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INCOGNITO

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sat, Apr 3, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

INCOGNITO

By JOHN GRAFMAN

I was having a little trouble with the rearview mirror. Actually the mirror itself was just fine, but the approaching motorcycle reflected in it is enough to give me pause from a round of spirited driving. It turns out that the motorcycle was indeed an officer of the law. Being that I had taken effort to reduce my speed, all I received was a suspicious glance and nothing more. My mantra saved the day again: See them before they see you.

Of course when driving the CLK 500 cabriolet, two flaws with the mantra come to light. The more obvious of the two situations is that (equipped with the AMG appearance package as our coupe was) - with the top down - just how in the world can you remain inconspicuous? The second has to do with the performance of the car. It's not that it doesn't handle well, au contraire, the CLK is a standout on freeways and hills. The self-control needed to maintain driving within the legal limits is more than most can muster. The numbers are plain to see. Gobs of horsepower and even greater torque explain why the CLK is capable of providing rocket like thrust at any speed. All of the components seemed equally match to the pursuit of high-speed travel, both controllably and comfortably.

Facts and figures tell one story. Getting behind the wheel is far more enlightening. In the pursuit of some sunshine, we took a quick run out to Palm Springs. With the top down we were able to enjoy the CLK cabriolet as it was meant to be. Certainly, the chassis flex and noise would have naturally been a concern. Being that they're virtually wasn't any, most any other manufacturer of a convertible need to stop and take notice. Built solid from the get go, the CLK chassis is tight as a drum. The perfect Southern California weather begs for top-down cruising. The CLK Cabriolet hits the nail on the head for the most well rounded car we had the pleasure to drive recently. Everything needed is there. This is an extremely easy car to rationalize into your life. This semi versatile easy to use convertible is perfect for LA. Four seats that can actually accommodate four real people, so you can take your agent, PA, and the makeup artist wherever your heart takes you to. The pedigree of an international luxury makes another must in this town! When a mouse-size hole opens in traffic, this Benz can pounce on it. This is no slug off the line. And regardless of which canyons you traverse from Malibu to Hollywood, the CLK proves that its beauty is not just skin deep.

This latest version of the CLK inspires confidence. The driver is rewarded with a road-going ability that grips, corners and soaks up bumps - and runs on the streets with aplomb, never rattling vehicle or driver. While several companies (including Mercedes-Benz) have come out with excellent convertible hardtops, the CLK cabriolet is, alas, a soft-top convertible. However, there is no shame here. This top functions easily, with just one button to operate and no latches to mess with. The soft top weighs less, is well insulated, and has a glass rear window with hardly any outward visibility penalty. And to top off, it even looks good.

I may as well mention (while on the subject) the less than masculine looks of the CLK. I thought I'd get jeered by my cohorts, something akin to driving the Saturn or Beetle. That kind of response eradicates all the good that the cabriolet offers. Fortunately, with the AMG appearance package as equipped in this vehicle, one could argue that the car takes on a tough, mean stance that is not at all present in the garden variety CLK. One of the few missteps that caught my eyes were the gauges. It seems that the hash marks and the needles far too closely resemble one another. The driver is forced to concentrate too long on deciphering information. I can just imagine the officers' response to that excuse, I know, tell it to the judge! A little more lumbar support in the seats wouldn't be bad either.

I guess when driving the CLK 500 Cabriolet, the other option is still sounding good. Repeat after me. "See them before they see you". Again, one more time, repeat after me...

More information on Mercedes Benz can be found at www.mbusa.com

SPECIFICATIONS Price: $ 59,850, as tested $ 62,650 Engine type: 4,966cc 90-degree V8, chain-driven single overhead camshaft per cylinder bank, two intake valves and one exhaust valve per cylinder, Aluminum block and head Horsepower: 302 @ 5,600 Torque: 339 @ 2,700 - 4,250 Drive configuration: Front engine/rear-wheel drive Transmission type: Five-speed electronically controlled automatic with TouchShift and driver-adaptive shift logic Front suspension: Independent , twin lower links, strut, coil springs, gas-charged twin-tube shock absorbers, stabilizer bar Rear suspension: Independent, five-link, coil springs, gas-charged shock absorbers, stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: Front: 7.5 x 17-in. AMG monoblock thin spoke 225/45 ZR17 Rear: 8.5 x 17-in. AMG monoblock thin spoke 245/40 ZR17 Brakes: Front: 13.6 x 1.2 inch discs vented, with four-piston fixed calipers Rear: 11.8 x .9 inch discs vented, with twin-piston fixed calipers Hydraulic power-assisted 4-wheel discs with 4-channel ABS anti-lock and Brake Assist System, Traction control, Electronic Stability Program (ESP) integrates brake application and throttle intervention for yaw control, plus ignition and throttle intervention for full-range traction control, Stability control Overall length: 182.6” Overall width: 68.5” Overall height: 55.4” Curb weight (lbs.): 3,905 EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 17/22 mpg 0-60 mph: 6.0

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