New models - Mercedes-Benz - CLK-class
First Oz drive: Benz CLK coupe
Bigger, sexier and better handling, the next generation CLK gets our thumbs up on home soil
4 Jun 2002
MERCEDES-Benz Australia is predicting a big increase in coupe-buying showroom traffic when its all-new C209 CLK range goes on sale at the end of this month.
Expected to double the sales volumes achieved by the outgoing C208 CLK, the new W203 C-class based coupe will offer better value for money courtesy of increased levels of standard equipment and more competitive pricing.
"With more potential buyers and improved supply, we anticipate selling closer to 1000 units per year, compared with around 500 per year for the previous model," Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars managing director Matthias Lührs said at this week's Australian CLK320 and CLK500 launch.
To achieve these ambitious sales targets, MBA hopes the new coupe will attract conquest sales in the order of 50 per cent. But it is unlikely the CLK will seriously challenge BMW's dominant 3 Series coupe line-up - unless the boost comes at the expense of its German rival exclusively.
In the past BMW has outsold Mercedes-Benz by about four to one in a coupe for coupe comparison. Last year Mercedes-Benz sold about 450 CLKs while BMW managed to shift over 1700 3 Series coupes.
To date this year the figures are even less flattering for the now superseded CLK - around 60 sales compared to 601 for the 3 Series.
But with a current order bank of over 400 customers, MBA is hoping all that will change, particularly by late 2003 when the staggered release of CLK models is completed.
The CLK320 and CLK500 will be in dealerships from June 28 while the entry level CLK240 and CLK55 AMG will join the range by December. A four-cylinder CLK will bring Mercedes-Benz's midrange coupe line-up to five models by late 2003.
Engine specifications for the volume-selling CLK320 remain unchanged as it continues to employ the 160kW, 3.2-litre V6 powerplant used in many other Mercedes-Benz models.
CLK500 replaces CLK430, using the new 225kW/460Nm 5.0-litre V8 engine already seen in the S-class, M-class, SL-class, CL-class and soon to be launched E-class range. The three-valve V8 offers a power increase of 20kW, or almost 10 per cent, over the 4.3-litre engine.
The new 2.6-litre engined CLK240 effectively replaces the four-cylinder CLK230 Kompressor, making its 125kW V6 the entry level powerplant for the new range, as the CLK200 Kompressor has also been discontinued from the Australian line-up, for now.
CLK55 AMG has also received an engine boost with its high performance 5.4-litre engine now producing 270kW, an increase of 15kW on the outgoing CLK55, to make it 0.2 seconds quicker from 0-100km/h (now 5.2 seconds).
All CLK models are fitted with an electronically controlled five-speed "Touchshift" automatic transmission, while the CLK55 also offers Formula One-style steering wheel gearshift controls and what Mercedes-Benz calls Speedshift (with advanced adaptive characteristics with active downshifting).
CLK240 and 320 models ride on 16-inch alloy wheels, while the CLK500 uses 17-inch alloys and the CLK55 AMG larger 18-inch items.
Standard equipment levels have been improved as some of the innovative technology systems filter through from the higher-spec SL, S-class and the new E-class - such as the COMAND control system (integrating audio, navigation, TV and telephone functions), which is now standard on all CLK models bar the CLK240.
Other equipment introduced to the new CLK includes electric rear windows, headlamp assist, front seatbelt feeders, Thermatic automatic climate control, a rain sensor, rear seatbelt pretensioners and force limiters, and a split-folding rear seat.
The safety package includes ABS, ESP (Electronic Stability Program), Brake Assist, adaptive front airbags with an occupant sensor for measuring passenger weight, side airbags and window airbags.
Over and above European specifications, all Australian-delivered CLK coupes will also come with leather upholstery, mobile phone pre-installation and a glovebox-mounted CD changer.
Elegance and Avantgarde trim levels have been carried over from the previous model, but this time there is no price difference between the two equipment grades.
Elegance is still positioned as the luxury line with wood trim the distinguishing feature, while Avantgarde has aluminium trim for a more overtly sports flavour.
