The reason people like convertibles is because when they think of such cars, they think of driving along the coast with their hair flying in the wind. In many places, a convertible seems like the choice of transport for many people. If you want a luxury convertible with the styling and prestige of a Mercedes Benz, this is what the CLK comes in. Debuting in 1996, the Mercedes Benz CLK rivaled the BMW 3 series . Even though the CLK borrows many styling cues and was similar in size as the E class sedan, it was actually based off the C class sedan. This CLK you see here launched in 2003, as an attempt to better the likes of the Lexus SC430, BMW 3 and 6 series, and the Volvo C70 convertible. This generation was notable for its Black Series version. The Black Series is an ultra high performance division dedicated to upgrading AMG (Mercedes Benz’s in house performance division) vehicles. In 2009, the CLK was replaced by the E-Class coupe and convertible.
As mentioned, the CLK borrows many design details from the E-Class sedan. The grill, silhouette, and the interior come from the E-Class. But the headlights are borrowed from the C-Class. The design is pleasing and elegant, and it does not look forced. The cloth top stows neatly in the trunk, and it does not disrupt the side profile. When it is up, the roofline flows smoothly. The headlights and taillights have a distinct shape, while subtle creases are present in the hood and the side profile. If I had to be picky about the design, I do not like the moldings on the side and on the front and rear bumpers. They detract from what is a clean and uncluttered design. The interior is also elegant, and the decor is unashamedly businesslike. Wood is present in only the control cluster, and it nicely accentuates the tan interior. I noticed how the prominent controls are circular like the air vents, the AC controls, the tuning knobs for the radio, and the steering wheel buttons. Even the Mercedes Benz logo imprinted on top of the gear lever is circular. It is straightforward, and the gauges are sophisticated. The ‘flying’ needles for the gauge are a nice touch (It looks like it is moving by itself). Overall the exterior and interior styling is classic yet modern Mercedes Benz.
The CLK is more gran tourer than sports car when it comes to the drive. It is very competent, but not exciting. Body control is decent. It corners neatly without any drama. The steering lacks feedback though, and it is slow to respond. There is a dead spot on center where it does not feel like it is connected to anything. The suspension is quick to get upset in mid corner bumps or undulations. Flooring the gas in a corner will induce understeer. The main gripe with this car is that it does not have a zing to it. If you are looking for spirited driving, this car will not suit you. There is an indifference in the way it drives. One of the compromises that convertibles have unlike their coupes counterparts is in the structure. When you take a roof off a car, you compromise the rigidity of the structure. In order to compensate for this, strengthening beams are placed under the car to make up for the loss in rigidity. But this adds weight which hinders acceleration and handling compared to the coupe. The strengthening beams are used to reduce body shake from the weakened structure. Sometimes it still isn’t enough. In this CLK, the quivers are masked. The body shakes only from the worst roads. The ride quality is exceptional. It feels like riding on a cloud. Big road imperfections are filtered to a slight thud.
For a car weighing almost four thousand pounds, you would expect the 3.5 liter V6 engine with 268 horsepower to struggle moving the mass. It doesn’t. It accelerates with the pace of a V8. Power is readily available from low revs. The engine note could be louder, as in keeping with this car’s mission, is a bit inaudible. The 7-speed automatic transmission blunts the performance. When you want more power, there is a delay in its response time, and it is hesitant to kick down a gear.
One of Mercedes Benz’s traits lie in its refinement, and the CLK is no exception. With the top up, refinement is first-rate. Noise levels are hushed. With the top down, refinement is impressive. Due to the aerodynamic windshield, there is no wind buffeting. The convertible top is fast in its operation.
The interior feels opulent, and the controls have a satisfying quality to them. However, the COMMAND navigation system is cluttered with numerous and poorly marked buttons. For instance, I was trying to exit out of the navigation into radio, but I couldn’t decipher how to do so. The button to exit out of the function was hidden. The gear lever is a problem as well. The gear selections and the windshield controls are located on it, which makes it needlessly complicated. The lever is also prone to accidentally hitting reverse or neutral. Except for some chintzy plastic, fit and finish is flawless. The seats are comfortable and there is decent room in the back. With the top down, there is room for a golf bag. Visibility is not a problem, especially with the top down.
If you are looking for a luxury convertible with an emphasis on comfort, look no further. This CLK combines great performance with stupendous refinement. It is lacking in the driving department, but that is not what this car is about. This car comes from an era where Mercedes Benz made cars with luxury pretensions. Now, they are trying to be sporty like BMW, which ironically BMW is trying to be more like Mercedes Benz. Mercedes Benz designed their cars to be classic, which is reflected in this CLK. This CLK still looks good after all these years. The latest cars are styled to be racy and sporty, while sacrificing comfort for better dynamics. Guess Mercedes Benz does not think staying true to yourself applies to its cars.