The Mercedes-Benz CLK class is a series of mid-size cars produced by Mercedes between 1996 and 2009. The CLK was all about style in a line-up of Mercedes models that was decidedly short on fun at the time, and until it was replaced by similar E-class models in 2010, the CLK class was the manufacturer’s representative of sporty luxury.
CLK HistoryThe roots of the CLK class lie in the C class, which debuted in 1993 with a sedan based on the new W202 platform, a replacement for the W201 platform. The sedan got company from a coupe based on the second-generation W203 platform in 2000, and a third-generation W204 platform debuted in 2007.
The CLK models were based on the compact C-class platforms, but the manufacturer positioned the CLK class closer to the luxury-oriented E class in terms of price, power and trim level.
The first CLK models were coupes and convertibles, and they were designed to deliver curvaceous style and respectable performance to those well-heeled buyers who had previously only had the relatively stodgy E-class models to choose from.
The CLK 200 and 230 were introduced in 1996, and the CLK 320 debuted a year later. The CLK 430 appeared in 1999, and the high-performance CLK 55 AMG came on the scene in 2000.
All of these first-generation CLKs were available in both coupe and cabriolet versions, but despite their sleek two-door styling, all were four-seaters that aimed to be comfortable for back-seat passengers.
Second GenerationThe CLK class got a makeover in 2003, when the W209 platform added a bit more size to the line. The new platform was about two inches longer, an inch higher and three quarters of an inch wider than the W208.
The configuration of the line also saw some reshuffling for this generation, thanks to a new selection of powerplants. The CLK 270 CDI was equipped with a five-cylinder diesel engine, while the CLK 320 and its replacement, the CLK 350, were outfitted with six-cylinder engines. The CLK 500 was the second-generation V8 model in the mainstream segment of the line, and the CLK 55 AMG continued until it was replaced by the CLK63 AMG.
Special VersionsThe CLK-GTR is a racing version of the CLK class developed for competition in the FIA GT championships in 1997. It was powered by a V12 engine and was only cosmetically related to the production models of the CLK class.
The CLK DTM AMG is a limited-edition production model styled and equipped to resemble the racing model designed for the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters racing series. Production of the V8-powered models were limited to 100 units of the coupe version and 80 units of the cabriolet. Thanks to this extremely limited production run, the CLK DTM AMG was extremely pricey at its introduction, retailing for well over $200,000.
EnginesThe earliest low-end CLK models were not particularly impressive in the power department; the first-generation CLK 200 was powered by a 134-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a 163-horsepower Kompressor powerplant. Above the bottom end of the line, however, the CLK class was equipped with at least adequate, if not substantial, engines. The V6 in the CLK 320 was capable, producing a 215 horsepower. The CLK 430’s V8 was, of course, even more powerful, churning out 275 horsepower. The CLK 55 AMG was relatively monstrous; its 5.4-liter V8 produced 342 horsepower.
The second-generation CLK engines upped the power stakes considerably. In this generation, the 3.2- and 3.5-liter V6s used in the CLK 320 and 350 produced 218 and 268 horsepower respectively, and the 5.0-liter V8 in the CLK 500 put out 302 horsepower. The new CLK 55 AMG got a 5.4-liter V8 that produced 362 horsepower, and the even newer CLK 65 AMG received a 6.2-liter V8 that pumped out 475 horsepower.
PerformanceMost CLK models were equipped with automatic transmissions; four- and five-speed gearboxes were the standard for first generation models, and second generation models got either a five-speed or seven-speed transmissions. After 2000, the five-speed transmission featured a manual-shift mode, which did a bit to appease reviewers who took exception with the shifting decisions made by the automatic gearboxes in the earlier CLK models.
The CLK line also got a handling upgrade in 1999, when a stability control system was introduced as standard equipment on the 430 and optional equipment on the 320.
FeaturesThe CLK class was equipped with a menu of features intended to make clear its identity as a fusion of performance and comfort. The exterior styling of the CLK models included sleek bumpers, trim panels and side skirts and alloy wheels, and some models including up-market features such as xenon headlights and aero-styled trim.
On the inside, the CLK class was focused on luxury. Leather upholstery was supplemented with burled walnut trim, and high-end equipment included navigation systems with impressively large screens and premium digital sound systems.
Comfort was a priority, too, and some models were equipped with heated seats and automated dual-zone climate control systems. The safety of the occupants was ensured with, among a multitude of safety features, side airbags, sensor-controlled roll bars on convertible versions, and the Tele Aid emergency assistance system.