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The 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class includes a full line of two-door, four-seat coupes and convertibles offering sporty performance, elegant design, and interior luxury. With its stylish exterior and elegant interior, the CLK is a treat just to look at or sit in, and carries Mercedes cachet to the front door of any destination.
On the open road, the CLK is even more satisfying, with responsive performance and excellent high-speed stability. The ride is firm but comfortable. And the CLK tackles back roads with confident, level cornering, making it a joy for spirited driving.
Drivers seeking more performance can opt for the powerful V8 in the CLK500, while the truly deranged enthusiast might spring for the CLK55 AMG. The CLK500 was upgraded for 2005 with a seven-speed automatic, while the CLK55 is hooked to an AMG-modified five-speed automatic with AMG SpeedShift control.
Most buyers, however, will be very happy with the CLK350, which features a new 268-horsepower V6 and a new seven-speed automatic transmission for 2006.
The CLK is easy to live with. Its relatively small size makes it easy to park and maneuver in crowded areas, a description that fits nearly everywhere nowadays. At the same time, with back seats are roomy enough for two adults. This is no cramped sports car limited to two occupants.
A new grille and redesigned taillights freshen the looks of all of the 2006 CLK models. The 2006 CLK350s also get a redesigned front apron and new wheels.
The CLK350 coupe ($46,525) and cabriolet ($54,475) are powered by a new 3.5-liter V6, which develops 268 horsepower (up from 215 horsepower) at 6000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 2400 rpm. Power is transferred through a new seven-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with software that adapts shift points to suit the driver's style. The TouchShift system allows the driver to shift manually.
The CLK500 coupe ($55,125) and cabriolet ($63,075) get a 5.0-liter V8 that produces 302 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 339 pound-feet of torque from 2700 to 4250 rpm. The engine is coupled to a seven-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with driver-adaptive shift points and TouchShift with steering-wheel-mounted shift buttons.
The CLK55 AMG ($83,375), available only as a cabriolet for 2006, is a limited-production, ultra-high-performance model with a 5.4-liter V8 rated at 362 horsepower at 5750 rpm and 376 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. It's fitted with an AMG-modified SpeedShift five-speed driver-adaptive automatic transmission that can be shifted manually using the shift lever or Formula 1-style controls on the steering wheel.
All CLK models boast a long list of standard equipment, including leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control with pollen and dust filter, 10-way adjustable power seats with three memory settings, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. All boast extremely well-equipped and attractive interiors, with two-tone leather and aluminum trim available as an option on the CLK500 and an exclusive, monochromatic black interior on the CLK55 AMG.
Five options packages are available for the CLK models. The Comfort Package ($990) includes active ventilated seats with heating and a multi-contour driver's seat. The Lighting Package ($990) adds bi-xenon headlamps with Active Curve Illumination and headlamp washers. The Premium Package for the CLK350 coupe ($1,500) and cabriolet ($1,200) consists of a six-disc CD changer, harman/kardon LOGIC7 surround sound, and heated washers; the coupe's package includes a sunroof. The CLK500 Premium Package ($2,500) includes the CD changer and surround sound system, and the heated washers, and adds auto-dimming mirrors, garage door opener and, for the coupe, a sunroof.
Options include a navigation system combined with a computerized management system for stereo and air conditioning ($2,240); Sirius Satellite Radio ($699); hands-free communication ($925); wood and leather steering wheel ($530); sport suspension ($210); heated front seats ($690); electronic trunk closer ($510); and Keyless Go ($1,080). For that extra special touch, designo Silver Edition and Graphite Edition trim packages are available ($7,050).
Safety features that come on all CLK models include dual two-stage frontal airbags; front-seat head and chest side-impact airbags. Rear-seat side-impact airbags are optional ($385). New for 2006 is the addition of active front head restraints to help support the head and prevent whiplash injuries in the event of a collision. The cabriolet has a new design of side-impact airbag mounted in the front seat that adds head protection to the usual chest protection expected from such systems. Automatic-deploying roll bars come standard on cabriolets. Also standard is the Tele Aid automatic emergency response notification system, which calls an emergency response center and gives the car's location in the event any seatbelt tensioning retractor or airbag deploys. A Run-Flat Package ($275) includes run-flat tires and a tire pressure loss warning system. Active safety features that come standard include antilock brakes (ABS) with emergency Brake Assist and electronic stability control.
The Mercedes CLK is a luxury two-door you can drive hard without even realizing it. The chassis has the kind of stiffness with which Mercedes has only in recent years endowed its upscale SL roadsters.
In mixed driving along a stretch of Detroit's Woodward Avenue that varied from 1900-style brick to pool-table smooth asphalt, the coupe's suspension swallowed 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 coupe handled curves at speed with the easy grace of a thoroughbred horse stretching out in the home stretch.
A spirited romp in a cabriolet along the California coast and through the Golden State's coastal range was similarly impressive and more enjoyable. Unlike many convertibles, the CLK feels solid, like it's carved from one thick piece of rigid material. Extensive use of high-strength steel alloys of varying thickness in the cabriolet's unit-body panels and structure combine with liberal reinforcements of transmission tunnel, cross struts and rear bulkhead to add torsional stiffness and bending resistance and minimize vibration. Mercedes claims that the stiffness of the cabriolet's body is equal to that of the coupe. All of this contributes to its precise handling and taut but comfortable ride quality.
The 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 suspension 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.
Mercedes continues to improve its electronic stability program, which can help the driver maintain control by reducing skidding. 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 brakes on the CLK are superb. They're easy to modulate for smooth stops in normal, everyday driving, and respond very linearly.
The Mercedes V6 and V8 engines perform admirably and both benefit from a five-speed automatic transmission. The 268-horsepower CLK350 has all the power most drivers need, accelerating ably from a stoplight and driving the car smoothly through the gears.
The 302-horsepower CLK500 is a refined German muscle car, delivering thrilling acceleration performance with barely any deterioration in handling in spite of its greater weight. The CLK500 cabriolet can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 6 seconds, according to Mercedes. The automatic transmission is very responsive. The engine exhaust makes a pleasant sound.
The coupe, with its smooth aerodynamics and quiet manners is an excellent car for all seasons, but the convertible may be your preference if you enjoy top-down driving. Buffeting from the wind when the top down is fairly low with the windblocker in place. Put the top up and there's very little wind noise.
The Mercedes-Benz CLK is among the best of its class, a rolling statement of style and taste, and a design that's likely to age well. The CLK350 will satisfy most owners, while the CLK500 is a superb automobile in every respect, kicking everything up another notch. The CLK55 AMG is strictly for enthusiasts. As driving enthusiasts, we can certainly understand the desire for more performance, but the CLK500 delivers more than plenty.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Santa Barbara, California; with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.