Mercedes-Benz For 1999
By Carey Russ
In the past, change at Mercedes-Benz came at a glacial pace. Not today. New additions for 1999 include the CLK320 Cabriolet, CLK430 coupe, ML430 sport-utility, and C230 Kompressor sedan. That's not all. The SLK roadster has a new manual transmission for a sportier attitude, and the premium SL roadsters have significant refinements as well. An all-new generation of S-Class luxury sedans have been announced, and will be available in mid-1999 as 2000 models.
The CLK luxury-sports class was new last year with the debut of the V6-powered CLK320 coupe. The class expands for 1999 with the introduction of the CLK320 Cabriolet and V8-powered CLK430 coupe.
Although the CLK320 Cabriolet shares the 3.2-liter, 215-hp V6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission, and fully-independent suspension of the CLK320 coupe, it is unique from the windshield back. The doors and rear fenders are subtly different in style, and the chassis is reinforced to ensure rigidity even without a fixed roof. Like its coupe sibling, the CLK320 Cabriolet's interior is designed for four people. A three-layer, fully-insulated top, full-range traction control, and the luxurious comfort expected in a Mercedes-Benz make it a true four-season car. Reinforced windshield pillars and an integrated, electronically-deployed rear roll bar provide rollover protection.
Mercedes-Benz has been very successful in international GT racing with CLK-inspired cars. The new CLK430 brings this spirit to the street. While it may not be quite as quick as a CLK-LM, the 4.3- liter, 275-hp V8 gives it significantly more performance than the CLK320 and a wonderful hot-rod V8 exhaust note as well. Despite its power, the engine meets Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) exhaust emission standards and has low maintenance requirements. A five- speed automatic transmission with adaptive electronic control makes it a civilized car to drive on the open road or in traffic. Subtle styling differences, designed by the German tuning firm AMG, distinguish the CLK430 from its V6 stable mate.
To say that the M-Class sport-utility vehicle has been successful since the introduction of the ML320 last year is serious understatement. Production has been increased at the plant in Alabama, and will soon start in Austria. And, a premium, V8-powered model is now available.
The ML430 is designed to shake up the high end of the sport- utility market in the same manner as the ML320 has influenced the center. It offers all of the amenities of a fully-optioned ML320 as standard equipment and the power of a 268-hp 4.3-liter V8 engine. As in the ML320, all ML430s are equipped with a dual-range full-time four-wheel-drive system featuring full-range electronic traction control that can provide mobility even if only one wheel has traction. Both M- Class vehicles have fully-independent suspension for car-like handling and comfort on the road as well as off-road ability.
A new optional feature available on all M-Class models this year is the "Power Skyview Top." It is a nearly full-length sliding roof that, with its four-foot by three-foot opening, gives rear-seat passengers the same open-air experience as can be had by those in front.
The current generation of Mercedes-Benz's premium luxury roadster has been around for ten years now, but remains the sales leader in its class despite new competition. Two versions are available, the limited-production, V12-powered SL600 and the V8 SL500. The 1999 SL500 will be bad news to its competitors, with a more powerful new-generation 5.0-liter engine that gives it better performance.
Both SL models have subtle styling revisions inside and out for 1999, and larger wheels and tires for better roadholding. An optional sport package, designed by noted tuning company AMG, enhances the look and performance even more.
The SLK roadster has gained popularity with its mini-SL character, but there were potential customers who preferred something sportier. Something with a manual gearbox, in the finest sports car tradition. Something like the 1999 SLK, with a new five-speed manual transmission and optional AMG-designed sport package with suspension and styling upgrades.
The five-speed adaptive automatic transmission continues to be offered in the SLK, and its 2.3-liter 185-hp supercharged twin-cam four-cylinder engine is unchanged. The SLK's unique retractable power hardtop makes it a "sports car for all seasons and reasons."
The compact C-Class sedans emphasize performance for 1999. The four-cylinder C230 is gone, replaced by the C230 Kompressor. "Kompressor" is German for "supercharger", and the C230K uses the same supercharged 2.3-liter engine as the SLK roadster. With 185 horsepower versus the old C230's 148, performance is increased significantly.
Other C-Class models are the C280, powered by a smooth 2.8- liter, 194-hp V6, and the limited-production C43. The C43, developed with the assistance of AMG and introduced in mid-1998, has a 302-hp version of the 4.3-liter V8 found in the CLK430 coupe, ML430 SUV, and E430 sedan.
E-Class Sedans and Wagons
The 1996 E-Class had the world's first door-mounted side air bags. The 1999 E-Class has the first full curtain side air bag protection system, for better protection of both front and rear-seat passengers in a side-impact collision.
Four E-Class models are offered for 1999: the E300 Turbodiesel sedan, the V6-powered E320 sedan and wagon, and the V8-powered E430 sedan. Both E320 models may be outfitted with the "4MATIC" all-wheel-drive system, and a sport package is available for the E430.
S-Class Sedans and CL-Class Coupes
There are no major changes to the premium luxury flagships of the Mercedes lineup.