Used 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Review

Edmunds expert review

What's new for 1999

These guys are still on a roll. Last year, Mercedes introduced an all-new sport coupe that is an amalgamation of C- and SLK-Class technologies, available this year with a larger engine in the CLK 430 model, and now they're rolling out the CLK 320 Cabriolet, a convertible version of the fabulous little car.

Vehicle overview

Don't ever call the gang at the three-pointed star lazy; they've been rolling out new cars faster than Hot Wheels. Their latest effort is the CLK Cabriolet, a topless version of the CLK 320 Coupe that made big waves when it hit U.S. shores last year. It is the latest in a string of Mercedes-Benz victories that will undoubtedly stretch into the next century.

Introduced last year as a coupe, the CLK brings a level of luxury previously missing from two-door cars under $50,000. Luxury is synonymous with Mercedes, and the CLK lives up to that name. Competitors such as the Saab 9-3 or Volvo C70, while less expensive, are also front-wheel drive and (relatively) sparsely equipped. The BMW 328i or M3 convertibles are also sparsely equipped, but will be the CLK's closest competitors. The CLK will appeal to people who place sports car performance and the availability of manual transmissions secondary to comfort and convenience. Mercedes hopes to woo buyers with a long standard equipment list featuring both luxury and safety amenities.

As in all Mercedes passenger cars, 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. Optional is the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), which reduces understeer and oversteer by applying braking force to the wheel that needs it.

All of these enhancements don't come cheap. At a cost of $7,000 more than the base price for the CLK coupe, and an additional curb weight of 410 lbs., the Cabriolet is no lightweight in either category. But from a driving standpoint, the car doesn't lose much in the way of handling.

Both the 320 Coupe and Convertible are powered by the same 3.2-liter V6 engine, making 215 horsepower and 229 foot-pounds of torque. Mercedes asserts that the Cabriolet goes from 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds, or about a half second slower than the CLK 320 Coupe. The coupe also receives a 4.3-liter V8 engine this year, which makes 275 horsepower and will doubtless be one helluva fun ride. Unfortunately, the convertible will not see such an enhancement unless buyers start screaming for more power.

Getting the convertible top from up to down and vice-versa is not quite as simple as we had expected. A latch must be turned and then the front of the roof must be forced up or down, depending on whether you're putting it up or taking it down. With that task done, simply push a button and the mechanical motors take over, opening the trunk and folding the top. Not quite the perfect automatic system of the Mercedes SLK or BMW M3 convertibles, but at least you never need to exit the car.

The drive is what really counts, and the CLK does not disappoint. Straight-line acceleration is wonderful. The car feels well balanced in turns, but a little heavy. It drives more like a sedan than sports car: surefooted and steady rather than agile and quick. In any case, it's a beautiful car.

So who, exactly, is going to buy the CLKs? The 320 Coupe will appeal to people aged 30 to 50+, many of them single women, with household incomes above $80,000. Speed demons itching for more power will grab the 430 version, and well-to-do empty nesters in search of a fun-to-drive sporty convertible will line up around the block to buy the CLK 320 Cabriolet. Why? It's a fun-to-drive convertible with an all-season roof, it's powerful, it's safe and it's coddling all at once. Yes, these cars are going to fly.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.