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Expert Reviews 1 of 8
By Tom Strongman
August 21, 1998
The four-eyed face of the Mercedes-Benz CLK looks like a baby E-class sedan, but slide behind the wheel and the snug fit of its cockpit-like interior reinforces the fact that it is smaller and sportier than the mid-size E320. Even though it rides
on the same basic chassis as the C-class sedan, the CLK is oriented toward drivers who want 215 horsepower, crisp handling and a rock-solid feel. Its two-door coupe body, with steeply slanted windshield and curved rear roofline, is not only handsome, but
one of the most stylish in the Mercedes line. Prices for the CLK starts at about $40,000. This fall there will be two more models: a cabriolet, for $47,200, and a the powerful CLK430, with a 275-horse, 4.3-liter V8 and AMG sport package, for
$47,900. My test drive, however, was confined to the V6-powered CLK320. Whereas the C280 sedan has a 2.8-liter V6, the CLK320 gets the larger 3.2-liter V6 that is also used in the E-class. This newly-designed engine, the first V6 ever designed by
Mercedes, shares much of its basic architecture with the 4.3-liter V8, and that necessitates a balance shaft to tame some inherent vibrations. Three valves per cylinder, two intake and one exhaust, as well as two spark plugs per cylinder, have been
employed to improve efficiency and lower emissions. On the road, this engine is smooth. Throttle response, typical of Mercedes-Benz, is linear, and you have to push deliberately to get full performance. When you do, however, the CLK's
transformation is as dramatic as Superman slipping off his business suit. A two-stage intake manifold aids low-speed response without penalizing high-rpm power. It zips to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, according to factory figures, and has a top track speed that
is electronically limited to 130 mph. The transmission is a five-speed automatic. Its gearshift lever moves through a gate on the console, and that enables it to be shifted without looking at the lever with some practice. This transmission adjusts
its shift patterns to match the driver's habits, and, to some extent, even road conditions. A "winter" mode selects second gear for starts in slippery conditions. The CLK showcases electronic technology in a variety of ways. Here are some examples:
Brake Assist recognizes emergency braking and applies full braking force because tests have shown that even experienced drivers don't always use full braking force in a panic stop. ASR traction control limits wheelspin in rain or
snow. ESP, or Electronic Stability Program, is an option that applies an individual brake to keep the vehicle from sliding out of control on slippery roads. A unique electronic key replaces the standard mechanical key. This unit slips
into the ignition lock and an infrared sensor sends data to it. If the correct code is sent back, the car starts. Unlocking the doors and trunk is done with buttons on the remote unit. Safety items include st
andard anti-lock brakes plus front and side airbags. The cabin is cozy because of a large central console that runs between the seats. Wood trim, which adds a touch of warmth, is abundant. Instrumentation consists of simple gauges, like all other
Mercedes. The steering wheel telescopes, but does not tilt. Front seats are well-contoured, and support your lower back like a giant hand. Like most German cars, the seats have firm padding, and while not everyone likes that, I do because it
is comfortable for long stints behind the wheel. The back seat is intended for occasional use and has fairly tight legroom. Fortunately, it folds forward for expanded carrying capacity. So who will buy the CLK? I suspect the target buyer is
one who has a high income, rarely uses the back seat and wants the sportier look and performance of a coupe as opposed to a sedan. Price The base price of our test car, a 1998 model, was $39,850. The 1999 model will start at
,600. Options on our test car included the Quartz Blue paint, integrated compact disc changer and power sunroof. The sticker price was $43,020. Warranty The standard warranty is for four years and 50,000 miles. Vehicles
for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: The CLK is handsome, quick and elegant. It steps out smartly, rides firmly and has great seats. Counterpoint: The back seat is not very big, and the lack
of a tilt wheel made it hard for me to find an ideal driving position. SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 3.2-liter, V6 TRANSMISSION: automatic WHEELBASE: 105.9 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,240 lbs. BASE PRICE: $39,850 PRICE AS DRIVEN:
$43,020 MPG RATING: 21 city, 29 hwy.
Expert Reviews 1 of 8
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