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Weidel on Wheels: Living up to its name

Mercedes-Benz CLK 550 offers strong performance, handling
By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to Gold Country Motoring
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For the baby boomer generation, there has always been a certain aura surrounding Mercedes-Benz. Historically, they are magnificently designed and engineered vehicles with tremendous craftsmanship. The Mercedes line always ensured class, prestige and even a certain mystique. With that in mind, anytime I can wrap my hands around the steering wheel of a Mercedes it’s definitely a good week. And that was certainly the case in late June when the keys to the 2008 CLK 550 were handed over. At first glance, the CLK 550 is quite impressive. A coupe that’s available in either hardtop or convertible, it possesses an eloquent appearance; a definite class that will certainly draw plenty of looks. The convertible version was perfect for some of the agreeable weather in late June. Yet, while I marvel at the mostly exquisite nature of this particular Mercedes, one also can’t help but notice some of the vehicle’s deficiencies that most people in my generation would never believe possible. The most glaring area is the cabin electronics, which are frankly behind the times. Who wants a six-disc, cartridge CD changer located in their glove compartment? The only thing worse is if it was located in the trunk. At least it did come with six speakers, creating a powerful, pleasing sound. Other less-than-thrilling features included a phone system that relies on a cradle for hands-free use rather than the more popular Bluetooth technology. The navigational system had some quirkiness as well, which one just doesn’t anticipate in a Mercedes. Despite the annoying interior features that clearly need addressing, let’s face it, car shoppers are considering vehicles like the CLK 550 for their looks and performance. And in my mind, this Mercedes can hang with the biggest and boldest in this class when it comes to those two criteria. For sheer performance, it’s tough to outdistance the CLK 550’s 5.5-liter, V8 engine with seven-speed automatic transmission and 382 horsepower. Step on the gas pedal and the response is instantaneous, evidenced by its ability to go from 0-60 mph in a brisk 5.2 seconds. Sure, it only gets 15-21 miles per gallon, which is surely a negative in this current atmosphere of ridiculously high fuel prices. But who drives a sports car with gas mileage as a top priority? Fun is one of the desired goals and it gets accomplished here. We haven’t even mentioned the handling yet, which is quite refined as well. The rear-wheel drive CLK 550 provides extremely responsive steering that is light and never feels like it’s a real effort to navigate. That means the driver has plenty of time to look cool. And isn’t that another reason people like being seen in a classy convertible? Other niceties associated with the CLK 550 include a convenient power top that goes both up and down fairly quickly with a mere push of a button on the center console. We also enjoyed the comfortable front seat and the roomy backseat for two, a rarity for a convertible. While this Mercedes can handle four people, don’t try a road trip somewhere with four people or some of the passengers may be holding their luggage instead of storing it in the trunk, which is limited in space. Even a medium-size grocery store run can fill up this vehicle real quick. As one would expect with a Mercedes that lists at a starting price of $62,900, the standard features are plentiful. They include speed sensitive power steering; leather upholstery; 10-way, power adjustable front seats; automatic climate control; remote, smart key; wind deflector; brake assist; electronic stability control and more.