- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

The new Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet brings a whole new spectrum to open-air motoring. Based on the previously introduced CLK Coupe, the Cabriolet is as luxurious and stylish as any soft-top convertible available today.

Mercedes-Benz designers looked to design a vehicle that would be hip and beautiful whether the top was up or down. Retaining the Mercedes-Benz style was another priority achieved by the designers. This cabriolet is, unmistakably, all Mercedes-Benz. From its smooth and powerful engines to the rigid chassis and sleek design, the new CLK Cabriolet brings Mercedes-Benz style to the open road.

The CLK Cabriolet offers two engine choices. The CLK320 is powered by a 3.2-liter V-6 that produces 215 horsepower. The uplevel CLK500 has a 5.0-liter V-8 engine producing 302 horsepower. Both transfer power to the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission that is equipped with a manual mode so that the driver can retain the task of shifting, giving a much sportier feel.

A major factor in providing that sporty feel, while retaining a luxurious ride, is the rigid platform on which the CLK is based. I drove this Cabriolet over a variety of road surfaces and was astonished at the minimal amount of cowl shake. The proof of the mettle of any convertible’s rigidity is the amount of shaking the windshield support makes with the top down while driving over the roughest of roads.

The CLK passed with flying colors.

Both engines offer smooth power at all rpm ranges. Both engines performed well accelerating up through the gears as I merged with traffic on the highway. The V-8 is the obvious choice if you want the most power available. However, the V-6 is plenty powerful.

I found the transmission to provide the normal shifting patterns for a normal driver. Place the shift lever in the manual mode and you have the control you need to put more fun into your drive. Through the twisting mountain roads the manual shifting worked well, although it isn’t as responsive as a true manual transmission.

The heavily engineered convertible top is equipped with a remote capability that allows you to raise or lower it by just a touch of the button on the key fob. The top is designed with a low profile and very narrow “C” pillar. This presents excellent visibility, something most convertibles do not offer.

Safety is a major factor in modern automotive design, particularly with open-top vehicles. Here, Mercedes-Benz has provided plenty of equipment to provide safe motoring. In addition to the normal front driver and passenger air bags, the CLK Cabriolet has head and thorax side bags in the front seats.

As you would expect, the CLK has additional equipment we usually see only in European luxury vehicles. The CLK comes with automatic rollover protection in the form of automatic pop-up rollover bars that are located behind the rear seat head restraints. Not only are these units attractively hidden, they are quick to deploy and the strong hoops can support the vehicle in case of a rollover.

The CLK Cabriolet adds more than another choice in the Mercedes-Benz lineup. This vehicle brings luxury and performance to the adventure of open-top motoring.

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