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Grand Prix - Mercedes-Benz CLK 500

Not too small, nor too big, just the right size. For many the CLK is a perfect blend of sportiness and opulence, fitting perfectly in the middle of the Benz lineup. Now, chop off the top and what do you get? Adding all that space often helps mediocre cars get better. What happens when a very nice car goes topless?

Look at the handsome lines of the CLK500 Convertible. Was it born this beautiful? Few cars lend themselves as effortlessly to the convertible conversion as the Mercedes-Benz CLK...just look, it's simply gorgeous.

Mercedes left little out of this car's content, equipping the convertible with enough gear to keep both sun worshipers and canyon carvers content...sort of.

On the muscle end, the 5-liter V8 is certainly up to task. It'll eclipse 60 mph in 6 sec, and its electronically limited 130-mph speed limit comes up mighty fast. Hold down a switch, and the roof disappears within the body, all nice and tidy. It's damn quiet at speed, too, which is a good thing as the standard eight-speaker Bose stereo is exceptional. While the cabin is well made, the interior styling was somewhat uninspiring. We just expected more pizazz from a car of this caliber.

Shod with 17-in. AMG wheels and AMG athletic wear (front air dam, side skirts, rear apron), the CLK 500 looks the part, but compared to its hardtop sibling, it just doesn't have enough chassis stiffness to be considered an exceptional driver. With 302 bhp and 339 lb-ft of torque on hand, the convertible exhibits cowl shake, enough to remind you what happens when you bend a shoebox without its top on.

You'd have to shell out 60 grand to go CLK topless (add another $670 for the Brilliant Silver paint, $410 for the CD player and a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax), but who's counting? If open-top motoring is your thing, this car does it all. If you're satisfied with a sunroof and open windows, and you like to go around corners, consider the hardtop version as a better choice. Better yet, buy two, one for sunny days and the other for hustling around your favorite back roads.

The Buzz...
"What a great motor. It's a shame, then, to put such performance in a convertible with just average chassis stiffness. Too much cowl shake."

"Interior styling is a bit long in the tooth; COMAND system is convoluted, and there's no in-dash CD player, just a cassette player--in a $60,000 car?"

"Many cars are more fun without a top; with the CLK, the hardtop is definitely the better choice."

"A very handsome car. I'm not a big convertible fan, but I really like the way Mercedes makes them."

"Quiet at speed with the top down and good wind deflection. Gets boomy inside with the top up."

"Very comfortable interior; good seats; lousy climate controls."

"One of those 60-grand cars that's nice and pretty but doesn't quite stir the soul; if you just need a convertible Mercedes, wait for the new SLK."

The Contenders

Audi S4

Audi TT 3.2 DSG

BMW 545i

BMW 645Ci

Mercedes-Benz CLK500 Convertible

Mercedes-Benz E500 Wagon

Volkswagen Phaeton

Volkswagen R32

Volvo S40

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