Review and road test of the Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class (2002 - 2009)
COUPE DE GRACE
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
Although the MK2 Mercedes CLK grew a little more mature and, some would say, somewhat less distinctive than its striking Mk1 predecessor, the latter model is comprehensively a better car. With superior running gear, a closer attention to build quality and superior packaging, it's a coupe that has little in the way of direct rivals. Small wonder that its highly sought after as a used buy.
MK2 version ::(CLK Coupe petrol 1.8, 2.2CDI 2.6, 3.2, 3.2CDI, 3.5, 5.0 [Elegance, Avantgarde, Sport] 5.5AMG, 63AMG.
Although the Mk1 CLK did Mercedes very good service from 1997, it wasn't until the launch of the second generation car, announced in Autumn 2002, that the CLK really came of age. This version featured a new, much stiffer platform based on the post-2000 C-class. This enabled a pillar-less side window profile and provided for much improved handling. There was a wider engine choice starting with a 1.8-litre supercharged 'four' for the CLK 200K with 163bhp, a 2.6-litre V6 for the CLK 240, the same 3.2-litre V6 for the CLK 320, a new 5.0-litre V8 for the CLK 500 and an uprated 5.4-litre V8 for the flagship CLK 55AMG. There was even a 2.7-litre diesel version.
Cabriolet models followed in 2003 and the range has since been augmented with the CLK280 replacing the rather unloved 240 and the CLK350 slotting in just below the 500 version. The CLK270CDI diesel didn't hang around too long, being replaced by a pair of common-rail diesel units. The CLK220CDI marked the entry level diesel with a stonking CLK320CDI heading up the diesel line up. Neither diesel was ever offered in the Cabriolet version.
In 2006 the 481bhp 63 AMG model replaced the 55 AMG and a revised 5.5-litre V8 with 388bhp was installed into the CLK 500. The CLK200K model was upgraded from 163 to 184bhp later that year.
What You Get
The second generation CLK is a car forced to justify its existence, squeezed from below by the C-Class Sports Coupe and from above by the CLS and CL super coupes. Important then, for there to be a discernable distance in stance between the two cars. The stouter platform that the CLK enjoys in second generation guise has enabled the engineers to get rid of the normal centre pillar arrangement between the front and rear windows, a design cue that harks back to classic Mercedes coupe models of the Sixties, a time when the marque was unashamedly a sporting brand.
Inside, the improvements for second generation models are small but again, very significant. Where some of the trim in the original version felt a bit down-market, this car has much more in common with the larger S-class-based CL coupe and, like that model (but unlike the C-class Sports Coupe), can easily seat four adults in long distance comfort. The longer, wider and taller shape helps here, as does the decision to get rid of the central rear seat (instead there's a storage tray) and concentrate on pampering just two rear passengers properly. All models came with climate control for the air conditioning, automatic headlamps with washers, all-round electric windows, rain-sensing wipers, a height and reach-adjustable steering wheel, 'Speedtronic' cruise control, twin front, side and window airbags, plus of course ABS with Brake Assist and the ESP stability control programme. You'll find three trim levels - plush Elegance, trendier Avantgarde and Sport.
The CLK Cabriolet features a hood available in black, blue or grey and is one of the most sophisticated soft tops around. No manual intervention is required and the whole process operates in a matter of seconds, the multi-layered hood vanishing beneath a flush cover at the back. Considerable work has gone into reducing the width of the rear hood pillars that has traditionally made reversing a soft top with the hood up a fingers crossed operation. The hood also offers class leading thermal insulation and noise absorption qualities. What's more, it can all be operated by remote control from your key fob as you approach your vehicle.
The boot lid can also be opened by remote control and offers a cavernous 390-litre capacity, making the CLK Cabriolet a genuine touring car. This 40-litre increase over the preceding model reflects the fact that despite its trim styling, this CLK Cabriolet is a larger car than its predecessor. Headroom, elbowroom and knee room for all occupants has been usefully increased.
What to Look For
Very little goes wrong. Don't pay unrealistic prices, look out for cars that have been unreasonably thrashed, check for signs of accident and, on convertibles, hood damage. Obviously, insist on a proper authorised dealer service history. With Mercedes offering a generous four-year support package and virtually lifetime cover, a proper service record is important.
(approx. based on a 2002 CLK240 incl. VAT): front brake pads are around £53, a front exhaust (including catalyst) is about £641 with the rear section about £291. A headlamp is about £184. An air filter is about £12, front shock absorbers around £85, an oil filter around £7 and a windscreen is around £170.
On the Road
On the move, the absence of that centre window pillar on the MK2 model makes more difference than you would credit, allowing a fresh air experience akin to that of a convertible with few of the drawbacks. Expect to also find far superior levels of ride and handling, aided by much greater feel and sensitivity from the revised power steering system.
Both V8 models have over 300bhp to play with, the CLK 500 with 302bhp and the flagship CLK 55 AMG boasting 362bhp. The AMG model features composite brakes and the Coupe versions also get a sportier exhaust with twin tailpipes. In the CLK 500, you can console yourself by remembering that the revolutionary 7G-Tronic automatic gearbox fitted to this model has helped economy and improved performance. This car will jet to 60mph in just 5.7 seconds. You can also amaze friends with two reverse gears.
Further down the range, even the more affordable models are well worthwhile. The CLK 200K and the CLK 280 both have much to recommend them. The CLK 200K features a 163bhp 1.8-litre supercharged unit that Stuttgart says has all the economy of a four cylinder engine with the refinement of a 'six'. It's certainly quick enough, with sixty 9.3s away en route to 143mph, yet at the same time the potential for a 33mpg Euro-average. The CLK 280's 231bhp 3.0-litre V6 unit meanwhile, is so smooth and torquey that it seems rather pointless to cough up for the 272bhp CLK 350 variant. All of which leaves only the diesel-powered 220 CDI and 320 CDI variants, cars that recognise the rise and rise of diesel influence on these shores. Don't overlook the CLK270CDI either. It may have been deleted from the line up in latter times but it still makes a great used buy.
The second generation Mercedes CLK is definitely a grower. At first, many were rather underwhelmed by its saggy bottomed styling, but it's a far more mature car than before and offers a blend of sophistication, comfort and power that no rival has fully managed to come close to.
Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class (2002 - 2009) review by ANDY ENRIGHT