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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 recirculating ball steering, tiny backseat, large blind spots in convertibles, some low-grade interior switches, intrusive traction control system.
Available CLK-Class Models
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No changes this year.
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 a pair of V8s 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 make no mistake, this Benz is no slouch in the driving-satisfaction department.
A 3.2-liter V6 engine making 215 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque powers CLK320 models. Mercedes asserts that the 320 Coupe runs from 0 to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds. CLK430 models receive a 275-horsepower 4.3-liter V8 engine, which cranks out 295 pound-feet of twist. This shaves nearly a second off the 320's 0-to-60 time. The quickest CLK 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 around 5 seconds.
Regardless of engine, power is transmitted to the rear wheels through an adaptive-logic five-speed automanual transmission that features TouchShift manual control for drivers wanting to partake of gearchanges. All CLKs feel well balanced in turns, but a little heavy even though curb weight is relatively light compared to the competition. 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.
With the introduction of the CLK55 Cabriolet, any CLK can now be had in convertible form. The soft-top versions offer open-air thrills when the top is down, but create inordinately large blind spots when it's up. Rear-seat accommodations are tight in both hard- and soft-top versions, and some switchgear feels subpar considering the hood badge.
Of course, safety is addressed in the CLK. Antilock brakes with Brake Assist and full-range Automatic Slip Regulation (ASR) traction control come standard. Other standard features include front, side and side-curtain airbags and BabySmart child-detection protection for the front passenger seat. Electronic Stability Program (ESP), which keeps the CLK on track by selectively applying the brakes, is also standard. TeleAid service comes with every new 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 the car if it has been stolen.
Another high-tech option is the Cockpit Management and Data (COMAND) system that debuted on the S-Class a few years ago. 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 and buy a road atlas.
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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