Honda, Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz have launched new coupes recently, the start of an emerging trend that within a year will see several other new coupes fill out company lineups that today revolve around four-door sedans and sport-utility vehicles. Jaguar and Audi immediately spring to mind.
The 2003 Mercedes CLK (for coupe, light and kurz, which is German for short) is one of those new models. It’s a lovely car, a solid improvement over the 2002 model. Which begs the question: What of the first-generation CLK the 2003 model is replacing?
That car arrived in the fall of 1997 as a 1998 model. It drew its styling cues from the E-class sedan – particularly the front headlamp treatment. The rest of the car has a short roof, long side windows and broad C-pillars (the third pillars from the front) which flow into the car’s tail. Inside, you’ll find seating for four and a folding rear seat back to allow for cargo flexibility.
During its run, Mercedes equipped the CLK with several different engine choices, but the only transmission offering was a five-speed electronic automatic – a tranny with a gear for just about every situation.
For engines, initially there was only a 215-horsepower 3.2-litre V6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. But later a 4.3-litre V8 (275 horsepower) was added and then last year the 342-hp CLK55 went on sale with a 0-100 km/h time of five seconds flat. Still, the CLK320 can do 0-100 km/h in just seven seconds and the CLK430 will do it in six seconds. All versions, by the way, sip premium fuel.
So the power, performance and styling are all there in a used CLK. So, too, are safety features such as standard traction control, dual front airbags, side airbags and an advanced anti-lock braking system (ABS). CLK braking is superb: strong, reliable, fade-free and easy to modulate.
Handling isn’t strictly a safety issue, but if active safety is a concern, the CLK is responsive in any type of situation and highway-speed stability is good for the Autobahn. In cornering, the CLK is flat and the firm ride isn’t so stiff you feel every bump on the road.
If there’s a downside, it’s to be found in noise – rumbling on rough pavement and tire roar at higher speeds. Wind noise is not an issue. On the other hand, all three engines are worth listening to. The pleasing, subdued growl of the two smaller engines is entertaining and the outright snarl of the CLK55 is thrilling.
The cabin has enough room for front seat occupants, though the feeling is cozy and appropriately coupe-like. The back seat is fairly snug for adults (a situation addressed in the 2003 CLK). Head and leg room is tight for six-footers. Cargo space at the rear is okay, but not remarkable (again, the 2003 car is much, much better).
Drivers will find that the wheel only telescopes, but doesn’t tilt, making it sometimes hard to find a perfect driving position. Visibility is decent to good all around. The controls are easy to use, though some are a bit Mercedes-quirky, like those for the sound system. Workmanship all around is very good.
Owners have noticed the value in this model and kept prices on the used market relatively high because of it. A three-year-old CLK 320 coupe (model year 2000) is till holding nearly 80 per cent of its original price. That’s simply amazing.
But then there have been few problems with this model, as the service bulletins (see Buyer’s Alerts) attest. So it’s hard to go wrong with this nearly new model, but you won’t likely find any bargains, either.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.