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1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class

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1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class
Available in 3 styles:  CLK 430 2dr Coupe shown
Asking Price Range
Estimated MPG

18–21 city / 25–29 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 3
1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class 4.4 7
$ 694-11,306
February 19, 1999

It seems as if Mercedes-Benz can do no wrong these days.

With U.S. sales up a whopping 39 percent in 1998, Mercedes has the potential in a year or two to knock off Lincoln and Cadillac and become America's top-selling luxury brand.

That's a staggering possibility.

Just five years ago, Mercedes' cars were overweight, overrated and overpriced. Sales were in the tank, and Mercedes was hemorrhaging money.

Those days are gone.

Most of the cars have been redesigned, and almost every vehicle in the Benz lineup delivers exceptional value and performance, while costing less than the older models they replaced. This week's test car, the elegant CLK320 four-seat convertible, is no exception.

Performance, handling

The CLK320 is outfitted with Mercedes' new 3.2-liter overhead cam V-6, an engine rated at 215 horsepower. The engine is different from most other high-performance V-6s. It has three valves per cylinder - two intake and one exhaust. The additional intake valve lets more fuel and air flow into each cylinder. Most other engines have either two or four valves per cylinder.

The CLK320's performance can best be described as leisurely - until you floor the accelerator. Then it comes alive with a bit more verve than you thought was available. The transmission downshifts smoothly, and a quiet rush of thrust builds as the car bolts ahead. It can reach 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, Mercedes claims. Not bad for a car weighing a hefty 3,669 pounds.

The CLK320 has a soft, almost soothing ride. It's very quiet over the road, with just a hint of noise from the tires. The suspension system - double wishbones up front and a multilink setup in the rear - keeps the car stable in emergency maneuvers or if you want to drive aggressively. The steering system, an old-fashioned recirculating ball unit, works OK but lacks the instant response of the more efficient (and more modern) rack-and-pinion type of steering. Perhaps the old style steering system is more suited to a luxury machine. Still, the steering is smooth and the wheel feels solid.

The four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes are nothing short of excellent.

Fit and finish

The main reason Mercedes-Benz is red hot is that its cars are better than ever and cost less.

A few years ago, if you wanted a Mercedes convertible, you had to spend between $80,000 and $124,000. But Mercedes realized that high prices mean fewer sales, so it designed cars that could be assembled profitably for less money.

The CLK320 is expensive, to be sure. But it's not overpriced. In fact, it offers excellent value for the money.

The list of standard safety features is long and impressive. In addition to dual front and side air bags, the CLK320 comes with Mercedes' Baby Smart system, which turns off the passenger-side air bag if a special baby seat with a transmitter is buckled up.

Also standard are traction control and automatic rollover protection, which extends the head restraints in three-tenths of a second.

The interior is cozy and comfortable. The light gray leather upholstery in our test car and the dark brown wood trim made for a classy interior. The seats have just about every feature available: memory, heat and electrical adjustments. Even the headrests rise and lower electrically.

Putting the top down takes little more than a twist of the wrist and the press of a button. All you do to lower the lid is unfasten the latch in the center of the convertible top frame near the top of the windshield then reach down and press the button on the console.

That sets in motion a very nicely choreographed mechanical ballet. The tonneau cover rises, the top folds down neatly in the well then the cover comes down and seals tight. The procedure takes about 30 seconds.

There are a few things in the CLK that require a little gettingused to, however.

Although it's midsize, the CLK320 is really an ideal car for two people. Yes, it has a trunk, but becau se the co nvertible top mechanism takes up so much room, there is space in the trunk for only one or two small bags.

Also, the rear seat is a bit cramped. It's really suitable only for children. But it makes a good area for packages.

As with other Mercedes models, the cruise control lever is too close to the turn signal lever on the left side of the steering column. And why can't such an expensive car be equipped with automatic headlights?

Those minor gripes aside, the CLK320 is a mighty impressive automobile.

1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK320

Base price: $47,200. Safety: Dual front and side air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, automatic roll bar and Baby Smart child recognition system. Price as tested: $52,580. EPA rating: 19 mpg city/28 mpg highway.

Truett's tip: Score another bull's-eye for Mercedes-Benz. The CLK320 Cabriolet is a wonderfully smooth, comfortable and well-made convertible.

    Expert Reviews 2 of 3

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