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2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet A narrow strip of blacktop edges around granite cliffs high above an azure sea on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, where we're pushing the pace and squealing the tires on a muscular new convertible that wears the tri-star medallion of Germany's Mercedes-Benz.

It's a ride on the wild side in a gorgeous Mercedes drop-top rigged with awesome power and paraphernalia for high performance.

Labeled as the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet, the sleek two-door concoction capped by a power-motivated convertible lid amounts to a pumped-up version of mid-size CLK convertibles.

Actually, there are three different trims for American-bound CLK Class convertibles, which have been redesigned and cast on a new chassis with the issues of 2004.

All are derived from slinky CLK Class hardtop coupes off the new versions of 2003, then cut down to airy convertibles by German car crafter Karmann.

We spend a day steering each of the three new convertibles on a circuitous route around Majorca, traversing the jagged Serra de Tramuntana mountains along the rugged western coast and zipping past ancient groves of almonds and olives in the Llanura del Centro valley before heading to the picturesque fishing village of Portocolon on the eastern shore.

All three versions end up parked side by side at the harbor quay in Portocolon, where we scrutinize the sensuous package designs and pick out trim distinctions.

Prime edition is the CLK320 Cabriolet toting a 3.2-liter V6 engine and rolling on seven-spoke alloy wheels measuring 16 inches tall.

Upgrading to a V8 engine leads to the CLK500 Cabriolet with a 5.0-liter V8 and 17-inch thin-spoke alloy wheels.

The CLK55 AMG Cabriolet goes further with its 5.5-liter high performance V8 built by AMG, even bigger wheels plus heavy-duty brakes and shifter paddles set behind steering wheel spokes for hands-on transmission control.

These prime convertibles from an automaker renowned for designing elegant topless cars seat four in luxury.

They also carry tightly tuned mechanical systems to kindle a lively personality skewed toward the sporty side of automotive behavior and provide the Mercedes retinue of sophisticated electronic gear for safety and convenience.

And the new package design looks absolutely stunning in an emotional statement of curvaceous sheetmetal.

A front end reflects bold geometric shapes off the E320 sedan with four articulated oval headlamps separating a chrome grille with the Mercedes emblem pinned prominently in the center spot.

Every angle exaggerates the aerodynamic fluidity of motion: Grille slants back further than on E Class sedans, the hood slopes more seriously and the windshield tilts rearward in the extreme to achieve that windswept suggestion of swift movement.

2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK A cloth soft top, in multiple layers draped over an aluminum frame, quickly tucks beneath a metal bonnet by motorized means. With the top down, CLK convertibles look slick and aggressive as the bonnet shows nacelle blisters trailing behind rear seatbacks like ones once worn by vintage race cars.

Also posed behind rear seatbacks are loop-like roll bars that can pop up instantly if on-board motion sensors detect potential roll-over movement.The convertible conversion is controlled by a one-touch switch mounted on the console, but it also operates remotely from a button on the key fob.

Compared against original CLK Class convertibles, which debuted as 1999 models, the new 2004 editions measure larger in all physical dimensions.Wheelbase stretches an inch longer and the length runs 2.4 inches greater, while the width grows by more than half an inch and the height rises by 1.6 inches. These figures point to more space in the passenger compartment.

And the platform -- adapted from chassis underpinning Mercedes compact-size C Class cars -- measures stronger and stiffer for a 40 percent improvement in torsional rigidity.

Independent suspension elements from the C Class were revamped and tuned for tighter control and sporty traits. Components include a three-link design up front with MacPherson struts, while at the rear there's a five-link arrangement, plus a stabilizer bar mounted fore and aft.

Steering mechanism switches to a direct and responsive rack and pinion system, and there are devices aboard to stabilize forward movement and tire traction, plus smart brakes with anti-lock control system (ABS) and multiple air bags to cushion the human cargo including new seat-mounted air bags for shielding head and thorax regions of riders in the two front seats.

Nomenclature for CLK Class convertibles conforms to the alphanumeric designations employed by Mercedes for all of its vehicles, with the class size defined by alphabetical letters and the engine volume expressed in liters and translated into three digits.

Thus, the CLK320 Cabriolet takes its name from the CLK Class of mid-size two-doors and its 3.2-liter V6 engine turns into the numbers 320.Likewise with the CLK500 Cabriolet and its 5.0-liter V8 or the CLK55 AMG Cabriolet with the forceful 5.5-liter V8.

The Mercedes V6 -- which has a single overhead cam plus an electronic throttle called "adaptive accelerator" -- makes 215 hp.

That adaptive accelerator, linked to a computer, adjusts the throttle to fit a driver's individual style.For the CLK500 the single-cam V8 reaches to 302 hp, while the larger V8 in CLK55 AMG pumps out 369 hp.

Transmission for all three engines is the impressive Mercedes five-speed automatic, which brings clutch-less shifts through a TouchShift stick. To-and-fro movements of the lever allow a driver to step up or down the gear ladder one notch at a time with the control of a manual stick.

2004 Mercedes-Benz CLK  InteriorA new design for the cabin draws on fine leathers and glossy polished hardwoods plus an eight-speaker Bose audio system. Individual seats feel firm and comfortable and the buckets in front adjust in multiple directions and feature strong side bolsters.

The new instrument panel with analog gauges ringed in chrome focuses on a large speedometer in center spot flanked by a tachometer on the right and a big clock to the left.High-tech Mercedes equipment may be added optionally, such as Keyless Go, Distronic adaptive cruise control, Parktronic distance sensors, bi-xenon headlamps and a DVD-based navigation system.

Expect MSRP figures for new CLK Class convertibles to extend from $50,000 to $76,000.

Click here for more information on the Mercedes CLK.
For the Mercedes Benz 2004 Model Guide: Click Here