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contents of this article
Page 1 | 2 | Specs | Pictures

1. Model Lineup 4. Driving Impressions
2. Walkaround 5. Final Word
3. Interior Features  

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 increasedClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK picture 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 Click for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK pictureand C-Class, it's hard to imagine anyone not being seduced by the look and feel of the CLK's interior.
The instrument panel is a departure for Mercedes, but it works admirably. A large round speedometer and tacho-meter dominate the center of the gauge cluster. Two small vertical gauges for the fuel level and coolant temperature flank them. Those two gauges resemble nothing so much as an old mercury thermometer. While they take some getting used to in a brief test drive, the design has the look of something so intuitive for daily use that it's a wonder nobody else uses it.

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 theClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK picture 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 sus-pension 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.

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Mercedes continues to improve its ESP electronic stability program. In the CLK, the system is virtually transparent, intervening unobtrusively to prevent wheelClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK picture spin, but without the heavy-handed reduction in power that marred some of its early applications.
The Mercedes V6 and V8 engines perform admirably and both benefit from a 5-speed automatic transmission. The 215-hp CLK 320 has all the power most drivers will ever really need, accelerating ably from a stoplight and driving the car smoothly through the gears. The 302-hp CLK 500 is a refined German muscle car, offering pin-your-head-back acceleration with barely any deterioration in handling due to its greater weight. The 5-speed automatic offers a TouchShift manual shifting mode.

The 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK hits the market as the best luxury coupe in the world. The CLK marks a gracious return to a design philosophy that demands that a coupe make a special statement about style and elegance, rather than simplyClick for a larger 2003 Mercedes-Benz CLK picture being a truncated sedan. The CLK marks a further evolution of the spe-cialty coupe, one that rises above some of the limitations that undid the coupe market in the past. The CLK can't match a small sport sedan for passenger room, but it does not have the crippling impracticality and cramped cockpit of older coupes.
The CLK is a rolling statement of style and taste, and a design that's likely to age well. The Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class should only get better as more models join the lineup. The company struggled to meet demand for the outgoing CLK, but the lines that will probably form for the new model are likely to dwarf what Mercedes dealers have seen until now.


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