Rear seat accommodations are tight in both hard- and soft-top versions, and some switchgear feels sub par considering the hood badge.
Safety, as well as beauty, is addressed in the CLK. Antilock brakes with Brake Assist and full-range Automatic Slip Control (ASR) traction control come standard. Other standard features include front and side airbags and BabySmart child-detection protection for the front passenger seat. Electronic Stability Programming (ESP), which reduces understeer and oversteer by applying braking force to the wheel that needs it, is standard, as well. TeleAid service comes with every 2001 CLK and will notify emergency personnel if your airbags deploy or will put you in touch with a live operator to summon medical or police assistance. TeleAid also features a roadside assistance function that will allow a Mercedes technician to check on the vehicle's electronic and computer systems via the remote uplink. Finally, TeleAid incorporates a vehicle tracking system that can be used to locate a car after it has been stolen.
Another high-tech option is the Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) system that debuted last year on the redesigned S-Class. Integrating radio, navigation, telephone and trip-computer functions into one unit that displays data on a small dash-mounted screen, COMAND is fussy and distracting to operate. Unless you absolutely must have a navigation system on board, skip this option.
The CLK impresses, from the classic and elegant styling to the smooth and powerful engines to the comfortable and well-appointed cabin. If you're in the market for a satisfying luxury coupe, it's hard to go wrong with this beautiful Benz.
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