2001 Mercedes-Benz CLK Class Photo
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Until last week, my personal quest for the perfect luxocoupe followed a couple of primary routes: on the one hand, the missile-silo home of the BMW M3, and on the other, veering wildly upscale into the cage rattled by Jaguar’s ferocious, supercharged $82,000 XKR. Now there’s a third way to go, and it’s a crossroad you’d be lucky to choose – toward - Mercedes-Benz’ latest AMG-powered trifle, the CLK55.

The AMG-modified, 342-hp version of Benz’ innocuously handsome CLK is simply one of the most balanced and forceful machines assembled. And it’s the fastest production Mercedes-Benz ever offered in the U.S. It’s possessed with Emily Post confidence in its perfect manners, and U.N. translator fluency in fast moving.

In short, it’s a textbook case in what happens when engineers don’t get enough dates – not so good for them, great for us enthusiasts.

The CLK55 begins life as an unassuming mid-line Benz coupe. Somewhere along the way from its German womb to you, it gets waylaid by the engineers at AMG, Benz’ in-house performance makeover specialists. Basically, they do to the CLK what Bela Karolyi does to Olympic athletes – teaches the right moves, gives it the equipment to excel. In the case of the CLK55, that means a package of performance enhancements any Olympian would envy – a stiffer suspension, racing-derived brakes, and a shift-it-yourself automatic gearbox that’s broken my own embargo against clutch-free shifting.

Undoubtedly, the master stroke in the CLK55 is its 5.5-liter V-8, which hammers out 342 hp and emits a throaty rumble from about 4000 rpm to its 6000-rpm redline. It benefits from a new crankshaft, enlarged magnesium intake manifold, and AMG camshafts made in special sets along with connecting rods, and piston heads. What’s most special about the powerplant, Benz engineers say, is its torque curve, high and mesa-flat from 1500 rpm to its peak of 376 lb-ft at 3000 rpm.

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