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Mercedes Benz CLK55 AMG (2001)

SEE ALSO: Mercedes Buyer's Guide

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 67,400
     Price As Tested                                    $ 72,270
     Engine Type              SOHC 24-valve 5.5 Liter V8 w/SMFI*
     Engine Size                                 332 cid/5439 cc
     Horsepower                                   342 @ 5500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               376 @ 3000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                  105.9"/67.8"/180.2"
     Transmission                           Five-speed automatic
     Curb Weight                                     3619 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  16.4 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)             225/45ZR17/ 245/40ZR17 performance
     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                            17/24/21
     0-60 MPH                                        5.0 seconds
     1/4 (E.T.)                         13.5 seconds @ 105.0 mph
     Top-speed                  (Electronically limited) 155 mph
                 * Sequential multi-port fuel injection

AMG, the performance division of Mercedes, started life as a hot-rod shop near Stuttgart, Germany. Within a few decades, AMG has evolved from a "tuner" of privately-owned Mercedes' to modifying limited-production cars for the factory. The CLK55 AMG we test this week is one of them.

OUTSIDE - The CLK is a seductive-looking vehicle. Its wedge shape offers smooth curves, elegant lines and a sleek profile, enhanced by AMG's subtle body modifications. These include modest body-color side skirts below the doors, a restyled front air dam and special 17-inch AMG wheels. The CLK55 Cabriolet version is the work of a collaboration between Mercedes and coachbuilder Karmann, which builds the basic body-in-white, then delivers it back to Benz for painting. From there it returns to Karmann for final assembly. This is where the Karmann- designed soft top is installed. The three-layer top is easy to lower. A lever is pulled on the center of the windshield header, a dash-mounted button is pushed and the top begins to raise. A hard boot cover flips upward until the top is securely in its well, then closes neatly to secure the top.

INSIDE - The interior of any CLK-Class Benz is pure luxury. Rich leather upholstery and Bird's-Eye maple wood trim are standard, as are 10-way power front seats that automatically power forward when the seatback is tilted. This offers easier entry into the minuscule back seat, which is large enough for two adults during short trips. AMG adds special gauges, softer leather and sportier seats, but other than those items, the interior has the same format and high-quality workmanship as the standard CLK. Controls are within easy reach, though some devices such as the stereo and air conditioning controls take some familiarization time. Other standard features include dual-zone automatic climate control, telescoping steering column, remote keyless entry, auto-dimming mirrors, cruise control, power windows, outside mirrors and door locks, heated front seats and an eight-speaker Bose-brand stereo system.

ON THE ROAD - The CLK AMG is powered by a hand-assembled 5.5-liter V8 engine. The hardware list reads like that of a race car: forged billet steel crankshaft, forged, weight-matched connecting rods and pistons, lightweight AMG-specific camshafts and a "massaged" intake system for optimal breathing. Its bore and stroke are nearly the same, which makes it an ideally balanced engine. It features three valves and two spark plugs per cylinder to produce a healthy 342 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. The standard five-speed automatic transmission is fully adaptive and electronically-controlled, and is a stronger unit than that of the CLK430. Also larger is the driveshaft, which connects to a reinforced rear differential to keep all the extra power under control. Standard traction control keeps wheelspin to a minimum, while its Electronic Stability Program (ESP) keeps the CLK on its intended path.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The standard CLK chassis is used, and while the current version is not based on the new C-Class platform, the AMG version of the CLK offers some special undercarriage components. The four-wheel independent suspension is basically the same as the lesser CLK versions, but AMG fits higher-rated springs, revalved shocks, larger diameter anti-roll bars and stiffer bushings. The resulting firmer, more controlled ride is made even tighter by its high-performance ZR-rated low-profile tires. The brakes have been enhanced as well. The huge four-wheel discs are larger and thicker than the other CLKs, and the rear discs are specially vented to enhance cooling. An anti-lock braking system is standard, while Brake Assist applies full braking force in panic stop faster than a driver could.

SAFETY - Dual dashboard and side-impact airbags, ESP, ABS, front seat belt pre-tensioners, traction control and Brake Assist are standard.

OPTIONS - COMMAND System (controls audio, satellite and phone systems from a dashboard screen), $2035; integrated phone system, $2190.