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 the
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.
Mercedes continues to improve its ESP electronic stability
program. In the CLK, the system is virtually transparent,
intervening unobtrusively to prevent wheel
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.