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New Car/Review

1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Cabriolet

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 47,200
     Price As Tested                                    $ 50,985
     Engine Type            SOHC 18-valve 3.2 Liter V6 w/SFI-TI*
     Engine Size                                 195 cid/3199 cc
     Horsepower                                   215 @ 5500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               229 @ 3000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.9"/67.8"/180.2"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3683 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.4 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                    205/55R16 Performance-tread
     Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                        N/A
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            19/28/25         
     0-60 MPH                                          8 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     16.5 seconds @ 91.5 mph
     Top speed                                           130 mph

     * Sequential fuel injection / Two-stage intake-manifold

The Mercedes-Benz CLK prototype was introduced at the Geneva auto show in 1993 and its exciting shape veered from the staid styling that marked the company for many years. But unlike many other show cars that lose much of their exciting styling when they're offered to the public, the CLK looks much like it did when it was unveiled at the show.

The car is offered as a hardtop, or as a convertible such as the version we test for this week.

OUTSIDE - The CLK's exterior has a sleek and seductive shape, with smoothly flowing lines and a sweeping hatchback-style roof line. Its four-oval headlamp theme is also found on its popular E-Class sedan, though the CLK lights are smaller and more elliptical, and its nose and hood are raked back farther to flow more evenly into the roof. The heavily insulated top uses three-layer construction, with rubberized fleece fiber padding between the layers. All this insulation makes for quiet top-up motoring, but when the sun begins to shine, bringing the top down is simple. A twist of the latch that sits in the center of the windshield header, a slight upward push, a press on a button on the center console that activates a series of motors, and the job is done. A rear cover opens and the top drops into a deep well behind the rear seats. The whole process takes about 30 seconds start to finish.

INSIDE - The interior of the car is well styled too, The dashboard looks much like that used in the C-Class sedan, with no-nonsense instruments and the new headlight twist knob that integrates the fog lamps when pulled. The leather upholstery is firm and taut, with perforations that keeps it cooler in the summer. The front bucket seats are supportive and well bolstered, and have a feature that drives them forward when the seatback is flipped. making rear entrance easier. Mercedes call the CLK a four-seat convertible, which is accurate. Two adults can fit with ample legroom and headroom, but extended trips will be snug with four people aboard. Standard features include dual zone climate control, power seats with memory, remote locking, control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power windows and outside mirrors, and an AM/FM cassette stereo.

ON THE ROAD - Our CLK320 version is powered by a 3.2 liter V6 engine that produces 215 horsepower and 229 lb-ft of torque. It replaces an in-line six cylinder engine that's been used in various Mercedes cars since 1984. The V6 is lighter and more efficient, with 85 percent of its torque available at low rpms. This gives quick off-the-line power and immediate response, impressive because it comes across a wide engine speed range. It uses a single camshaft on each cylinder head, along with 18 valves - one exhaust and two intakes. Zero-to-sixty takes a around eight seconds, and the quarter mile takes about 16. A five- speed automatic the only transmission available and it's perfectly suited to the rest of the powertrain. Our car had a stability system which uses computer controls and the anti-lock brakes to help maintain control.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Mercedes has always built sturdy convertibles, but recent chassis improvements have made the CLK especially strong. Reinforcement of the body side members and center running gear tunnel includes adding a crossmember under the front seats and strengthening the windshield pillars and the area behind the doors. Crossmembers in the floor and diagonal struts front and rear further increase rigidity, so the ride is firm and composed, even over good-sized potholes and broken pavement. Its four-wheel independent suspension includes double wishbones up front and a five-link setup in back. Brakes are discs all around with an anti-lock braking system (ABS) and Brake Assist, which automatically applies full braking force in a panic stop.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard airbags and side-impact airbags, along with BabySmart child seat recognition, ABS, and an automatic roll-over protection system are standard. The stability system (ESP) is optional.

OPTIONS - ESP: $1,000; exterior paint upgrade: $600; Package K4 (rain-sensing wipers, headlamp washers, high-output headlights, heated front seats) $1,500; Destination charge: $595.