Mercedes-Benz redesigned its CLK-Class coupe for 2003. B-pillars were removed, and the new model gained weight and torsional stiffness.
The CLK-Class Cabriolet was comparably redesigned for 2004. Cabriolets have a fully automatic soft-top that can be operated remotely, as well as sensor-controlled roll bars that are disguised as head restraints.
For 2005, the CLK500 adopted a seven-speed-automatic transmission. Changes for the 2006 model year include a new grille and redesigned taillamps. Active front head restraints are now standard. A CLK350 series with a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and seven-speed automatic replaces the CLK320. The CLK350 gets new wheels and a front apron. A sportier interior and an AMG exhaust system go into the CLK500.
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 gained twin dual exhausts.
Elegance is the CLK350's front-end theme, while sportiness takes precedence in the CLK500. Five-spoke wheels on the CLK350 and CLK500 hold 17-inch tires, but the CLK55 AMG rides on 18-inch double-spoke wheels. The CLK500 includes 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.
Mercedes' Keyless Go system unlocks and starts the car by touching buttons on the door handles and gearshift knob, respectively. Additional options include bi-xenon headlights, a navigation system and a Parktronic system that detects obstacles to the rear.
Under the Hood
A 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 goes into the CLK350 coupe and Cabriolet, while a 302-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 powers CLK500 models. The CLK55 AMG holds a hand-built 5.5-liter V-8 that generates 362 hp. CLK320 and CLK500 models use a seven-speed-automatic transmission, while the CLK55 gets a five-speed unit. Touch Shift permits manually selected gear changes.
CLK-Class models have four side-impact airbags. The front-seat side-impact airbags in Cabriolets provide head and thorax protection. Coupes have full-length side curtain-type airbags. Antilock brakes and Mercedes' Electronic Stability Program are standard.
The CLK500 Cabriolet is nearly flawless. It delivers fierce acceleration, super stability, and expert steering and handling. The automatic transmission responds well. The absorbent, carefully controlled suspension provides an enjoyable ride. Performance has been less energetic but wholly sufficient in the CLK320; the new CLK350 should be stronger yet.
Visibility is impaired when the convertible top is up, but conversations are easy with the top down. Firm, snug-fitting seats feel like they're custom-made. Front-seat 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.