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Invited to snatch an hour behind the wheel of the second generation of the 2003 CLK lights up your life for a week. On the other hand, you know you’ll never own one of these $50,000 beauties so sliding onto the leather seats surrounded by luxury and power is a little irritating. How can Mercedes-Benz produce such elegant, superbly performing coupes and not let me keep one?
Still, one must be thankful for small offerings. Even driving for just 64 miles over Southern California’s despised toll roads (our highways are called freeways but the plague of tollways is migrating rapidly from the East Coast) was to glimpse paradise. In a relative, motoring sort of way, of course.
The redesigned CLK 320 along with its brand new brother, the CLK 500 -- the convertible arrives later this year -- has an updated profile, most markedly as a B-pillarless hardtop that gives it a sleeker, more racy silhouette. Only slim, black, reinforced seals separate the front and rear windows, resulting in one long, continuous, minimalist sweep under the graceful roofline. With both windows fully open on each side there’s a feeling of being in the high-performance, head-turning SLK with its retractable hardtop dropped. With subtly sculpted side skirts, a cleanly sculpted front air dam, and an almost invisible rear spoiler, the unassuming coupe should appeal to enthusiasts who don’t brag, although Mercedes-Benz surveys reveal that CLK drivers tend to be more outspoken than most. Well, here’s a comment: dump the new baby blue paint job. Called Ice Blue, it is very pretty but a bit daunting for the macho performance maniac.
Bold red and white candy-striped rear lights that wrap around the corners are distinctive and surprisingly adventuresome for Mercedes-Benz, giving a certain snap to the CLK styling. Interiors are identical on both the 320 and the 500. The significant difference between the two models is mostly mechanical, such as the size of the engines, transmission, brakes, wheels, and some minor exterior differences in the grill and the color of the tinted glass: green on the 320 and blue on the 500. Optional front bi-xenon gas-discharge headlights that wash themselves are new, too, for this classic coupe, while standard headlights are two ellipses on each side. Rain-sensing windshield wipers are on both models. The grills have a rather large Mercedes-Benz star firmly planted in their midst, and the 500 has three separate lower sections with mesh grillwork to distinguish it from the 320.