Lord, wont you
buy me a Mercedes-
ASK ANYBODY FOR A WISH LIST of the top five cars they'd like to own, money no object, and you can bet your bottom dollar that high on their list will be a car sporting the famous three-pointed star on its nose.
Mercedes-Benz has always produced desirable cars, especially convertibles. And not just the attention-grabbing folding-metal hard-top variety either, because just as sought-after are Mercedes-Benz four-seater convertibles including the svelte CLK Cabriolet, the latest in a long line of four-seat cabriolets.
Exactly how much oomph your ego needs to complement the CLK Cabriolet's ice cool looks is limited only by the size of your bank balance. Power ranges from an entry-level 161bhp supercharged 1.8-litre costing £31K all the way up to a massive 376bhp 5.5-litre V8, for which you'll get serious performance in exchange for your £61K: 155mph and a 5.4 second 0-62mph sprint.
Middle of the five-model CLK Cabriolet range and tested here in Avantgarde trim is the £38K 320, powered by a V6 that's good for a rousing 218bhp.
The CLK Cabriolet's looks say just one thing: Pedigree. The Cabriolet shares its modish styling with the now familiar CLK-Class Coupé distinctive double-oval headlamps and an assertively sloping nose, wings melding into wedge-shaped flanks and a rising waistline to the rear deck. Distinctive red-and-white wraparound rear lights 'book-end' the tapered bootlid for a tidy-looking tail. The hood looks great whether it's raised or lowered and smart touches include the twin 'air domes' of the rigid flush-fitting cover that caps the hood when it's not in use, and white-finish indicator repeater lights incorporated into the door mirrors.
Sitting in a CLK is even more rewarding than the excitement of actually buying one in the first place. The Cabriolet is luxurious a genuine four-seater with a classy ride quality that's good enough to pick you up in London and deliver you as fresh as when you left to any European capital. The CLK is one of the few convertibles that, literally, keeps it driver and passengers unruffled. Four can travel top-down at surprisingly high speed in relative tranquillity and if there's just two of you then the effective mesh wind deflector that sits behind the front seats makes it even more serene. Enhancing the Mercedes al fresco experience is that, hood down, the cabin remains as cosily warm or as comfortably chilled as you prefer.
Drive, or be driven in, a CLK Cabriolet and you'll experience the feeling of impeccable self-satisfaction that comes free with every Mercedes-Benz.
Without doubt one of the principal reasons for buying a CLK Cabriolet is its roof. It's a typically excellent nod to Mercedes workmanship with 830 parts that are assembled in 550 stages. The steel and aluminium frame is joined to the body in three places which help turn the car into a Faraday cage, enabling it to withstand direct lightning strikes. Covering the framework is an eight-layer hood an inch thick. The waterproof top layer comes in black, dark blue or grey.
All electric fabric tops should be like this: press a button and it's done. The roof folds and four windows disappear completely into the body in almost total silence. If it starts to rain and you're stuck in traffic it will also close while the car is moving at up to 5mph. As you approach the car, the roof can also be lowered via the remote key fob irresistible and it's fast, too, with a complete closed-to-fully open time of just 17 seconds.
Buying a CLK is not only about being seen in something that looks good enough to make its owner look pretty good too being behind the wheel of this car gets you closer to some seriously entertaining driving!
On paper the CLK's creamy 3.2-litre V6, with 218bhp and 229lb ft of torque on tap, looks a good bet. But how do the figures translate out on the road? Well, we were impressed. The benchmark 0-62mph sprint is dismissed in a refined and unflustered 8.2 seconds, while the top speed of 150mph is faster than you'll want to be travelling with the roof down. The normally-aspirated 18-valve powerplant also has surprisingly economical drinking habits, consuming a gallon of unleaded every 27 miles.
The cabriolet-bodied CLK comes with a stiffened chassis that while not putting it firmly into hardcore sportscar territory, does allow it to be chucked around with a fair degree of abandon certainly enough to keep keen drivers interested. Worth mentioning, too, is the absolute lack of shimmy with the roof either up or down. Being an authentic four-seater, the CLK is a pretty big and grandly fettled car, and as such carries a fair bit of weight (1730kg) with it wherever it goes.
However, its weight works agreeably in its favour most notably in enhancing its straight line ride comfort and stability while driving briskly on major roads and quickly on motorways. And that's not to imply that it can't hack the tricky back road bits either. The CLK benefits from good chassis balance and is game if you are, providing plenty of composure and grip in bends, willingly being hustled along with some zest.
The Tipfunction auto 'box is an able companion under these circumstances. In touch-shift ('Tip') manual mode the transmission responds swiftly and efficiently to a light sideways finger-tap on the selector lever to change up or down. The selected gear/mode is continuously displayed in the speedometer and the system works incredibly efficiently and smoothly, with changes being effected instantly.
As you would expect of a Mercedes the brakes do an admirable job, aided by their consistently good feel and gripping the road through the 225/45 front and 245/40 rear Continental SportContacts fitted to our test car's optional 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels.
The CLK's rack-and-pinion power steering responds with alacrity to driver inputs, allowing accurate placing of the car. A compact turning circle of just 10.7 metres helps. Acceleration is seamless, thanks to a smooth-shifting five-speed auto 'box. Slip it into Sport and flick the gearlever across to activate manual mode and progress takes on a satisfying urgency. Most drivers, we suspect, will be more than content and there's no reason not to be to leave the polished automatic 'box to its own devices, so well has Mercedes matched it to the engine's power band. Besides, if you really want to go hell for leather then there's always the hardball AMG version.
