What's New for 2006
Last year's Mercedes CLK320 gets a new 3.5-liter V6 for 2006 and is subsequently renamed the CLK350. New 17-inch alloy wheels and a seven-speed automatic transmission are also part of the upgrade. The more powerful CLK500 has a sportier interior this year, as well as an AMG-sourced exhaust. Finally, all 2006 CLKs have new active head restraints and a new grille and taillights.
In 2003, on the CLK's fifth birthday, Mercedes gave the coupe a full redesign -- not that there was anything particularly lacking about the 1998-2002 car. Still, the sleek body of the new coupe instantly made the previous-generation CLK look pudgy in comparison. A grille that looks as if swiped from a CL500 helped take the CLK uptown, as did the SL-influenced profile. The Mercedes-Benz CLK coupe is unique in its segment in that it's a hardtop, which means there is no pillar between the front and rear side windows and that those rear windows power down, creating an airier cabin when the mood strikes.
For 2004, the drop top got its turn in the stylist's salon, gaining the sleek new body as well as improvements in structural integrity when compared to the previous Cabriolet. As with the coupe, there is an elegant, sweeping beltline that makes the car look as if it's crouching and ready to pounce, and the soft top, with its gently curving profile, blends well with the dynamic design. On the downside, some of the plastic trim on the upper door panels seems low-grade for this class of automobile. High-end options for the 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class include Distronic adaptive cruise control and the Keyless Go system, which allows the driver to start the car without inserting a key. In spite of solid competition in the form of the 3 Series, G35 and A4, the Mercedes CLK should have no problem holding onto its piece of the pie, particularly among buyers with flexible budgets and a discerning eye for style.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The two-door Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class is available in two models, CLK350 and CLK500, both of which come in coupe and convertible body styles. Standard features on all models include 10-way power front seats, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and a power-adjustable tilt/telescoping steering wheel. Options include a sport suspension, DVD navigation system, bi-xenon headlights, adaptive cruise control, a Harman Kardon Logic 7 sound system with a glovebox-mounted CD changer, satellite radio, rear parking sensors, and Keyless Go, which allows the car to be started without a key.
Powertrains and Performance
The CLK350 comes with a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, while the CLK500 upgrades to V8 power in the form of a 302-hp, 5.0-liter engine. According to Mercedes, the CLK500 will rocket to 60 mph in just 5.7 seconds. Both come standard with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
To help drivers avoid an accident, stability control is standard, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with BrakeAssist technology. Should a collision occur, no less than eight airbags are at the ready, including the side curtain variety that helps protect the heads of both front and rear occupants. Neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS have performed crash tests on the Mercedes-Benz CLK.
Interior Design and Special Features
Sometimes, grabbing the seatbelts in a two-door car is a bit of a reach for those in front. This problem is alleviated in the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class, as automatic seatbelt "presenters" offer the belts after the doors are shut. Other conveniences include an easy-entry system that powers the front seats forward and up, making it easier to get in back. Also, in the coupe, the rear seats now fold down completely providing a flat load floor that allows long items to be carried inside the car. The convertible features large side windows and a slim roof design for good top-up visibility, and the top can be quickly lowered or raised simply by pressing a button on the key fob.
While not as athletic as the two-seat SLK, the 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class feels more nimble than the larger CL-Class, which benefits from active suspension technology. With 268 horsepower, the CLK350 offers quick acceleration and stable handling, though serious enthusiasts are apt to prefer the sharper reflexes of the cheaper BMW 3 Series coupe. The V8-powered CLK500 provides an even more enticing combination of performance and sophistication, rewarding the well-to-do buyer with downright vigorous acceleration and equally composed road manners. In terms of striking a balance between sporting performance and practicality, the CLK500 is likely Mercedes' best overall two-door package -- top up or down.