- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Mercedes-Benz is the only automaker that has uninterruptedly offered convertible vehicles since the 1950s. The latest CLK Cabriolet from the German manufacturer bases its styling and appeal on the new-generation CLK coupe, introduced last year.

The CLK Cabriolet for 2004 will be available in three forms — the CLK 320, powered by a 215-horsepower V-6, the CLK500 with a 5.0-liter V-8 that generates 302 horsepower and 339 foot-pounds of torque and, later in the model year, the highly sought-after CLK55 AMG with even greater prowess and 362 horsepower.

All CLK Cabriolet models will feature twin spark plugs per cylinder, along with two coils per cylinder. All will feature sequential multipoint fuel injection and electronic throttle control. Power for all is delivered to the rear wheels via a five-speed adaptive automatic transmission with TouchShift, allowing for manual-style gear selection as desired.

The CLK500, which is the focus of our attention here, rides exclusively on 17-inch AMG five-spoke alloy wheels and features, for the first time, a fully automatic operation of the soft top, which can also be operated remotely by the key fob. Sensor-controlled pop-up roll bars are now disguised as two rear head restraints with tapered fairings.

The 2004 CLK lineup is distinguished by a new treatment of the classic coupe/roadster front-end design that places the three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star centered in the low, wide grille.

The headlamp execution appears to be four lights, but in reality is two elliptical forms in a single unit per side. The Cabriolet weighs in at 320 pounds more than the CLK500 pillarless hardtop coupe.

This latest iteration of the CLK500 Cabriolet is purposefully categorized in the midlevel luxury category but careful analysis shows it offers high-end luxury as standard fare.

The test vehicle was sprayed Pewter Silver metallic outside and finished in grey leather inside. The base price was set at $59,850 while optional equipment and value-added packages increased the final sticker to $66,835. These additions to the impressive array of standard features included such niceties as an integrated six-disc CD changer; navigation CD collection; COMAND system; Keyless Go; headlamp washing system; bi-xenon headlamps; destination and handling fees and gas-guzzler tax.

The CLK500 Cab takes an aggressive stance on staggered wheels and tires (wider and with a lower rear profile), though the diameter could be increased for a more authoritative presence. The frontal appearance makes a more profound statement than does the rear, which carries a more generic look.

The CLK500 Cabriolet is sure to extend the model’s popularity long into the future. It is an elegant example of a personal luxury car that is engineered as a true convertible without compromising structural safety.

Personalization may be executed through a selection of interior trim materials and colors that effectively complement the exterior color choice.

The CLK500 Cabriolet is a driver’s car, first and foremost, catering to the whims of those who require spirited performance without giving up comfort or convenience. Acceleration is smile-inducing, as the car moves seamlessly through the gears automatically, or on command when shifted manually. The ride quality is firm, but compliant over a variety of road surfaces thanks to suspension revisions, with the steering providing positive input.

The elegant and spirited open-air tourer features seat forward-tilt control coupled with robotlike motorized seat belt presenters mounted in the forward seat backs to avoid entanglement. The rear seat easily accommodates two adults in a comfortable environment. Proponents of greater dosages of performance will revere the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet, when it becomes available, over the more mundane, but still quite stellar, CLK500 drop-top issue.

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