Mercedes-Benz automobiles are arguably the world's most technologically sophisticated and superbly engineered vehicles. But until recently, the company's products have been gloriously overengineered cars cloaked in unexciting sheet metal.
It was four oval headlamps that revolutionized that staid image. The new goggles emerged with the current-generation E-Class and pushed Mercedes styling away from its past and into a future of sensuous curves and graceful lines.
The follow-up to the E-Class, the CLK coupe, shows there's no going back for Benz.
Like the E-Class, the CLK's oval headlamps set a new styling pace, then flow into a smooth, elegant roofline. In our eyes, the CLK is sexier than any Mercedes in recent memory.
Sexy, swanky, and superb
While the exterior is quite unlike anything Mercedes has made recently, the chassis tuning and driving character of the car are rather familiar. In Mercedes' case, that's a good thing. The rock-solid feel of the body structure and fluidity of the drivetrain are unmistakably Mercedes. And it's especially true in the CLK430, the newest model in the CLK lineup - complementing the V-6 powered CLK320 and CLK320 Cabriolet.
A smooth, quiet, 275-horsepower 4.3-liter V-8 catapults the CLK430 to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds, according to Mercedes. But with this car, the fun only begins at 60; after that it piles on speed at what seems like an exponential rate. It's in marked contrast to the acceleration from a standstill, when the CLK430 feels slower than one would expect for a car capable of such acceleration.
Then again, we are speaking of a bahnstormer and not a '60s muscle car. We presume Mercedes engineers sacrificed low-end grunt in favor of top-end speed in this instance. Unfortunately, that strategy is probably better suited to German autobahns than American roads, where safe opportunities to stretch a car's legs are few and far between. Nonetheless, the car is a blast to drive.