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NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. – It’s making everyone sick. For weeks I’ve been bragging about my new getaway on the Emerald Coast of Florida, an impossibly perfect stretch of shoreline punctuated by a national park, the occasional school of dolphins, and a population density that makes eastern Wyoming look like Calcutta.
When a friend found out our next jaunt to the panhandle paradise would take place behind the wheel of the latest Benz V-8 convertible, he pointed out: “If it got any better, your head would be even balder from the excitement.”
Balder, yes, and redder because the entire trip through rural Alabama begs for top-down driving. And because the CLK’s fluid grace and massive V-8 power eggs even expedient drivers on to the narrower, windier byways, a normal five-hour journey is usually turned into something vaguely resembling Gilligan’s tour of duty -- minus only a CD changer powered by two coconuts, that is.
The CLK is the middle child in the world of Benz convertibles, too grown-up to be mistaken for the cutesy SLK-series roadsters and way too vigorous and youthful to get confused for the aging SL-Class dowagers. It’s also the only four-place convertible in the Mercedes lineup -- a practical novelty that almost makes it socially acceptable to splurge on a nearly $60,000 car.
Regular readers know our fondness for the Benz CLK coupes in all versions – especially the 342-hp rifle shot that is the CLK55. That ardor goes equally for the Cabriolet versions of the same platform, but in a different way. Somehow, slicing off the roof transforms the more businesslike CLK430 into a ragtop with a matchless grace.
The top is operationally simple, but mechanically complex. Twist a handle on the windshield header and press a console-mounted button, and it first pops off the rear part of the top and raises a body-color panel behind the rear seats. The top folds away into the hold, and the panel closes to fit nearly flush with the trunk lid.