- A true head-turner without the slightest hint of controversy.
- Seats four full-size adults.
- More interesting interior design compared to a BMW.
- Loaded with luxury features and electronic driving aids.
- Hailed by some critics as the best coupe in the market.
- More expensive than other capable coupes in the market.
- Rear headroom is tight for tall people.
- Needs more power.
- Not the best car to take to a track day.
- Only comes with an automatic.
Press Coverage :
The 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK is almost two inches longer than its predecessor, and all the benefits accrue to interior space. Mercedes claims to have increased interior space by two inches, but it feels like considerably more.
The first-generation CLK was a classic coupe in both its exterior appearance and a rather cramped cockpit. The new CLK offers generous headroom even for tall drivers.
Even better, the back seat actually does have enough room for two adults to travel comfortably over distances greater than to the end of the owner's driveway. You might not want to take three friends for a daylong jaunt, but no one is going to get out of the backseat looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Rear seat knee room has grown 1.57 inches, while rear headroom increases nearly a half-inch.
Mercedes made ingress and egress to the rear seat easier with handy quick release front seats that slide forward and up. In another welcome change, the rear seats split 60/40, providing access to the capacious 10.4 cu.-ft. trunk and making the new CLK as practical for daily fetching and carrying as it is for well as dinner outings.
The interior materials are the finest in any recent Mercedes. Soft polyurethane sprayed onto the dashboard provides an attractive appearance and a luxurious feel. While there have been complaints about the use of plastic in the M-Class and C-Class, it's hard to imagine anyone not being seduced by the look and feel of the CLK's interior.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK is a luxury coupe you can drive hard without even realizing it. The chassis has the kind of stiffness Mercedes has only graced its SL roadsters with in recent years. Torsional rigidity has increased a very welcome 40 percent compared to the pre-2003 CLK.
In mixed driving along a stretch of Detroit's Woodward Avenue that varied from 1900-style brick to pool-table smooth asphalt, the CLK's suspension swallowed the unpleasant bumps without complaint while communicating steering input fluently back to the steering wheel.
A few miles north of downtown Detroit, on the winding lakeside roads of Oakland County, the car handled curves at speed with the easy grace of a thoroughbred horse stretching out in the home stretch.
The CLK's front suspension combines two low-mass lower control arms with a strut, coil springs, dual-tube shocks and a stabilizer bar. Mercedes chose to use the two lower control arms to improve impact absorption for better wheel control and damping. The rear suspension is the latest refinement of Mercedes proven multi-link design. It has been tuned for improved absorption of vibration and more predictable handling when driven hard. The CLK has very little squat or dive during hard acceleration or braking.
Another welcome improvement to the new CLK is the addition of rack and pinion steering. It was the last Mercedes car to abandon the automaker's old recirculating ball system, and the steering response and feel are a massive improvement over the previous model.
Mercedes continues to improve its ESP electronic stability program. In the CLK, the system is virtually transparent, intervening unobtrusively to prevent wheel spin, but without the heavy-handed reduction in power that marred some of its early applications. The 215-hp CLK320 has all the power most drivers will ever really need, accelerating ably from a stoplight and driving the car smoothly through the gears.
The CLK's ride is tuned more for the boulevard than for 3 Series competition. Its new styling emphasizes the point: Roll the four windows down, and you have a pillar-free hardtop, reminiscent of big coupes from the '60s.
The Mercedes is deliberate and balanced in taking fast on-ramps or quick turns. You can steer it with the throttle and rear wheels if the overly intrusive traction control is switched off, but those electronic nannies are there for a reason. The Mercedes feels more predictable when pushed hard.
1998-2002 Mercedes Benz CLK320
3,199 cc / 215 hp / 221 lb-ft / 3550 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.5 sec.