Mercedes-Benz CLK 209-series
The 209-series CLK gained many admirers during its time on sale new, and today the Coupes and Cabriolets are among the most affordable Mercedes-Benz cars you can buy second hand. Here we look back on these multi-talented models and see what’s out there in the market. Words Neil Briscoe. Images Daimler Ag & Eric Richardson.
With its handsome lines and high tech features, the 209-series CLK is among today’s best buys
With the 209-series CLK, Mercedes-Benz arguably found its elegance again. The C209 CLK Coupe was — to these eyes at any rate — a massive improvement on the previous, heavy-looking 208-series CLK. In fact, I’d stick my neck out and say that the C209 (the work of Gorden Wagener, who today of course is still in overall charge of Mercedes-Benz design; back then he was still junior to Peter Pfeiffer) was the best bit of Mercedes styling of the early 2000s.
To be fair, that’s not a high bar over which to jump. In general, in 2002 when the C209 was launched, Mercedes was having something of a torrid time of things. This was the era when the accountants achieved supremacy over the engineers at the Stuttgart works and the quality of the cars being produced took an all too predictable dive. The W203 C-Class was hardly an oil painting in styling terms, and was pretty poor, at least in period, when it came to overall reliability.
So Wagener’s work turning the W203’s slightly pudgy look into the sleek CLK, with its nose and tail falling gracefully towards the road, two ends of a single elegant arc, was quite the achievement for the young Manager of Exterior and Interior Styling. Arguably, the C209 CLK marks the turning point in 21st century Benz design, as subsequent cars became ever more elegant and better resolved.
Enough about the styling, though, let’s drive into the tech. The chassis from that W203 C-Class did indeed form the basis for the 209 CLK, and it borrowed that car’s range of engines too — from the basic supercharged 1.8-litre ‘Kompressor’ unit in the CLK200, with just 161bhp in its most affordable form, all the way to the mighty CLK55 AMG with its 5.4-litre, 362bhp naturally aspirated V8. Doesn’t sound like all that much now, at a time when you can buy an A-Class with more than 400bhp, but in period it was lots. The M113 motor would go without a supercharger in the CLK, however.
Between those two extremes, there were more powerful Kompressor four-cylinder units (the upgraded CLK200 of 2007 would have 180bhp at its beck and call), and some exceptionally smooth, petrol (M112) V6 engines: the 2.6-litre, 168bhp CLK240 and 3.2-litre 215bhp CLK320, which were supplanted by the rather superior 3.0-litre M272 V6, badged as a CLK280 in 228bhp trim and CLK350 with a rather more useful 268bhp.
Above those, but sitting beneath the mighty AMG in the range, was the super-smooth CLK500, its 5.0-litre M113 V8 developing 302bhp. When the facelifted cars appeared in mid 2005, the CLK500 was sporting a new 5.4-litre M273 V8 with a CLK55-beating 383bhp. To rebalance the range, the AMG CLK received a major transplant in the form of the immortal, M156 V8 engine, as seen in the C-Class and E-Class. With it came the legendary 6.3 badge, although the quad-cam, 32-valve powerhaus actually displaced 6,208cc. In the CLK, the M156 would hit a peak of 474bhp. Like the other engines described above, this biblically powerful V8 also appeared in the A209 CLK Cabriolet, which went on sale in 2003.
There was, of course, one extra level to the CLK power hierarchy in the form of the CLK63 AMG Coupe Black Series, whose M156 V8 developed 500bhp. The Black Series featured bodywork distended by racing-car bulges (inspired by the DTM German Touring Car Championship CLKs), fully adjustable suspension, a limited-slip differential and several key components — including the rear spoiler, rear diffuser and those wide, sweeping wheelarches — made from lightweight carbon fibre. Only 25 right-hand- drive versions of the CLK AMG Black Series made it to the UK, one of which was famously snapped up by Jeremy Clarkson — his car-buying budget having been swollen by the early-2000s success of Top Gear meant that he could afford the £90,000 asking price in 2007. Eight years later, Clarkson sold his CLK, announcing on Twitter that it was a “Sad day. Just sold my AMG Black.” We feel his pain.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget the most exclusive, most powerful 209-series CLK of them all — the CLK DTM AMG. Built to celebrate Mercedes’ 2003 title win in the DTM, just 100 Coupes and 80 Cabriolets were built, and all got an incredibly special version of the 5.4-litre V8 engine with a massive 574bhp. This CLK — related, let’s not forget to the 161bhp CLK200 Kompressor — could hit a massive 199mph in a straight line. It made the Black Series look positively pedestrian.
