by Tony Whitney
Mallorca, Spain – I suppose that there’s nothing really quite as desirable in the automotive world as an upscale 4-seater convertible. Owners not only get the prestige and quality of a truly special automobile, they enjoy most of the attributes of a sports car with room for three of their friends or family members.
Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Saab and BMW all make prestigious 4/5-place convertibles and they’re very fine automobiles. packed with luxury features and offering near-sports car performance and handling.
The newest addition to this lofty group is the 2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Cabriolet, which is based on the closed version of this outstanding sporty car. I travelled to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Mallorca to drive the new Merc and it proved an excellent evaluation location with its winding mountain roads and fast, straight, valley highways. The Spanish island’s hairpin bends were great for weeding out any evidence of body flexing in the new
Mercedes, but try as we might, we couldn’t really fault the stiffness. Like many other convertibles these days which are based on coupes, the bodystyle was planned right from the start and there was no suggestion at any time of simply “chopping off the roof.” It’s a
very rigid automobile despite its four-seater configuration.
There was certainly nothing much wrong with the last CLK cabrio, but the new car takes the whole concept one stage further. As the very newest model in this class, it’s probably as good a car as you can get if four seats and the sky above your head is what you wish
It’s a wonderfully styled automobile and has all the design elements that make Mercedes-Benz one of the world’s most sought after marques. The front end follows what has become Mercedes’ “corporate look” for coupes and cabriolets – there’s no stand-up three-pointed star, but the nose is rather like that of the illustrious SL500 sports car series. The rear end is much cleaner than that of the old car and the overall look is just superb. There are a couple of
fairings behind the heads of the rear seat passengers that look as though they were borrowed from a Mercedes-Benz racer of the 1950s – no harm in that! It was wise of Mercedes not to try and squeeze a third passenger into the back row. Better to give two passengers some room and the safety of proper lap and shoulder belts than to compromise the comfort of a fifth occupant.
The body structure is extremely robust and features automatic rollover protection. Other safety features include head and thorax air bags in addition to a pair of adaptive units up front working in conjunction with belt tensioners. In fact, all four occupants get belt tensioners, which cinch up in a collision for even more protection than you get with conventional seat belts.
The multi-layer top is an outstanding piece of work and when it’s in place, there’s no feeling of being in a convertible car at all. The inside of the top is beautifully and luxuriously trimmed and insulates the occupants from outside noise surprisingly well. Unlike some convertibles, the car looks almost as good with the top up as it does with it folded down. As one might expect, the top is fully automatic and can be raised or lowered very quickly. It can also be remotely controlled. When the top is raised, the trunk is very roomy – holding an extra 40-litres more volume than its predecessor.
As with the last model buyers will be able to choose from a range of six and eight-cylinder engines. Frankly, this car is peppy and fun to drive with the V6, but the V8 is there for people who must have optimum power. Transmission is a 5-speed automatic with semi-manual
option. Sooner or later we’ll probably see an AMG version of this car with a 5.5-litre V8 and huge reserves of power and torque.
The cockpit is very comfortable and looks a lot like that of other Mercedes models. Mercedes does not make drastic changes to instrument and control layout and modifications tend to be introduced gradually. Most controls and switches are easy to use and should present an
owner with no problem at all. The only gripe I had with the CLK Coupe I tested a while back was its noisy windshield wipers, but during my drive with the Cabriolet, the Mallorcan skies remained clear. The car I spent most of my time with boasted an opulent light-coloured wood
around the cockpit and on the upper part of the steering wheel.
Mercedes-Benz claims several “best in class” features for its new ragtop in such areas as aerodynamic performance (Cd of 0.30), trunk volume (390 litres), interior noise level and visibility. The remote control top is unique in this market.
As with even the least expensive Mercedes, quality, fit, finish and general cabin ambiance is tough to fault. In fact, this is a very hard car to quibble about and just might be the best 4-seater convertible on the market – at least until one of its rivals takes a shot at coming up with something better.