2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class

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2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class
Available in 5 styles:  2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK320 2dr Coupe shown
Asking Price Range
$5,339–$13,979
Estimated MPG

16–20 city / 23–27 hwy

Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 2

By 

The Morning Call and Mcall.com
Pillarless hardtop.

To devotees of old cars, that description draws memories of glamorous cars whose mission was to impress with excess.

While the cars lacked a pillar aft of the front doors, they were never lacking in eye appeal. With names that evoked far-flung resort areas, the vehicles were coated in chrome and accented in garish colors.

But hardtops vanished by the early '70s, killed by the spectre of proposed government rollover standards that never materialized.

Leave it to the stylists at Mercedes-Benz, who know more than a little bit about glamour, to revive this type of coupe in the North American market with the 2003 CLK 320 and CLK 500.

The look is every bit as beautiful as it was 50 years ago, except this time, Mercedes engineers have given the body enough strength to do without visible pillars between the front and rear doors.

The CLK 320 uses a 215-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6, while the CLK 500 uses a more powerful 302-horsepower 5-liter V-8. Both motors are hooked to a seamlessly smooth five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control.

For testing purposes, the good folks at Mercedes-Benz provided a CLK 320 for testing.

The V-6 motor is typically German: lots of power on tap once you are under way. It is easy to drive the car smoothly and precisely. Shifts from the five-speed automatic are almost imperceptible.

Braking is excellent, as is foul-weather traction. Mercedes-Benz's usual portfolio of electronic aids sees to that.

There is the solid teutonic ride and handling that is expected of a Mercedes-Benz, although it never felt as sporty as a Cadillac CTS or BMW 5-Series.

But this car's glamorous styling makes up for it. To call the car glamorous is an understatement, as the subtle exterior color, ''Desert Silver'' a $655 option, contrasts smartly with the ''Stone Leather'' interior.

The flowing lines belie the car's rather small size, measuring in at a short 182.6 inches. That's the same length as a Chevrolet Cavalier. While the CLK's rounded headlamps may resemble the mid-size Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the vehicle actually rides on the smaller C-Class platform.

But the interior furnishings are pure E-Class.

The leather seating, burl walnut trim and champagne-colored carpets are sumptuous and very inviting. The seats are typically firm in the Mercedes tradition, but seat bolsters are a bit narrow. There's good room in the front, but rear seat passengers will definitely feel cramped. Seat heaters are optional, surprising, given the car's over $40,000 base price.

But other luxuries abound.

Seatbelt presenters hand front seat occupants their seat belts, so they won't strain their giblets reaching back for them. All mirrors dim automatically. Windshield wipers adjust the speed automatically depending on rainfall intensity. The driver's seat and steering w heel move out of the way to ease exiting the vehicle.

Other goodies include the cell phone/navigation/audio system combo, complete with screen and many, many buttons. Someday, an automaker will realize that simplicity is as much a luxury as electronic overkill.

In the meantime, you'll find the system works well, after you figure it all out. The Bose audio system has excellent sound, although the glovebox-mounted CD changer would skip every time the glovebox door was slammed shut. Slamming was necessary because closing it gently never resulted in a closed glovebox.

The instrument cluster is quite interesting, with the center of the instrument used for trip information. The needle revolves around this central gauge to indicate speed. It is a design that's both innovative and appealing.

The whole car is appealing, at least from a style and technology standpoint.

Sadly, the same can't be said for some annoyances that cropped up during testing. The most worrisome one was an engine that felt as if it were about to stall. It stumbled and lost power at low speeds, just like cars with carburetors used to do on cold mornings.

Other problems included windshield wipers that were so noisy they almost drowned out the excellent Bose audio system and a driver's side window that made a noise similar to that of fingernails on a chalkboard.

That's what made the Mercedes-Benz CLK320 somewhat disappointing: but glamour has its price.



    Expert Reviews 2 of 2

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