You're really not anyone these days in the car world without at least one convertible in the range. Citroen, Renault, Peugeot, Ford, Audi and Saab have all launched drop-tops in the past year or two, while Mini and Nissan are still thinking about it.
It is because with the improvements in hood design and packaging, using a convertible day-in and day-out is not as awkward and compromised as it used to be, and most drivers who have one love it because of the serious pose value it offers.
But as shows of ostentatious drop-topped automotive wealth go, driving around in a Mercedes-Benz with the roof down is as conspicuous as you can get this side of driving a supercar, trumping most of the brands mentioned earlier. But with the SLK and SL, there's only room for one friend and you are bound to need more space than that with a three-pointed star on your car's nose. As a result the new four-seater CLK Cabriolet is the perfect way to keep more of your chums happy.
It has the nose of the CLK Coupe but from the B-pillar back has a number of revisions in order to accommodate the hood.
The CLK is a good-looking car, as any Mercedes-Benz generally is, and it makes the current 3-series convertible look a little square edged and aged. However, it lacks the clean lines and elegant beauty of the Audi A4 Cabriolet.
Where the aluminium border that sweeps around the edge of the Audi's window frame and doors is a striking feature, the CLK is more cluttered around that all-important window line.
The two best-sellers will be the entry-level 200K and the mid-range CLK 320, and Mercedes hopes to sell more than 2,000 cabriolets a year.
It's hardly earth-shattering news, but this is a very expensive car with the cheapest 200K costing £31,245 on-the-road, about the same price as the most expensive (better looking and equally competent) A4 Cabriolet.
The CLK range spans a great divide. The most expensive, and plainly lunatic, CLK55 AMG at £61,445 is £1,300 cheaper than a Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Cabriolet and a full £16,000 more expensive than a BMW M3 Cabriolet with the SMG gearbox. Yes, you read that right, that's £16,000 more.
As for performance – which often comes below looks, status and comfort in this sector – the CLK55 and CLK500 are extremely quick, while the 320 is the best compromise. There is very little to choose between the 200K and 240.
There are no residual figures from CAP yet, but the out-going model is still retaining about 46% of its value after three years and 60,000 miles. These cars are not the risk many fleets believe they are, and with modern hood design so good, they do not age like cabriolets of old.
The roof is showpiece stuff and in order to keep the crowds entertained, 830 parts are orchestrated in a 20 second routine for closing and 17 second repeat for opening. Its movement while folding away intrudes less into the rear cabin than an A4, thanks to a clever arrangement in which the rear screen hinges up and away while the metal tonneau cover swings open.
With the roof up the CLK might as well be a tin-top. There is very little shudder, indicating excellent body rigidity, and wind noise is barely any more noticeable than in the Coupe.
The roof is made of eight layers and is apparently hand-assembled in 550 stages, ensuring everything inside stays snug and dry.
So in almost every area, the CLK Cabriolet is a fantastic car, although it has to be because it needs to work its more elitist badge hard to ensure it gets chosen over Audi's prettier and cheaper A4.
But with only a couple of thousand models expected to be sold a year, the order books should be bursting at the seams.
|Engine (cc):||1,796 s/charged||2,597||3,199||4,966||5,439|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||161/5,500||168/5,500||215/5,700||302/5,600||362/5,750|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||177/3,000||177/4,500||229/3,000||339/2,700||376/4,000|
|Max speed (mph)::||139 (140 man)||143 (144)||150||155||155|
|0-62mph (secs):||10.5 (9.8 man)||10.2 (9.7)||8.2||6.2||5.4|
|FUel consumption (mpg):||31.7 (32.1 man)||28.0 (25.9)||27.2||24.3||23.0|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||214 (211 man)||262 (242)||250||278||295|