Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - CLK-class - CLK320 Elegance coupe
Sweet V6 power, styling, Mercedes' top-level engineering
Room for improvement
Outpriced and outstyled, but not outgunned, by 406 Coupe, some flimsy interior fittings
7 Feb 2001
By P TIBBLES
THE Mercedes-Benz CLK320 has the panache if you have the cash.
It is an overtly sporty car for the young and young-at-heart, according to the German giant Daimler-Benz.
In reality, though, only the moneyed young-at-heart will be able to afford the entrance fee for the dreamy four-seater V6 Mercedes CLK 320 Elegance.
For those on more modest incomes, there is the 2.0-litre CLK 200 Sport.
The CLK 320 Elegance is a serious rival for BMW's six-cylinder 3 Series coupe, the Volvo C70 and Peugeot 406 Coupe.
The CLK coupe, like the SLK roadster, is something of a huge departure from pure Germanic form and function.
Both the CLK and SLK represent a newer, more aggressive marketing push by Daimler-Benz.
It aims to snare a new breed of buyers who would not normally put the words "sexy" and "Mercedes" together in the same sentence.
Judging by the stares afforded the CLK we drove, it is bound to find a loyal following.
The C-class-based coupe has an overall length of 4567mm, lying somewhere between the C-class and E-class. There are obvious benefits in interior room.
But the swoopy lines inhibit rear passenger headroom and the big, curvaceous C-pillar creates a blind spot.
But that is the price you pay for drop-dead gorgeous.
The CLK also adopts the love-it-or-hate-it four-headlight look of the larger E-class range.
The heart of the CLK 320 is a superbly smooth 3.2-litre V6.
It is worth taking a peek under the bonnet at this technical masterpiece - 160kW of power at 5700rpm, a huge 310Nm of torque at 3000 to 4600rpm and indecently good fuel economy.
It is a smooth operator but, like other Mercedes, is reluctant to move off-line swiftly. Once under way, the V6 comes into its own, producing plenty of power and torque right up to and beyond cruising speeds.
Any over-enthusiastic manoeuvres are taken care of by the traction control.
Manual gear changes are a breeze, just nudge the shift selector up and down through the traditional staggered Mercedes gate.
The engine itself utilises three-valve technology and extensive use of aluminium, magnesium and plastics to reduce weight.
Two novel but supremely practical additions are the standard Active Service System (ASSYST) which takes care of servicing schedules and the Brake Assist System (BAS).
ASSYST helps extend oil-change intervals by up to 20,000km. A dashboard indicator tells you how much time remains until the next service.
BAS is a masterful stroke of Mercedes safety engineering.
In an emergency stop the system helps shorten braking distances, applying the maximum pressure without locking the brakes. The brakes themselves are strong and fade free.
There are enough other acronyms to have you hitting the manual every time something lights up on the dash panel. Apart from BAS and ASS, there's ABS, ESP, ASR, LIM speed limiter - the list is almost endless.
The Mercedes is not without its foibles, particularly in relation to the over-assisted recirculating ball power steering. At cruising speeds it can be annoyingly light.
The big, meaty tyres also create some amplified road noise on coarse surfaces, somewhat enhanced because of the relative hush in the cabin.
Put all that 205/55 16-inch rubber together with the double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear end, and the CLK delivers a wonderfully reassuring ride and handling compromise.
Bumps and humps are dispatched without unduly upsetting driver or passengers and the car is equally composed punting through sweeping indifferent corners or lazily cruising the freeway.
As the scenery scoots by, both driver and passengers are cocooned in leather luxury.
The front seats look inviting but lack sufficient shoulder support. On a long journey they are reasonably comfortable.
A soothing eight-speaker stereo and six-stacker CD player take care of all things musical but the radio reception, with the aerial in the rear window, is insufficient in the city and lacks range.
As you would expect for the price, the cabin is all electric.
The front seats have an electric tilt-move mechanism that lowers the headrests and moves the seat forward to allow easier access to the two rear seats. The rear seats also fold down to increase luggage space.
The absence of an oil pressure gauge may rankle with some owners who are trading up from older models.
Mercedes claims most buyers do not care but it is one of the quality trade-offs that repeat buyers may find hard to swallow.
Likewise, the quality of the interior carpet and door pockets appear a little down-market.
Ultimately though, all is forgiven when you fire up the sweet V6 and head out on to the open road.
- Automotive NetWorks 20/07/1998
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