Another in a series of my reviews that appeared in the online version of African Americans On Wheels, a now defunct automotive magazine that was included as an insert in the Sunday newspapers of major cities.
Re-reading this article, I find I’m a little hard on the E320 Cabriolet and its over-inflated sticker price. Automobile Magazine’s Jamie Kitman, who at one time owned an E320 Cabriolet, explained it best: “My car is from a time when Mercedes’ were built to a standard, not a price.” I don’t see many E320 Cabriolets around, but when I do see one, it’s usually in like-new condition. The CLK320 Cabriolets I see are usually in “fourth-owner-inner-city-beaten-down-or-DONK’d” condition.
My week with this car coincided with house hunting in Central Virginia. I don’t recommend taking a $50k ($78k adjusted) car to a For Sale By Owner listing for a house that only costs a little bit more. It makes negotiating kind of difficult. Fortunately, we didn’t buy that house.
The following review was written on May 2, 1999
You’ve got to hand it to Mercedes. Any company that introduces a $47,000 car and have buyers think that it’s a bargain deserves more than a little credit. However, you have to put things into perspective: the Mercedes CLK320 Cabriolet effectively replaces the 1995 E320 Cabriolet and its nearly $85,000 price tag. Yikes!
While based on the C-class and therefore smaller than the E320, the CLK320 is marginally roomier inside and much more pleasing to the eyes. The top tries its best to imitate the sleek profile of the beautiful CLK coupe, but it definitely looks best with the power top fully retracted.
The sloping hood is highlighted by quad round headlamps and a small grill, which blends nicely into the high rear end. The result is a shape that drew many looks and compliments throughout the week. Furthermore, with the top up, the large C-pillars and tiny glass rear window provide panel-van-like rear visibility. More reason to keep the top down (and watching it retract is quite a treat in itself).
Get inside, and everything falls right into place. The power leather front seats are firm and supportive. Once adjusted, even the lack of a tilt/telescoping steering wheel doesn’t hamper the almost idyllic driving position. To emphasize the fact that most buyers will rarely carry passengers in the rear, Mercedes provides a windscreen that fastens securely right behind the front seats, making the back seats unusable. When the top is in place, you can access a full 9.5 cubic feet of trunk space, quite large for this class.
Although the arrival of the CLK430 and its V8 engine was celebrated earlier this year, that engine is reserved for coupe buyers. The CLK320 “makes due” with the 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6. Of course, the V6 still rockets the small CLK to 60 mph faster than most cars on the market while never losing an ounce of Teutonic composure. The ride is surprisingly pleasant for a car that handles this well.
If you do buy one and come across an E320 Cabriolet owner, try not to brag. Or laugh. And hide your pity.
For more information contact 1-800-FOR-MERCEDES
Type: Two-Door Cabriolet
Engine: 215-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 19 city/28 highway
Tested Price: $48,545
I still think the CLK looks good, but your assessment of the E vs CLK is spot on. That said, the alloys shown in the press photo always looked good to me. I’m sure one of these is a very “composed” convertible as you described, too bad about the biodegradable wiring. If rodents didn’t chew it for its foody scent, time and environment would handle the rest. I wouldn’t garage park a late 90s Merc these days because I consider it a fire risk.
Yup, the E320 Cab was the end of a long line. I found myself with a surprisingly high degree of disdain for the CLK, coupe or cabrio. It marked a major turning point, and MBZ was essentially dead to me from then on.
Funny, because Mercedes plays prominently in Dead to Me.
Didn’t 1996 mark the start of Daimler Chrysler Mercedes? That, in addition to the end of the (hugely successful, right?) W124, correct?
And I have no experience with post-1995 MBZ, not counting briefly enjoying a 2000-ish M350 suv, some 16 years ago. I’m currently mesmerized by an 07 CLK cabrio, but it’s got a salvage title, despite running very nicely and looking good.
This 07 cabriolet seems to have 55,000 miles, along with sure signs of front and rear end damage repairs (overspray and some fairly obvious orange peel from re-painting).
How much of a disappointment would come from the 07 CLK after having loved 91-95 W124’s?
No, DaimlerChrysler happened one day in 1998.
Regarding Jamie Kitman: I’m a fan of his writing (including his investigative journalism; see http://www.thenation.com/article/archive/secret-history-lead/), but his byline has been absent from Automobile’s website for many months now, coinciding – as best I can tell – with the end of the print magazine version of Automobile.
That explains why I haven’t seen it on the magazine racks lately. I stopped reading Automobile years ago, but I always enjoyed Jamie’s column. I vaguely remember the column where he mentioned his E320 was about how he was spending every dollar he could get his hands on building his car collection. There was something about a life-threatening experience that pushed him over the YOLO edge.
Great share, thanks for that. It’s been awhile since I have had time to settle in again here at CC, so this was a welcome treat given that my wife and I own and cruise in a 2000 CLK320 Cabriolet.
We bought it earlier this year for a great price, low km, two owners and everything we need… and I appreciate that it’s not a Sebring, PT Cruiser or other common ragtops that we could have purchased for the same kind of money. We really enjoy our CLK, sad that our summer is running out!
If the wires in these didn’t deteriorate the body would worse. I don’t know what Mercedes was doing to their steel in the late 90s but it didn’t work It’s like a lost generation of Mercedes, while there are still tons of 80s Mercedes on the streets, and tons of mid 00s and up.
More subjective but styling was questionable to me too, and unfortunately Mercedes’s still aspirational status meant a lot of automakers were aping cues on these for way too much of the aughts. The CLK coupe and convertible were admittedly the strongest of the googly eye phase though, with curvy close coupled bodies. Besides the longevity factors of them, they never looked particularly prestigious or worth bragging about past their sell by date
Still a good car if you can find one that’s rust-free.