Mercedes CLK 320 CDI Sport
Merc's CLK is dearer than the BMW 335d, less powerful but arguably more relaxing to drive
The CLK coupé can trace its history all the way back to the 220SE Coupé of 1956 – a car that, along with its convertible counterpart, would help rejuvenate the German manufacturer’s image around the world. But it’s only much more recently that a diesel has been available.
Launched in 2002, the second-generation CLK is still one of the best-looking coupés on sale thanks to its smooth, arching roofline and curved flanks. The gaping grille and large front airdam create an aggressive nose, and in Sport trim, complete with 18-inch AMG alloy wheels, the Mercedes has a touch more road presence than the less dynamic BMW.
According to the figures, the CLK’s 435-litre boot is only five litres up on its rival’s. But in reality, it seems far bigger. Much like the 335d’s, the rear seats fold down to increase load capacity, but the CLK seat bases also flip forward to create a flat area – in fact, the 320 really is very practical.
Despite this flexibility, rear-passenger space is not as good as the BMW’s. Both leg and headroom are more cramped, and, while the front seats fold forward and lift, access to the back isn’t as easy. On the plus side, the bright cabin feels spacious and the driving position is good, thanks to plenty of adjustment on the seat and steering wheel. The controls are all well laid out and intuitive – a refreshing change after using BMW’s somewhat long-winded iDrive system, where even simple operations like changing between the radio and a CD take ages.
We also like the multifunction steering wheel and screen in the centre of the speedo, which can be used to show audio, navigation and economy information. Similar to the BMW, the CLK has an air of quality about it, although the electric arm that houses your seatbelt seems a little plasticky compared to the 335d’s brushed-chrome system.
With a 62bhp and 70Nm deficit, the Merc’s 3.0-litre engine can’t compete with the BMW in terms of power. Nor can it match its refinement or low noise levels – it was louder, both inside and out, at idle. It also sounds a little raucous under hard acceleration. Still, the 7G-Tronic seven-speed auto is well suited to the V6 oil-burner. The CLK is slightly heavier than the 335d, so there was little surprise when it failed to match its rival’s test-track times. However, with a 30-70mph time of 6.1 seconds, this is still a quick car with superb overtaking ability. Out on the road, the Merc’s throttle can be a little too responsive, making it difficult to drive smoothly, and, while the brakes are strong, the over-active assistance means coming to a stop progressively can prove to be a bit of a challenge.
In terms of handling, the CLK is not quite as agile as the 3-Series, and although the steering is well weighted, it’s somewhat vague compared to the more communicative system in the BMW. It has good levels of grip, though, and turns in well, but never feels quite as responsive or balanced as its rival. Overall, it’s the more relaxing machine, though ultimately less involving and enjoyable. However, it’s still a very satisfying car, not only to drive, but to own – the stylish shape found plenty of fans on our road test.
A sticking point is the price, though. It’s expensive, with costly options too. Our test car had nearly £8,000 worth of extra kit fitted, including the sat-nav system at £1,990.
Price: £37,065Model tested: Mercedes CLK 320 CDI SportChart position: 2WHY: Long a popular choice thanks to its rakish lines, the CLK range now offers two diesel models, costing from £30,780.
The Mercedes was the thirstier car on test, with an average 30.9mpg. It has an extra litre capacity in the fuel tank, but has a shorter range and managed only 421 miles.
The stylish Merc is much sought after on the used car market. But it doesn’t hold its money as well as the BMW. A figure of 49.4 per cent means a retained value of £18,310.
As with its German rival, the CLK runs on a variable servicing plan, so the interval length depends on how hard the Merc is driven. But £680 for the first three services is good.
Due to a cleaner engine, the CLK sits one tax band lower than the 335d, but a higher list price means that it is nearly identical in cost for company car drivers at £4,300.
In this review
- 1IntroductionIs BMW's all-new 3-Series coupe a more tempting buy than its oil-burning Mercedes CLK rival?
- 21st BMW 335d SE CoupeBMW's 335d's more than a match for its petrol-powered equivalent and faster and more economical
- 32nd - currently readingMerc's CLK is dearer than the BMW 335d, less powerful but arguably more relaxing to drive
- 4Facts and figures