Mercedes-Benz is best known for big, luxurious 4-door sedans. But with the arrival of the smart little SLK Roadster, many 2-door fans are giving Germany’s best known car company a second look. That attention will soon be rewarded, with the arrival of another, if larger, sports-luxury model, the CLK. Does this mean more 2-door success for Stuttgart?
You’d better believe it! Because when you look this good, success can’t be far behind.
And the 1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 coupe has success written all over it. Not to mention plenty of performance to match its confident and self-assured posture.
That begins at ground level with a set of lightly polished 16 by 7 inch forged light alloy wheels wrapped in low profile Continental rubber, and works its way forward to a face that mirrors its larger E-Class sibling. A look originating with the CLK’s real progenitor, the 1993 Design-Studie Coupe concept, the car that created the mold for the striking and much copied elliptical inboard/outboard headlight arrangement that graces the CLK’s face.
Which fronts a profile that brings to mind the physique of a world-class athlete. Taut, muscular, and well defined. While the high, hatchback-styled rear creates the impression of a runner. Crouched at the blocks, waiting for the starting gun.
But even the fastest sprinter wouldn’t have much of a chance against a competitor that can dash from 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds. Also impressive is the equally strong pull from 60 to 110. Not bad for an engine that fills many shoes. As this one motivates its weightier relatives, the M-Class SUV and the E-Class sedan, as well.
The new all-aluminum, 3.2 liter V-6 puts out 215 horsepower and 228 pound-feet of torque, 85% of it available at a low 2,000 rpm. And features plenty of high-tech wizardry like three-valves-per-cylinder, twin spark plug technology, with a coil for each plug. Then there’s the Flexible Service System, or FSS. Which considers various stresses acting on the engine, and calculates the appropriate service intervals. A 4.3 liter V-8 CLK 430 will debut in late 1998.
Engine turnout is fed to the rear wheels through a driver-adaptive 5-speed automatic transmission, with standard and winter driving modes. A combination vitalized by a constant electronic dialog between drive train and chassis.
This bit-driven conversation is activated by a unique, battery operated electronic key that functions much like a regular key. Until it’s plugged in. Then the car sends it an infrared signal and passcode, that when matched, allows vehicle ignition.There’s a regular key, too, just in case the remote door lock battery dies and to lock up valuables before you give the digital key to the valet.
But trust us. Once you are comfortably installed behind the wheel, you’re not going to want to turn this car over to anybody!
The leather buckets offer identical adjustments to both driver and passenger, and excellent support on all sides, via the obvious 8-way power controls mounted on the door, and the slightly cheesy looking switches that operate the three integrated air bladders.
The leather-wrapped, telescoping steering wheel is borrowed from the SLK, and cries out for tilt adjustment. Gauges, however, produce only grins, and ergonomically the rest of the cabin does, too. As the dual zone climate controls and switchgear that cranks up the Bose speaker-equipped AM/FM/Cassette, with optional 6-disc CD changer, lay just at your fingertips. As does the over-engineered, but marginal, cupholder. From the land of beer steins comes a cupholder that barely handles a Dixie cup.
The rear seats, though, will handle plenty. For the CLK offers above average coupe room and above average egress, too. Thanks to a front seat that travels forward whenever the seatback is tilted. There’s a power sunshade to improve comfort when the rear seat is in use and retracting headrests to improve driver vision when it isn’t.The trunk, like the rear seats, also tenders above average capacity and general ease of use. Even more room can be had by releasing and folding the rear seatbacks forward.
So stow your gear and take to the highway. Confident in the way the tried-and-true double wishbone and 5-link coil-sprung suspension smooths out all the ugliness. Safe in the knowledge, too, that the standard traction control and optional Electronic Stability Program are there to bail you out, if the ugliness does get out of hand. Which it seldom will, as the suspension is well-balanced, and the ball-type C-class steering is fast and nicely weighted.
AutoWeek concurred, saying, “The steering is crisp, the ride smooth.”
While Automobile Magazine added, “…the balance between steering effort and feedback remains intact from lock to lock. The handling is still sufficiently sharp and fuss-free.”
And then there’s Brake Assist. A revolutionary new enhancement that can recognize emergency rapid brake pedal movement, and automatically applies full braking effort, even if you chicken out. The same kind of braking that brought our CLK down from 60 in 119 feet.
Pricing is fairly revolutionary, too. At least for a Mercedes coupe. As the CLK320 is base priced at $39,850. Sounds like another unexpected bargain from Mercedes-Benz.
And that’s just about what some folks spend in a year on therapy. Which seems like such a waste considering the therapeutic nature of a session behind the wheel of the Mercedes-Benz CLK. The doctor is in, and we can’t wait for our next appointment.
Engine: 3.2 Liter V-6
Torque: 228 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 6.7 Seconds