The new CLK coupes from Mercedes-Benz represent a significant addition to the luxury coupe market. The past two decades have shown that the upper luxury coupe market has been Mercedes territory, exemplified by the S-Class coupes. The CLK is more in the tradition of the affordable 190SL and 230SL coupes from the early 1960's.
The publicity generated for the CLK shows how important it is for Mercedes to change its demographics and appeal to younger, less affluent buyers. As a result, expressive styling has been a primary characteristic of the new CLK, which incorporates the distinctive elliptical headlights of the E-Class with the compact dimensions of the C-Class. The CLK at 4,567 mm (179.8 in.) is actually 80 mm (3.1 in.) longer than the C-Class and almost 230 mm (9.1 in.) shorter than the E-Class.
The new coupe is available in Sport and Elegance trim levels that emphasize the driving or luxury aspects of the CLK. U.S. models are available in the Elegance trim level only. While engine choices include a 2.0L (136 bhp) normally aspirated engine, 2.0L (192 bhp) and 2.3L (193 bhp) Kompressor (supercharged) 4-cylinder engines, and a new 3.2L V-6 (215 bhp), the 3.2L V-6 is the only powerplant available in the U.S. market. All models except the CLK 320 are offered with a 5-speed manual or automatic gearbox. The CLK 320 is available only with the 5-speed automatic.
All CLK's are equipped with disc/drum brakes with ABS. 205/55-16 tires and alloy wheels are also standard. The CLK 230 Kompressor and CLK 320 models come with ASR (traction control) and BAS (Brake Assist System) which applies extra brake pressure under certain conditions to shorten stopping distance. In addition, the CLK 320 is available with the ESP (Electronic Stability Program) to reduce the chance of skidding and sliding when cornering by applying brakes to specific wheels.
Other passive safety features include the expected driver and passenger airbags, plus door mounted side airbags on all models. The CLK can also sense a child seat in the front passenger seat and not deploy the passenger airbag in a frontal collision.
Convenience features such as power steering, power windows, remote central locking, and outside temperature gauge are standard on all models. Some optional extras include: automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated seats, anti-theft system, self-leveling suspension, power sunroof, and xenon headlamps.
The CLK worldwide introduction is in June 1997 with projected production of 25,000 vehicles for the year and 43,000 units for 1998. The CLK 320 is expected in the U.S. this fall, priced at about $40,000. Future variants may include an AMG V-8 model and possibly a convertible.