The laws of kinetics tell us that a body in motion tends to remain in motion, and this will certainly apply to your body once you plant it behind the wheel of the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet. Exhaustion of stamina and fuel could be the only things that will pry your throttle foot away from Mercedes-Benz’ latest Teutonic stormer.
If benchmark performance, user-friendliness, and the sun in your face are prime motivators in your automotive purchasing, this could be the most desirable roadster available.
But perhaps you should first ask yourself just how much do you value the Cabriolet over the Coupe that it’s based on. (Oh, to have that problem….) That lovely, snug, retractable top and its unique (from the A-pillar back) body panels impose a $10,000 premium and a 360-lb weight penalty. In terms of straight-line acceleration, the 5.9 seconds Mercedes says it takes for the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet to get to 60 mph is a full second slower than the Coupe’s time. It’s those laws of kinetics again.
Still, if the Cabriolet is a bit more leisurely in getting up to its governed 155-mph top speed, it does so in linear fashion, thanks to the engine’s dual-resonance intake manifold. Like the Coupe, the Cabriolet’s peak 376 lb-ft of torque are available from 3000 to 4300 rpm; slap the Touch Shift driver-adaptive electronic five-speed into third or fourth and you, too, can be King of the Twisties. To handle the engine’s prodigious torque output, the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet also comes with an extremely strong, 110mm-diameter (4.33-inch), four-bolt driveshaft.
The microprocessors in this automatic quickly learn your particular quirks, networking with engine management and suspension feedback, and you don’t really miss not having a manual shifter. M-B says it lacked in-house manual clutch bits to handle the torque generated by AMG’s tweaked 5.5-liter V-8; methinks a query to American colleagues at the House of Viper would have remedied that situation.
2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK Class
The reasonable supercar
This is a roomy car for a 2+2, and it will actually seat two adults in reasonable comfort in back. Ditch the two adults, and you can install a mesh wind deflector that helps keep the noise down when the top is tucked under the hard tonneau (it lowers in about 25 seconds). When raised, the top bears the typical M-B values of snugness and quietude, thanks to three layers of insulation. Charcoal napa leather is everywhere—seats, dash, door panels, airbag covers.
During hot laps on the road course at Pocono International Raceway, two things stood out: transitions during acceleration, braking, and through turns were as smooth as any car I’ve ever tested; and the car responds to radical maneuvering like a cat in Velcro booties. AMG-tuned springs, shock valving and stability bars are unique to the CLK55 Cabriolet. M-B’s ESP stability control, working in concert with huge ventilated disk brakes (13.2 inches in diameter in front, 11.8 in back), provide dragster-chute whoa power. Mercedes Brake Assist comes to the fore during emergency stops.
Personally, the sleek lines of the coupe are more appealing to me, as is its added accelerative oomph. But for many, the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet will be the ultimate Hamptonmobile or Wilshire Boulevard cruiser. The styling is understated enough to be classy, and the badging will hint at its power and exclusivity, whether its owner will ever take it to its limits, or not. And, more than likely, they’ll have the top down.
Mercedes-Benz CLK55 AMG Cabriolet
Base price: $79,645
Engine: 5.5-liter V-8, 342 hp
Transmission: Five-speed electronic automatic, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 105.9 in
Length: 180.2 in
Width: 67.8 in
Height: 54.3 in
Curb weight: 3,845 lbs
Fuel economy: 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side door and curtain airbags,
Electronic Stability Program, Brake Assist
Major standard features: Seventeen-inch multipiece alloy wheels, Touch Shift transmission control, mesh wind deflector
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
story posted 11/12/01