MBA says the changes to the CLK have made it up to 12.7 per cent better value than the outgoing model, based on the additional standard equipment and, in most cases, lower pricing.
Whether that's enough for it to take the sales fight up to the 3 Series coupe will probably have to wait until late 2003, when the full range of models is available.
New pricing v old pricing: New
CLK240 - $89,900
CLK320 - $114,900
CLK500 - $139,900
CLK55 AMG - $189,900 Old
CLK200 - $86,900
CLK230K - $98,400
CLK320 - $115,900
CLK430 - $134,900
CLK55 AMG - $193,900 Engine specs: CLK240 - 2.6-litre V6, 125kW / 240Nm
CLK320 - 3.2-litre V6, 160kW / 310Nm
CLK500 - 5.0-litre V8, 225kW / 460Nm
CLK55 AMG - 5.4-litre V8, 270kW / 510Nm
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:By MARTON PETTENDY FROM the moment one sees it in the metal, it is clear the new CLK is a much larger, more imposing vehicle than the two-door it replaces.
No longer the entry level Mercedes-Benz coupe, the new CLK's C-class mimicking, peanut-style headlights, more rounded rear end and sweeping side profile sans upper B-pillar and clean new look combine to push the market positioning of CLK further towards the flagship CL coupe.
With a 25mm longer wheelbase, the C-class based CLK is also 71mm longer overall, 18mm wider and 42mm higher. Despite this, the svelte new shape has an outstanding aerodynamic factor of just 0.28Cd.
The theme continues inside where an all-new dash, larger seats and the larger glasshouse afford CLK occupants greater headroom, rear knee room, elbow room and shoulder room.
The boot is also 15 litres bigger and now offers the practicality of a split-folding rear seat. Negatives include the lack of a locking glovebox - which contains the CD stacker - but the centre console compartment does provide lockable storage.
The improved ergonomics and increased overall size make the CLK feel more substantial on the road too, but this is more than compensated by vastly improved driving dynamics.
A complete engineering overhaul up front has seen the new CLK adopt the W203 C-class sedan's three-link MacPherson strut front suspension and, even more importantly, its rack and pinion power steering.
Combined with a 10mm smaller steering wheel and vastly reduced lift at both ends, the new set-up offers crisper and more precise steering, along with enhanced straight-line stability. Fitted with speed-sensitive assistance, the CLK500's steering is even further improved.
Replacing the outgoing model's recirculating ball steering and double wishbone front suspension, the new front end and 40 per cent stiffer body provide new CLK owners with the type of steering accuracy, road holding and chassis agility more in keeping with a modern sports coupe. The only trade-off is a slightly larger turning circle.
Of course, Mercedes-Benz's now legendary ride characteristics remain unaffected, the CLK maintaining its composure and soaking Australian-sized road hazards with nary a whisper.
On smooth surface roads the CLK is as quiet as the class leading C-class cabin, but the front suspension did bottom-out over a couple of particularly nasty road crevices during the course of the testing launch loop.
While the 320 lives in the 500's shadow in terms of thrust and engine note, the 160kW three-valve unit delivers its peak torque at just 3000rpm and is enough to propel the 1605kg CLK320 with vigor.
Similarly, the auto-only CLK500's 460Nm of torque makes light work of its 1660kg kerb mass, providing tractor-like urge right from idle and delivering blisteringly quick acceleration in its upper rev range via a silky Tipshift auto.
At $139,900, whether it can tempt buyers away from the similarly priced M3 will make for interesting observation.
At $114,900, the 320 is 2.5 per cent less expensive than its predecessor, representing 8.7 per cent better value according to Mercedes.
It is expected to attract 45 per cent of CLK sales while the CLK240 and CLK500 are each likely to comprise 25 per cent of CLK volumes. Like the 240, the CLK55 AMG is due in December and will account for five per cent of sales.
There is no question the CLK offers more metal, more technology and better dynamics than ever before.
Along with increased supply from the factory, this should ensure Benz has no trouble bettering the outgoing CLK's record of 2300 sales over the next five years.
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