Mercedes has done a good job of packaging the CLK Cabriolet. In addition to providing a genuine four-seat cabin and accommodating all the electro-hydraulic trickery of the roof mechanism and a substantial fabric roof, they've also managed to build in a decent luggage capacity.
If travelling roof-up, the boot capacity can be usefully enlarged by simply pushing back the semi-rigid boot-liner. Few owners will have trouble fitting two hard cases or up to four fair-sized soft bags into the deep boot. If you're only going as far as the club, two golf bags can be squeezed in. The bootlid flips up past the vertical on hydraulic rams, which makes loading a doddle. For those who think not in objects but in volume, maximum boot space is, at 390 litres, the biggest in its class. There's also a good-sized five-section storage tray that sits beneath the boot floor above the space-saver spare wheel.
Whichever mode you choose to travel in, the CLK is comfortable with good wind insulation. It's also reassuringly well protected by safety equipment. Two front airbags are standard, as are the impressive head-thorax side impact bags that offer protection from the hip to the head. Toughened A-pillars back up an automatic roll-over protection system in case, as they say in the blurb, the vehicle inverts. Should that ever happen, sensors extend the rear roll hoops to their maximum height in just 0.3 seconds. To help prevent the car inverting in the first place there's ABS with Brake Assist, Acceleration Skid Control (ASR) and an Electronic Stability Programme (ESP). In this day and age it's more than convenient to have a central-locking system that locks all the door as you pull-away, although it can be deactivated in a couple of seconds if the driver prefers.
The comfortable cabin is, ergonomically speaking, quite a busy place with lots of buttons and switches. But drive the car for a few days and you appreciate that there is a place for everything and everything is in its place. The multi-function steering wheel has four siamesed double buttons that between them let the driver control just about everything without taking his eyes from the road. At first glance it seems somewhat daunting. Actually, it's not. In fact, it's one of the easiest systems we've tried and is sited perfectly for safe use.
Accommodation is far more than just somewhere to sit. Uptown convertibles such as the CLK have to do far more than just carry passengers. They have to do it in style. And that, naturally, means some refined pampering. The Mercedes doesn't let you down, thanks to comfy, soft leather seats that support in all the right places. The seat controls are located to hand on the doors with switches shaped to mimic the actual seat so you can quickly set an ideal position. Seat heating is first rate, with a good anatomical spread of warmth that will keep you as cozy as you wish on even the chilliest winter day.
We loved the CLK's seatbelt 'butler'. When either the driver or the front passenger gets in, their belt is offered to them by an electronic 'hand' that stops in just the right place. We also liked the foot-operated parking brake and the master key which works perfectly without a metal 'blade' and it's easier on your pockets.
A quality sound system is standard fit, as is a chillable glovebox. The driver fares particularly well, with plenty of head- and legroom, and a leather-skinned multi-function wheel that adjusts electrically for both height and reach. There is also the option of an easy-entry system that pulls the wheel up and away for easier entry and exit. Instruments are clear and viewed dead ahead through the top of the meaty four-spoke wheel. Smart textured aluminium trim is used for slim door inserts and also covers the central console, inset into which are modular self-contained control panels for the SatNav, climate control and ancillary switchgear for the heated seats, central locking, etc.
The SatNav has a clear colour screen and is very user-friendly, with handy shortcut menu buttons for mute, instant map position and traffic information as well as delete/return.
Storage is good, and particularly neat is the lockable central console unit with a three-stage armrest-cum-lid that can be opened from either side like a magic box. The 6-CD autochanger loads via the glovebox, with an additional storage module for a further 6 CDs alongside. A slim sunglasses drawer is sited next to the glovebox.
Also especially helpful is the easy-to-read circular LCD 'message board' in the centre of the speedometer that displays a variety of driver-selected information in sharp orangey-yellow graphics that can be read even with the top down. Instruments have refreshingly bright white numerals that are easy to see both at night and in bright sunlight. Visibility out is a class-leading 85 per cent, and the large windows and rear screen also ensure the cabin feels spacious and airy with the hood up. And there's even a benefit from pouring rain thanks to a system devised by Mercedes aerodynamicists. Rainwater is channelled over the roof away from the windows, which are cleaned by the passing air so that side and rear glass remain dirt-free.
Each rear passenger gets their own individually-sculpted wrap-around seat and will bless the hassle-free entry and exit afforded by easy-fold front seats. Rear legroom is good, and the rear headrests rise up when required and can be retracted out of the way at the touch of a switch on the dash.
In typically Mercedes style, standard equipment is comprehensive. Key items include six airbags, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control air-conditioning, auto-dimming rear-view and driver's door mirror, belt feeders, electric heated and folding door mirrors, electric windows (both front have auto one-shot up/down), fully-automatic fabric hood with remote control, heated screenwash system and headlamp power wash, multi-function steering wheel with trip computer, rain sensing wipers, automatic lights, blue-tinted heat-insulating glass and centre armrests front and rear.
Drivers will appreciate the CLK. It is an excellent car, very well put together, and a refined performer with predictable road behaviour. It's as good to drive solo as it is accompanied by friends. And in a CLK Cabriolet you can, of course, enjoy classy and comfortable top-down motoring all year round.
Variable servicing intervals are standard. The CLK comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty as well as Mercedes-Benz's industry-leading 'mobilo-life' warranty cover. Warranties for protection against inside-to-outside corrosion and breakdown cover are commonplace, but only Mercedes extends this cover for 30 years from the date of first registration! So choose your colour carefully. Because tastes change and you and your CLK could be together for a very long time.
Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 Cabriolet | £38,730
Maximum speed: 150mph | 0-62mph: 8.2seconds
Overall test MPG: 27mpg | Power: 218bhp | Torque: 229lb ft
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