Full 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Review
What's New for 2008
The racetrack-inspired CLK63 AMG Black Series coupe joins the lineup. It boasts a 500-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 along with a track-ready suspension, upgraded composite brakes, no backseat and seriously supportive front seats. Only 350 are slated for the U.S. market. On the other end of the spectrum, the volume seller CLK350 gains a few new standard features, namely a sport suspension and twin six-spoke 18-inch wheels.
Sitting midway between the compact C-Class sedans and the über-expensive CL-Class coupes and SL-Class roadsters, the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class offers the best of both worlds. Specifically, the CLK boasts sleek two-door styling, something not available in the C-Class, along with luxury and performance that virtually equals that of the pricier cars.
The CLK is available as a coupe or convertible. Both models lack a B-pillar (the traditional side pillar behind the front doors), and this gives the car a very graceful look. The drop-top, drop-dead gorgeous version of the CLK is the only Mercedes convertible that can seat four people, though unlike its siblings and a few of its rivals, it forgoes a retractable metal roof in favor of a traditional well-insulated cloth top. No matter which model you look at, power is plentiful. It ranges from 268 horsepower in the CLK350 on up to 500 hp in the mighty, new-for-2008 CLK63 AMG Black Series coupe (which actually is available in colors other than black). Neatly splitting the difference between these two is the 382-hp CLK550.
Overall, we're quite fond of the CLK, and those who value luxury and performance equally should find the 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class more than sweet enough for their cravings. This segment contains many tempting (and potentially less expensive) choices, however. The ultra-responsive and communicative BMW 335i still reigns supreme as the driving enthusiast's choice, while Infiniti's G37 offers potent performance along with a considerably lower price tag. Making your decision process even tougher this year is the new Audi A5 with its sensuous styling and standard all-wheel drive. If you're looking at the V8-powered CLKs (the 550 and AMG versions), you might also consider the BMW M3 and Audi's S4/RS4 and S5. If it's the limited-edition Black Series coupe you're eyeing, bear in mind there are many, many fine cars you might consider at or below its lofty $135,000 price point, not least of which is the Porsche 911 GT3.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK comes in coupe and convertible (Cabriolet) forms. Coupes are available as the V6-powered CLK350, V8-powered CLK550 and the limited-edition CLK63 AMG Black Series. Cabriolets come in CLK350, CLK550 and CLK63 AMG versions.
All come with alloy wheels (19-inchers on the Black Series, 18s on the others), 10-way adjustable power front seats, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system and a power-adjustable tilt/telescoping steering wheel. The CLK550 adds paddle shifters for the automatic transmission and an AMG-style body kit. The CLK63 AMG Cabriolet comes with heated sport seats, aluminum accents and an upgraded Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system with satellite radio.
The Black Series coupe (which commands a 50 percent price premium over the CLK63 Cabriolet) is the closest thing to a track car you can get from Mercedes, as it has a manually adjustable suspension, revised steering geometry, massive composite brakes (with six-piston front rotors), ultra-sticky Pirelli tires, heavily bolstered sport seats and no backseat (deleted to save weight). This rare bird (only 350 are slated to be built for the U.S.) also features unique styling tweaks such as front fender vents and aggressive wheel arch flares.
Option highlights depending on trim level for the CLK-Class include a navigation system, bi-xenon adaptive headlights, heated and ventilated front seats, the Logic 7 sound system, a glovebox-mounted CD changer, satellite radio, rear parking sensors and keyless ignition (Keyless Go). The Cabriolets' standard and optional equipment levels essentially mirror those of the coupes.
Powertrains and Performance
The CLK350 comes with a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6, while the CLK550 upgrades to a 5.5-liter V8 with 382 hp. Acceleration is quick either way, with 0-60-mph times of 6.4 and 5.1 seconds for the coupe versions, respectively.
The CLK63 AMG Cabriolet is supercar quick -- its 6.2-liter, 475-hp V8 can catapult it to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds while its top speed is electronically governed at 155 mph. The CLK63 AMG Black Series goes one better, with engine tweaks adding another 25 hp that allow it to hit 60 a 10th of a second quicker on its way to a top speed "limited" to 186 mph.
All CLKs are rear-wheel drive and come with a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. AMG versions feature modified programming for ultra-quick gearchanges.
Stability control, antilock disc brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags (on coupes) are standard. Rear side airbags on convertibles are optional (standard on the CLK63 AMG), and pop-up roll bars behind the rear seats that deploy in a roll-over are standard.
Interior Design and Special Features
For the most part, the CLK's cabin is appropriately sumptuous, with plenty of leather, wood and elegant chrome. Though fit and finish is generally excellent, some of the plastic trim on the upper door panels seems somewhat low-grade for this class of automobile. Most controls are easy to use, though the center stack's COMAND interface for some features (such as the navigation system) remains unintuitive even after you've taken the time to figure it out with the owner's manual.
Buckling up for the front occupants is eased via automatic seatbelt "presenters" that 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 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 relatively 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.
The 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK350 offers confident, stable handling, though serious enthusiasts are apt to prefer the sharper reflexes of the less expensive BMW 3 Series coupe. The V8-powered CLK550 provides a more enticing combination of performance and sophistication, rewarding the well-to-do driver with downright vigorous acceleration and equally composed road manners. The CLK63 AMG Cabriolet has stunning capabilities, but its supercar personality is marred by its steering, which feels lackluster compared to the rest of the car. That latter complaint doesn't apply to the sharply focused Black Series coupe, however, as its recalibrated steering provides quick and wonderfully accurate response -- a perfect match for the racetrack-bred chassis.