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Mercedes-Benz CLK 500 review (2003-2007)
Model: Mercedes-Benz CLK 500 Sport
Engine: 5.5-litre V8, petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
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What is it?
A discreet Mercedes coupé with Porsche 911 rivalling pace. Outwardly, apart from the badge and the quad tailpipes you could be forgiven for thinking that this is just another lowly-engined CLK. But it isn’t. Indeed, the 500 badge itself is rather misleading, the V8 engine under the bonnet is a 5.5-litre unit, not the 5.0-litre that that badge suggests. What’s significant though, and allows this CLK to go Porsche baiting, is that the big V8 produces 383bhp, which is around 20bhp more than the old 5.5-litre engine that used to power the CLK 55 AMG. What’s more all that performance is wrapped up in a relatively standard CLK body, so nobody really knows the huge power you’re packing.
Where does it fit?
The CLK range spans a wide range of potential rivals. At one end of its spectrum there are BMW 3 Series coupé competitors, and at the other cars like the CLK 500 which are more in the BMW 6 Series, Porsche 911 and Maserati GT sphere, in both performance and price. As standard this CLK 500 comes in at just under £50k, but add all the extras of our test car – like the navigation system, premium audio, ventilated seats, bi-xenon lights and telephone pre-wiring and you can easily add several thousand pounds to that.
Is it for you?
Coupés aren’t bought with the same rationale as regular cars, their style, image and performance being high on any buyer’s list of considerations. The CLK certainly fills the style brief, though it does suffer slightly from being available with far lowlier engines when it comes to the one of image. However, that 5.5-litre V8 more than compensates with its performance. It’s a strange, yet desirable combination. A hugely fast, and surprisingly practical coupé, in a body that’s elegant and stylish, that doesn’t feel the need to shout about its performance.
What does it do well?
Accelerate. With 383bhp and a 391lb ft of torque the CLK 500 manages the 0-62mph sprint in just 5.2 seconds. It’ll not take long before it reaches its 155 electronically limited top-speed either. It’s refined too, the engine noise only present when you want it to be, and it’s a lovely sound anyway. Comfort is excellent, the seats firm but supportive, while the way the seatbelt is presented to you on a projecting arm when you enter the car will never cease to please. The ride is compliant even on the lowered Sport suspension, the interior remarkably spacious and the boot huge. You really could use the CLK as an alternative to a regular saloon.
What doesn’t it do well?
The engine might be mighty but it’s attached to a seven-speed automatic transmission. It’s forever changing, and isn’t as smooth as its old five and six-speed predecessors. You can quicken it up and take over via the wheel-mounted paddles, but to do so is rather at odds with having an automatic in the first place. Similarly, the CLK might have Porsche rivalling pace, but it’s not got its poise. There’s no feel through the steering, and the weighting feels very artificial and inconsistent. Many of the options featuring on our test car – things like parking sensors – are offered as standard kit on much, much cheaper cars. Similarly, Mercedes and their luxury rivals need to look at how much they charge for things like sat nav - £2k is way too much.
What’s it like to live with?
There’s no denying that all that power is addictive. The CLK might be happy burbling along at half throttle, but explore the deeper recesses of the accelerator pedal’s movement and you’re treated to quite silly performance. What’s even more enjoyable is that this CLK doesn’t shout about all that potential, either. As a day-to-day driver it’s much like all CLKs, being comfortable, and very practical. Those rear seats are actually quite useful, and the boot is massive. So long as you don’t expect it to keep up with a Porsche on a challenging road, you’ll be more than happy.
How green is it?
Unsurprisingly a 5.5-litre V8 engine isn’t going to deliver the sort of green credentials that politicians and activists would like it to. But it’s actually rather impressive when looked at rationally. Combined consumption is quoted at 24.8mpg, and CO2 emissions are 273gkm. To put that into perspective that’s significantly more power, and performance while offering better emissions and consumption than a CLK 430 would have managed in 2002.
Would we buy it?
It’d certainly be on our shortlist. Although in this arena we find it difficult to ignore cars like the 911 or Jaguar’s XK, the CLK appeals because it’s so understated. The performance is there when you want it, and unlike any of its direct rivals, it’s a proper four-seater. A BMW M3 would thrill more as a drivers’ car, but it’s far less discreet than the CLK, and for many buyers that’s hugely appealing.
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