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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
March 26, 2003
Vehicle Overview Mercedes-Benz has redesigned its CLK-Class coupe. At a glance, the new models appearance isnt much different from that of its predecessor, which came to the United States in 1998. B-pillars are absent in the 2003 version, which went on sale in August 2002. The CLK-Class Cabriolet (convertible) is continuing in its prior form for the time being.
The CLK-Class coupe is more upright than before; it is 1.5 inches taller, 2.7 inches longer overall and rides on a wheelbase thats an inch longer. Its also heavier and more spacious, with an inch more headroom and knee room. Up front, the Mercedes-Benz three-pointed star has moved from the hood to the grille, which is lower and wider than before. Optional equipment includes bi-xenon headlights, distronic cruise control, keyless ignition and a Parktronic system that detects obstacles at the rear while backing up. Despite the pillarless coupe body, the automaker says torsional stiffness is 40 percent greater than before.
All CLK-Class coupes have a five-speed adaptive automatic transmission with Touch Shift. Four engines are available: a 3.2-liter V-6 in the CLK320, a 4.3-liter V-8 in the CLK430 Cabriolet and a 5.0-liter V-8 in the CLK500, which is borrowed from the larger CL500. Early in 2003, a high-performance CLK55 AMG coupe arrived with a 362-horsepower V-8. The previous generation included a CLK55 AMG coupe and convertible, whose V-8 produced 342 hp. Eight airbags are installed in the new coupes.
Mercedes-Benz says the new pillarless CLK-Class coupe design was inspired by the premium-luxury CL-Class coupe. The rear windows retract fully to create an open, airy feeling. A new version of the traditional Mercedes coupe and roadster front-end design positions the three-pointed star at the center of a low, wide grille. What appear to be four headlights are actually twin ellipses, which form a single unit on each side of the car. The CLK320 grille uses atlas gray vanes, while high-gloss black vanes with chrome highlights identify the CLK500. Each model also has a distinct front valance panel. The CLK320 has green-tinted glass, and the CLK500 gets blue-tinted glass.
In addition to a larger engine, the CLK500 coupe gets an AMG wheel and body design package, along with bigger brakes. An optional CLK320 Appearance Package adds bigger, lower-profile tires and a larger chrome exhaust. Seven-spoke wheels on the CLK320 coupe hold 16-inch tires, but the CLK500 coupe gets 17-inch rubber. The tires are wider and lower-profiled at the rear.
Both the new CLK-Class coupe and the carryover Cabriolet are built to provide ample interior space for four occupants on leather-upholstered seats. Mercedes-Benz says the new coupe has more rear headroom, elbowroom, hip space and knee room than its predecessor. The split, folding rear seat now folds totally flat. Vertical LCD bar graphs are used for the fuel and coolant-temperature gauges.
The CLK320s Appearance option group includes a sport gearshift knob, aluminum trim (instead of burl walnut) and rubber-studded aluminum pedal trim. For the CLK500, aluminum trim is part of an optional two-tone leather package.
All CLK-Class models have a Tele Aid emergency assistance system with such features as airbag-deployment notification, remote door unlocking, alarm notification and remote diagnostics. Tele Aid can summon emergency help by using cellular and satellite-based technology that provides a direct link to the companys roadside assistance program.
Standard equipment includes automatic dual-zone air conditioning with a sun sensor, 10-way power front seats and rain-sensing windshield wipers. A new premium music system uses eight speakers and digital processing to compensate for ambient noise.
Under the Hood
Four CLK-Class engines are available this year. A 215-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 goes into the new CLK320 coupe and carryover CLK320 Cabriolet, while a 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 powers the CLK500 coupe. Last years 275-hp, 4.3-liter V-8 goes into the carryover CLK320 and CLK430 Cabriolet. The CLK55 AMG comes with a 5.5-liter V-8 that generates 362 hp.
All CLK models have a five-speed-automatic transmission that makes use of Touch Shift for manually controlled gear changes by tipping the gearshift lever to the left or right.
Dual front airbags, four side-impact airbags and two full-length side curtain-type airbags are standard. Traction control, antilock brakes, Mercedes Electronic Stability Program, Brake Assist and a BabySmart recognition system are also standard.