Fleet News

Mercedes-Benz CLK

Mercedes-Benz

Review

THE launch of the new Mercedes-Benz CLK comes at a time when sales of two-door models are at record levels. With a fresh new look and the option of a diesel version, the CLK is bound to find favour.

Hardly a month seems to go by now without some kind of new Mercedes-Benz launch.

Its range of vehicles has grown so large that a revised or new model or new engine variant is introduced almost more frequently that we can keep up with.

The latest addition to the three-pointed star range is the new CLK, which reaches UK showrooms in June.

Coupes were big news for Mercedes-Benz last year, with the launch of the C-class-based Sports Coupe and record international sales for two-door cars. As well as 59,000 Sports Coupes, 10,700 CLs and 39,000 CLKs Mercedes-Benz sold 26,000 CLK Cabriolets.

This year, just weeks after the launch of the gorgeous new SL, it's the turn of the CLK to get an update, following the launch of the new C-class - on which it is based - in 2000.

The new model takes its styling cues from the new C-class, CL and SL, and uses the existing six-cylinder engines and a new 1.8-litre supercharged four-cylinder engine in the CLK200 Kompressor.

Meanwhile, the V8 has been upgraded from a CLK430 to a CLK500 with a 5.0-litre engine replacing the 4.3-litre unit in the previous model. There will also be a high-performance AMG CLK55 version later in the year, while UK customers will have to wait until September before the new CLK200 Kompressor becomes available.

The big news for company car drivers is that the coupe will be available with a 2.7-litre five-cylinder common rail diesel engine from the end of the year - also found in the C-class, ML-class and new E-class - offering low carbon dioxide emissions and modest benefit-in-kind tax rates.

In the fullness of time there will also be a convertible version of the CLK, while a direct injection petrol engine is waiting in the wings - the 200 CGI - to replace the 200 Kompressor when supply of sulphur-free fuel becomes available.

Prices for the new CLK have increased slightly over the current model (a rise of about 3.4%), but with extra equipment as standard, it equates to a 1.6% price cut, according to Mercedes. The extra kit in the old car would have cost more than £1,400.

All cars will come in either Elegance or Avantgarde trim - depending on whether the driver prefers wood or metallic effect trim - and with six airbags, ABS with emergency brake assistance, automatic climate control, auto dimming rear view mirror, automatic headlights and wipers.

Options include radar cruise control, voice activation for the radio and optional telephone, and bi-xenon headlamps.

It is likely that a substantial proportion of CLKs will be bought with company cash and it would appear the model is better value than before, while residual values are among the most stable in the industry.

The four-cylinder and diesel models also offer a way of reducing company car tax liability which is a welcome move for those lucky enough to have the new CLK on their choice list.

Behind the wheel

FORGIVE the blasphemy, but if God was a car designer, then He probably would have created the new CLK. Such is the purity of its shape combined with exquisite attention to detail that only a divine hand could have achieved such excellence.

I have always felt the previous CLK looked a little clumsy. Although it had much in common with the previous C-class its shape was more like an E-class squeezed uncomfortably into a coupe body.

The new model has perfect proportions and is eye-catching for all the right reasons. The interior looks good, too, with subtle curves across the dashboard and regimented switches on the centre console.

The front seats are as comfortable as your favourite armchair, while rear-seat passengers have not been forgotten, with adequate legroom and headroom.

My first acquaintance was with the CLK 240 - the entry-level model until the four-cylinder and CDI go on sale in September - with the automatic gearbox, and whose 2.6-litre V6 engine produces a modest 168bhp. However, the engine replaces the 230 Kompressor and promises to make up in refinement what it loses in power. It succeeds, too, although with maximum torque coming in at a peaky 4,500rpm, it is hard work to get the best out of the engine.

More of a cruiser than a sports coupe, the CLK's polite suspension remains unperturbed by all manner of road bumps and ironworks, cushioning occupants from these disturbances.

There is no doubt that the new CLK is really in its element serenely munching the motorway miles, but it does a decent job of the B-road work with limited body roll and meaty steering, so driving across country lanes can be done without flailing arms and gritted teeth. However, it is some way behind the sharpness and confidence of a BMW 3-series coupe.

At the extreme of the range sits the CLK 500 which uses the same 5.0-litre V8 engine found in the S-class, SL and ML and soon in the new E-class. Apart from the plusher interior, the most obvious change is in its ability to cover distances much more rapidly. It will accelerate to 62mph in six seconds flat and where permitted will run on to an artificially limited 155mph, in a blisteringly short time. The V8 is quiet and dignified for most of the time but will bring on goose pimples with a distant but forceful red-blooded roar.

The benefit-in-kind tax-friendly diesel-engined CLK 270 CDI can't match this performance, but coupes are arguably as much about show as they are about raw speed. With a benefit in kind tax band of 20% this year for the manual, this car will be a favourite among tax conscious company car drivers.

The manual gearchange is improved from before with shorter throws, but it still takes its time between changes. Engine noise is unobtrusive, and is quite sporty under acceleration, and the diesel coupe is propelled along by a wall of torque in virtually any of the six gears.

Surprise of the range is the new four-cylinder petrol motor which offers improved company car tax liability over its predecessor, better fuel economy and is more refined.

Driving verdict

THE CLK is easily the best looking car in the premium coupe sector, and this is the single most important factor for coupe drivers. The bonus is it also beautifully made and while the larger engines versions offer more performance than you will ever need, the four-cylinder car and the new diesel are more than adequate. It is desirable and I expect Mercedes-Benz will have a full order book.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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