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MBz Cabriolet: Sporty Class With High-Tech Gizmos

Road Test

Mercedes-Benz has added another exciting convertible to its lineup , a high-performance V-8 version of its popular CLK line that includes both coupes and convertibles.

You’ve got to hand it to Mercedes-Benz. A couple of years ago, the company changed course. From old and stodgy, Mercedes did a radical change and became youthful and exciting. It now manufactures a broad line of compelling automobiles. You can get into a new Mercedes for about $30,000 on the low end. Or you can extend your wallet to more than 100-grand on the top. And every model exudes a sense of precision and quality that is unmatched in the industry.

Introduced a couple of years ago, the CLK-Class utilizes chassis components from the C-Class and the SLK roadster. The CLK430 nomenclature means that the new convertible (cabriolet in Mercedes’ speak) incorporates the company’s state-of-the-art 4.3 liter V-8 engine.

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In my humble estimation, the CLK line is the best thing that Mercedes makes and is one of the most compelling series of automobiles on the planet. My tastes are simple; I just like the best. With an entry-level price of $42,000 for the six-cylinder CLK320 coupe, I cannot in good conscience recommend the CLK line to everyone, but the CLK series offers great design, solid mechanical components, excellent driving characteristics, as well as a boatload of Mercedes-Benz’ latest technology. And the latter is not to be lightly considered.

For example, many Mercedes models now come equipped with the company’s new Touch Shift gear selector for the five-speed automatic transmission. The new shift technology allows the driver to sequentially shift the transmission by flicking the floor-mounted shift lever from side to side. A small window on the dashboard signals which gear the driver has selected. The unit is extremely quick, precise and very impressive.

Yes, I have driven many competitive systems that facilitate manual shifting of an automatic transmission. But the sheer convenience and capability of the Mercedes system has made me question my long-term commitment to the manual transmission. Like most automotive enthusiasts, I harbor a stubborn loyalty to the manual transmission, but the Mercedes system is so competent, my resolve is definitely wavering.

The CLK models are also very competent on the road, and the more challenging the better. Armed with a sporty suspension aided by wide and sticky 17-inch wheels and tires, the CLK430 Cabriolet is a very enjoyable car to drive on mountain and country roads. Drivers will find the CLK430’s handling quite inspirational. When negotiating curves, the car exhibits a well-defined turn-in and delivers good feedback to the driver.

On the other hand, few people who have had any experience with a European automobile will complain about its ride quality. Mercedes has definitely solved the problem of combining sportiness and ride comfort on the same chassis.

There’s also no doubt the CLK Cabriolet’s spunky V-8 engine adds a lot to its driving enjoyment. The engine is amazingly smooth and quiet , although at full throttle it does exert a bit of a rumbling exhaust note. Where the engine really shines is in mid-range torque delivery, which means that there’s plenty of passing power up to any speed I’ll ever care to drive.

The interior adheres to the current Mercedes design. While the interior is quite formal, gauges and controls are laid out on functional lines and everything feels easy to use and located in the proper place. The back seat in the convertible is tight for adults, at least as compared to a mid-sized sedan.

Safety features include side-impact air bags and a traction-control system that modulates the brakes as well as engine power. Smart air bags have been incorporated on the passenger side, which only deploy when the seat is occupied in a frontal impact.

Mercedes has developed a new safety component called TeleAid, an emergency system based on cellular and global positioning technology. The service has several components.

In a crisis, there’s an “SOS” button above the rear-view mirror that establishes contact with a live person who can dispatch emergency services. The unit also transmits precise information on vehicle location.

TeleAid also has a function that puts the driver in touch with Mercedes roadside assistance. Yet another function connects the car to the company service center for information about any of the car’s many functions , which is nice for the driver of a car as technically sophisticated as the CLK Cabriolet is.

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