March 2006

Mercedes-Benz CLK CLK 280 Elegance Cabriolet

Conservative CLK Cabriolet cuts an elegant dash

March 2006

picture of car from the frontpicture of car from the rearpicture of car interiorpicture of car in detail

Overall rating

4.0 out of 5 stars


  • Hood operation is smooth, quick and efficient
  • Six-cylinder engine is eager and unobtrusive
  • Image is strong and adds to desirability
  • Comfortable and high quality interior feels luxurious


  • Seven-speed automatic gearbox is sometimes hesitant
  • Rear seats unsuitable for taller passengers
  • Weight has negative effect on handling and economy
  • Exterior looks slightly dated compared with newer rivals

One of the few genuine four-seater convertible cars on the market, the CLK Cabriolet is designed to offer a mix of traditional Mercedes comfort and luxury with the added appeal of a folding roof. With a revised 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine it also has the performance to make it a viable everyday car.

Mercedes has a long history of producing capable and dynamic convertible cars, and the introduction of folding metals roofs with the SLK model in the early 1990s made it a must-have for many buyers. The CLK however aims at a different buyer, one who wants the fun factor of a drop-top but with a fabric roof, to retain viable rear seats and a usable boot space.

The revised engine line up includes the 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, badged CLK280. With a fairly large capacity and strong power and torque outputs, it makes short work of hauling the weighty CLK along at speed. The long travel throttle pedal makes it easy to measure the engine's output, and it is just as happy to cruise at a steady speed as it is to be revved and deliver maximum acceleration.

On the outside the CLK has received a number of detailed improvements to refresh its appearance, but the overall shape remains the same, and to some buyers' eyes this may be a disappointment. Its shape is quite traditional, with a long bonnet and a high bootlid, while the twin headlights and Mercedes grille give it a more conservative appearance in comparison with some of its rivals. In a fashion conscious market, this may limit its appeal to older buyers.

In terms of everyday use the CLK has few obvious reminders that it has a fabric folding roof. Road and wind noise levels are kept under control, and the roof itself has several layers and provides good insulation from the outside world. Additionally, the cabin is roomy and comfortable, particularly for front seat passengers, and the boot is big enough to cope with most loads.

Our verdict on the Mercedes-Benz CLK CLK 280 Elegance Cabriolet

Despite being older than many of its direct rivals, this CLK impresses with its overall polish. The refinement levels, including the engine, exterior noise and build quality are very good, while the ergonomics are impressive. It is versatile enough to be used every day, and while it does not provide a thrilling drive, it is willing to join in with an enthusiastic driver.


Remote central locking, locking wheel bolts and an interior alarm system are all fitted as standard, providing the level of security necessary for a desirable car like the CLK. Even the fabric roof offers a degree of protection, thanks to six layers of material. The alarm system can also operate with the roof in the stowed position.

Space and practicality

For a car of this nature, the amount of space on offer is good. Front seat passengers are well catered for, with excellent head and legroom. Less space is on offer in the rear, while the boot is relatively generous regardless of whether the hood is up or down.

Controls and display

A typical Mercedes strong point, the controls and displays of the CLK require a little familiarisation, but once this has been achieved it is informative and easy to use. The main instruments are clear, and the comprehensive information display within the speedometer is very useful. The central control unit which houses the navigation, audio and telephone controls uses a series of buttons down each side, which makes operation simple.


With electrically adjustable seats, getting comfortable is easy in the CLK. They offer plenty of support, and are comfortable even over a long distance. The rear seats are heavily sculpted and quite narrow, although they do offer reasonable support. Better still is the ride quality, which is composed and refined, with only larger bumps taken at speed creating any significant intrusion into the cabin. Noise levels are also impressively low, even with the fabric hood.

Car security

Remote central locking, locking wheel bolts and an interior alarm system are all fitted as standard, providing the level of security necessary for a desirable car like the CLK. Even the fabric roof offers a degree of protection, thanks to six layers of material. The alarm system can also operate with the roof in the stowed position.

Car safety

The level of safety equipment in the CLK is impressive, including pop-up rear roll hoops to make up for the lack of a metal roof in the event of a rollover. Standard front and side airbags, plus ABS, Brake Assist and ESP brings a high level of safety.

Driver appeal

With an emphasis on comfort rather than sporting performance, the CLK is at its best when driven with a little restraint. The six-cylinder petrol engine is powerful and responsive, and although the gearbox sometimes requires too long to select the correct gear, a smooth background hum from the engine accompanies the strong acceleration. The steering is light and direct, not with a great deal of feel but neither is it distracting, making the CLK an ideal long-distance car.

Family car appeal

Few cars with a folding roof can claim to be suitable for families, but the CLK may well fit the bill for some. The rear seats are viable for children below a certain height, while the boot provides a reasonable amount of luggage space. The added appeal of top-down motoring would make it an enjoyable car for all the family.

First car appeal

The CLK is not in the right price range for a typical first car buyer, although the controls and operation of the car are unlikely to cause problems for an inexperienced driver. The running costs may well be out of reach for most buyers looking at their first car however.

Quality and image

The CLK sets a high standard of quality inside and out. There a very few areas where the car feels anything other than well made, and fans of the German marque will not be disappointed by the standard of finish. The image of the CLK is boosted by the strength of the Mercedes brand, but the model suffers from a slightly elderly reputation against its sportier and more youth-oriented rivals from BMW and Audi.


Front seat access is excellent, with long doors and a suitably high roofline. An excellent extra feature on the CLK is a pair of belt feeders, which slide electrically forward once the doors are closed, moving the seat belt closer to the shoulder of the passengers. Access to the rear is more restricted, though for occasional use the access is sufficient. The boot lid folds back beyond 90 degrees to allow simple access to the rear.

Stereo and ICE (In car entertainment)

Fitted as standard on the Elegance model is a CD/tuner with six speakers. This provides good sound quality and has enough power to deliver decent sound levels with the hood down at higher speeds. It is also easy to operate thanks to the big controls and the steering wheel buttons and instrument display.

Colours and trim

When fitted with optional leather upholstery, the trim inside the CLK is of a very good standard. All the plastics and fabrics are pleasant to look at and to touch, and feel robust and well constructed. With a mix of light fabric colours, dark woods and plastics, the interior of the CLK is airy and civilised, making it a good environment for the passengers and the driver.


With a high tail and restricted rear visibility, reversing the CLK can be a little tricky. However, the automatic transmission and light power steering require little effort, and the door mirrors provide a good view down the side of the car.

Spare wheel

Space saver spare wheel fitted beneath the boot floor.

Range information

Five engine options: 2.0-litre supercharged petrol (163bhp). 3.0-litre petrol (231bhp), 3.5-litre petrol (272bhp), 5.0-litre petrol (306bhp), 5.5-litre petrol (367bhp). Six-speed manual transmission fitted to 2.0-litre petrol, seven-speed automatic fitted to 3.0-litre, 3.5-litre and 5.0-litre petrol, five-speed automatic fitted to 5.5-litre petrol. Trim levels are Elegance, Avantgarde and Sport.

Alternative cars

BMW 3 Series Convertible Sharper drive and good looking

Audi A4 Cabriolet Smooth V6 engine and smart looks, fails to inspire driver

Volvo C70 Folding metal roof a bonus, high levels of safety

Saab 9-3 Convertible Practical and stylish but can't match quality of rivals

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