Mercedes-Benz redesigned its CLK-Class coupe for 2003. B-pillars were removed, and the new model gained weight as well as torsional stiffness.
The CLK-Class Cabriolet was comparably redesigned as a 2004 model. Cabriolets have a fully automatic soft-top that can be operated remotely and sensor-controlled roll bars that are disguised as head restraints.
For 2005, the formerly optional Appearance Package, which includes 17-inch wheels, brushed-aluminum pedals and burl walnut interior trim, is standard on the CLK320. New 17-inch AMG five-spoke alloy wheels go on the CLK500, which now features a seven-speed-automatic transmission with a manual-shift provision.
Rear windows in the pillarless coupe retract fully to create an open, airy feeling. Mercedes-Benz's three-pointed star sits at the center of a low, wide grille. Twin ellipses form a single headlight unit on each side of the grille. For 2005, the CLK55 AMG gains twin dual exhausts.
Elegance is the CLK320's front-end theme, while sportiness takes precedence in the CLK500. Five-spoke wheels on the CLK320 hold 17-inch tires, but the CLK55 AMG rides on 18-inch wheels. For 2005, the CLK500 adds a rear spoiler.
Each model provides space for four occupants on leather-upholstered seats; the rear seat is split and folds. When front occupants close their doors, an arm extends to deliver the seat belt buckle. Vertical LCD bar graphs are used for fuel and coolant-temperature gauges.
Standard equipment includes a Tele Aid emergency assistance system, automatic dual-zone air conditioning with a sun sensor, 10-way power front seats and rain-sensing wipers. A Harman Kardon LOGIC7 system offers seven-channel digital surround sound.
An optional Keyless Go system unlocks and starts the car by touching buttons on the door handles and gearshift knob, respectively. Options include bi-xenon headlights, a navigation system and a Parktronic system that detects obstacles to the rear.
A 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 goes into the CLK320 coupe and Cabriolet, while a 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 powers CLK500 models. The CLK55 AMG holds a 5.5-liter V-8 that generates 362 hp. CLK-Class models use either a five- or seven-speed-automatic transmission, both of which feature Mercedes' Touch Shift for manually selected gear changes.
CLK-Class models have four side-impact airbags, and the front side-impact airbags in Cabriolets are designed for head and thorax protection. Coupes have full-length side curtain-type airbags. Antilock brakes, Mercedes' Electronic Stability Program stability system and an occupancy sensor for the front passenger seat are standard.
The CLK500 Cabriolet is nearly flawless. It delivers fierce acceleration, super stability, and expert steering and handling. The automatic transmission responds well, and with only a brief delay. The absorbent, carefully controlled suspension provides an enjoyable ride. Performance is less energetic, but wholly sufficient, in the CLK320.
Visibility is impaired when the top is up, but conversations are easy with the top down. Firm, snug-fitting seats feel like they're custom-made. Front space is ample even though the car is rather narrow. Each model has a solid, tight feel, with little sense of heaviness. The powered seat belt extension arm is helpful, but it tends to snap into position.