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Expert Reviews 3 of 4
By Bob Golfen
February 5, 2000
Hot rods are big this year. Just look at the lofty prices bid on vintage muscle cars, especially convertibles, at the recent Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction in Scottsdale. Mercedes-Benz might not be known for its hot rods, but that's what
pops to mind when the CLK430 Cabriolet sprints up a freeway ramp, top down, in all its hedonistic V-8 glory. Expensive, exclusive, beautiful to look at and better to drive, the CLK430 is the cream of the compact-convertible crop, which includes such
craft as Volvo C70, Saab 9-3, Chrysler Sebring - even Ford Mustang. It's a high-end extravaganza of technology, engineering and aesthetics, and signals Mercedes' newfound ability to put great things into small packages as well as great-big ones. The
CLK cars started off with the 1998 CLK320 coupe, adding a convertible and a high-performance CLK430 coupe the next year. Those familiar with Mercedes nomenclature know that the CLK320 is powered by a 3.2 liter V-6, which delivers 215 horsepower, and the
CLK430 has a 4.3 liter V-8, which makes 275. The CLK430 Cabriolet is the fourth top-end CLK model. Adding V-8 performance to the convertible mix gives the Cabriolet another dimension. Performance is not quite as sharp as the lighter CLK430 coupe, but
it's still some awesome stuff. By the numbers, zero to 60 comes in just 6.1 seconds, Mercedes says, and the CLK has the handling and finesse to match the strong engine power. Torque is abundant at all engine speeds, via a two-stage intake manifold
that adjusts with engine speed. With massive performance radials on 17-inch rims attached to a refined multilink suspension front and rear, the ride and cornering are balanced and responsive. Mercedes' advanced Electronic Stability System is
standard on all CLKs, providing a technological edge to the handling prowess. Like similar systems on other high-end cars, the stability system applies the brake to an individual wheel, taking control when it senses a skid. Anti-lock braking is standard
on all Mercedes cars, coupled with Brake Assist, which amplifies brake pressure if it senses a panic-stop situation. There have been some additions and improvements to the CLK line for 2000, including turn signals that flash on the outside rear-view
mirrors; a new instrument-panel design; a steering wheel with functions for stereo and climate control; optional COMAND system of stereo, trip computer and navigation mapping controls; and a Touch Shift system to allow manual control of the five-speed
automatic transmission. Touch Shift works well in those instances when more driving control is desired. On full automatic, the transmission adjusts electronically to individual driving styles. It really does work, too. But I found that it made
shifting unpredictable, and I'd prefer that it just stayed put. The appearance of the CLK430 Cabriolet is enhanced with an aero package by Mercedes' performance arm, AMG, and that beautiful set of 17-inch rims. Naturall
y, it looks best with the top down. That top is fully automatic, operated with a single button that unlatches it from the windshield, lifts a cover in the rear deck, folds the top inside and closes it again, all in a mechanical ballet that takes about 20
seconds. The top does take up about half of the trunk space, though. With the top up, the trunk is about the same size as the coupe's, which is good-sized for a small car. The interior is lush and comfortable, at least for the passengers in
front. The rear passengers will find things a bit cramped, though not as bad as some other small convertibles. The leather interior in the test car was kind of weird. In a pattern called salsa leather, it's a black and red concoction that looks out
of place in this otherwise refined automobile. The new dash display is nice, trimmed in black bird's-eye maple. For those who can afford the entry fee, the CLK430 is a terrific car. The price for the extra performance is stee p, but th
e high-tech standard features are impressive. And like most other Mercedes convertibles, it should be an instant collectible. Just skip that gaudy interior. 2000 Mercedes-Benz CLK430 Vehicle type: Four passenger, two-door convertible,
rear-wheel drive. Base price: $55,600. Price as tested: $59,420. Engine: 4.3-liter V-8, 275 hp at 5,750 rpm, 295 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. Transmission: 5-speed automatic. Curb weight: 3,665 pounds. Wheelbase: 105.9
inches. EPA mileage: 17 city, 24 highway. Highs: Sharp performance. Top-down pleasure. High-tech features. Lows: Gaudy interior. Cramped rear seat. Scary price tag.
Expert Reviews 3 of 4
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