Car Test   R0326
March 2003
First Drive Mercedes-Benz CLK
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 500 Cabriolet
Spring is sprung and there could be no better time for Mercedes to announce its new CLK Cabriolet that nicely complements the earlier-introduced Coupé.
   The sleek new soft-top is a little larger in every direction than its chiselled-featured forebear and offers a choice of five smooth and sophisticated four, six and V8-cylinder petrol engines. All are claimed to have better power, torque and economy than hitherto.
   Not surprisingly, there are striking performance differences between the top and bottom of the range. After experiencing the bellowing, neck-bending thrust of acceleration from the 155mph, 365bhp 55AMG, the humble 1.8 200K (despite clocking 0-60mph in under 10sec) feels decidedly tame. What’s more, you have to make your own gearchanges with a six-speed 'box that could have a silkier shift. Still, think of the 20k saving!
   Revised suspension, a host of active safety systems and wide, mixed-profile tyres provide a superbly judged compromise between a comfortable, supple ride and alert handling, complemented by new and ideally weighted rack and pinion steering. The brakes are immensely reassuring, too. Commendably, on most roads there’s virtually no sign of scuttle shake when the hood is down.
   A lot of work has gone not only into stiffening the Cabriolet’s structure for both comfort and safety, but also into the intricacies of the multi-layered, fabric hood. It’s a superbly engineered soft-top that opens completely automatically - including by remote control – and quietly disappears in 20sec under the hinged metal cover behind the back seats. Closing it is equally simple as the hydraulic system self-locks the front of the hood to the windscreen frame – you just sit and watch.
   From inside the car it looks as though you’re in a conventionally headlined hardtop. With the hood down, the optional, easy-to-fit wind deflector almost eliminates hair-ruffling back draughts, while heated, ventilated, pulsating seats and the versatile climate control add luxury touches to the open-air driving experience.
   Mercedes claims best-in-class boot space. It’s certainly quite roomy with the hood up (they say a set of golf clubs will fit), but a lot of height is lost when the soft-top is stowed. Loading is rather awkward, too.
   Thanks to slim rear three-quarter ‘pillars’ with the hood in place there are no serious vision problems for the driver, who sits in sumptuous surroundings in an all-electric, multi-adjustable seat at the power-adjustable wheel. Standard equipment, already generous, can be boosted by optional items, including intelligent cruise control, keyless access/ignition, voice control...
   A four-seater the Cabriolet may be, but its back seats are too upright and kneeroom is on the tight side for adults' long-distance. The fact that entry and egress are eased by lift-and-slide front seats is of little consolation.
   Passenger safety has been given careful consideration, however, with head and side adaptive front airbags, and rear side airbags optionally available. Automatic rear roll-over bars instantly deploy at the first sign of danger.
  considering size, price and rivals
  • fleece-lined hood with proper glass (heated) window
  • seatbelt 'feeders' mean no awkward stretching
  • stalk-operated speed limiter
  • facia-top vent further aids air distribution
  • both front seats rise and slide for easier rear entry
  • water drips into car from hood when door opened
  • air vents' chrome rims reflects in side mirrors
  • elbow contacts centre box lid when manual shifting
  • hard bar at rear shin level
  • no spare wheel (aerosol and electric pump instead)
It may be an expensive way to get a suntan, but with that exemplary hood, those big, exuberant engines, smoothly shifting automatic transmissions and outstanding ride comfort, the CLK raises cabrio cruising to new heights. It feels superbly built, it’s brimming with awesome engineering and deftly combines the sporty and the sumptuous, come rain or shine.

engine 4966cc, normally aspirated V8 petrol, 24 valves; 306bhp at 5600rpm, 339 lb ft at 2700rpm; 62-litre fuel tank
drive rear-wheel drive; five-speed stepped automatic with manual sequential override
suspension front: independent MacPherson coil spring/damper struts, three-link location, anti-roll bar
rear: independent multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
wheels/tyres front: 7.5in alloy with 225/45R17 tyres
rear: 8.5in alloy with 245/40R17 tyres
brakes ventilated discs front and rear with brake assist/ABS; foot/hand-operated parking brake
0-62mph* 6.2sec
official mpg§ 16.6/32.8/24.4
maximum speed* 155mph (limited)
CO2 emissions 278g/km
* maker's figure  § urban/extra urban/combined

body premium-priced, executive 4-seater cabriolet   trim levels Elegance, Avantgarde
engines petrol: 4 cylinder/1.8 litre/163bhp, V6/2.6/170, V6/3.2/218, V8/5.0/306, V8/5.4/367
diesel: none
  drive rear-wheel drive; 200/240; 6-speed manual standard, 5-speed stepped automatic optional; 320/500/55AMG: 5-speed stepped automatic (with Speedshift paddles on AMG) standard
notable features automatic roll-over protection, seatbelt 'feeders', rear side airbags, voice control, keyless access and drive, multi-function steering wheel, bi-xenon headlamps, proximity and cruise control, sports suspension

  in centimetres (2-door cabriolet)
  length 464
  width - mirrors folded 174
  height 142
  load sill height (inside/outside) 14/63
  turns lock-to-lock* 3.0
  turning circle (metres)* 10.8
  easy to park/garage?
  front - legroom 89-116
    - headroom 91-104
  rear - typical legroom 90
    - typical kneeroom 68
    - headroom 90
    - hiproom 117
  load area(all seats in use)
  load space
(litres/cu ft)
  load length 94
  load length to facia no
  load width 96-131
  load height (hood up/hood down) 40/25
* maker's figure  º hood up/hood down
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