Classic CARmentary: 1999 Mercedes-Benz CLK320 Cabriolet

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