The other end of the spectrum
Less AMG Black and more black pump, the 209-series CLK also met the mid-to-late 2000s demand for diesel coupes with three versions: the 2.1-litre CLK220 CDI with 148bhp, the CLK270 CDI in-line five-cylinder with 168bhp, and a CLK320 CDI 3.0-litre V6 with 221bhp which was the only oil burner to feature in the Cabriolet range. Diesel’s lustre has faded in the years since but, at the time, these CLKs had a compelling combination of mid-range performance and low running costs. No wonder they sold so well.
As did the 209-series CLK in general. More than 200,000 Coupes and 100,000 Cabriolets found homes, which wasn’t bad for supposed niche models. The 209-series followed the template of the old, 124-generation Coupe and Cabriolet by being reasonably practical. Their swoopy shape hid a really practical cabin with, if not quite full four-seat space, at least adequately useable rear seats.
The 209 CLK was also rather wonderfully refined. It had the classic Mercedes pillarless layout, which meant frameless doors, but the sealing was good enough to keep the worst of the wind noise at bay. While the C-Class donor mechanical package may not have been Benz’s best work, it was at least good enough to provide decent handling and roadholding, and the kind of gentle-on-the-back ride quality that’s sadly become far too alien to too many modern cars. Ensconce yourself in the CLK’s airy, open cockpit and you could breeze along happily for hours.
Well, for a while at any rate, as the 209 CLK came from that dark era when Mercedes quality was not all that it should have been. Electric faults are not uncommon — indeed they’re far too common — and those gorgeous frameless doors need careful attention as the glass can fail to seat properly on the rubber seal, letting in wind noise and even rain leaks. Thankfully, the 209 CLK received good rust-protection — certainly much better than that of the older 208 CLK — and while crunchy wheelarches aren’t unknown, these cars are generally rot-free.
To the classifieds!
The CLK may have some electrical niggles, but you must admire its technological ambition. It’s not unusual to find 209-series cars equipped with adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, or ventilated (as well as heated) front seats. Try finding a contemporary BMW or Audi rival fitted with such items and you’ll struggle. You certainly won’t find one with the little extending ‘butler’ arm that pulls the front seat belts forward, making them easier to put on. Mind you, that little gadget can be a point of failure too, so make sure it’s working if you’re shopping second hand. Interior trim issues are also well known, and parts can be difficult to source, so make sure everything inside any CLK you’re looking at is all up to scratch.
Engine wise, the CLK’s power units are generally pretty robust and well-proven, although you do need to watch carefully for balancer-shaft failure on pre-2007 200 Kompressor engines. Intake manifold issues are also quite common, leading to a loss of power or rough running, and keep an eye on the camshaft adjuster solenoids — they can leak oil, or even fail completely. The AMG engines are incredibly solid — the 5.4-litre V8 has almost no major reported problems, while the 6.2-litre V8 has the well-known issues with stretched or even broken cylinder-head bolts, but most if not all will have had this rectified by now. The diesel engines are also mostly very solid, not least because they pre-date the latest common-rail and turbo technology so, as my dad would say, there’s less to go wrong. The gearboxes — a choice of early five-speed automatics and later seven-speed units (there were manual options of course, but few customers failed to tick the box for an auto) are also both very solid, but just be aware that on pre-2003 models, engine coolant can leak into the five-speed gearbox, which basically ruins it and means getting a full replacement. The seven-speed gearbox needs regular oil changes if it’s going to run without fault, but in general shouldn’t give many problems.
Pricewise, the 209-series CLK has become remarkably affordable. Shop around and you could easily find an early CLK200 Kompressor for around £1,000, although it’s unlikely to have an unblemished history for that sort of money. With the reputation for unreliability at the time, and the complexity of equipment on offer, what you want to see more than anything when shopping for a used 209 CLK is a service book full of stamps and receipts, preferably from a Mercedes main dealer, or at the very least from an acknowledged marque specialist.
A lot of metal for the money
Somewhere between £5,000 and £10,000 is a reasonable area in which to be searching, and that will get you a nicely specified Kompressor or V6 petrol, or one of the diesels, with a full service record. Fancy an AMG? Well, you’ll have to spend more — at least £10,000 and preferably nudging up towards the £20,000 mark if you want one that’s been properly cared for. And if you really must have an AMG Black Series? Well then, at that point we’re up to the levels of zero depreciation — a CLK AMG Black Series will easily sell for the same £90,000 it cost Mr Clarkson all the way back in 2007.
Just the facts CLK Coupe (C209)
- LAUNCHED Spring 2002
- SERIES PRODUCTION 2002 to 2010
- FACELIFT DEBUT Summer 2005
- NUMBER BUILT 200,000+
- MODELS PRE-FACELIFT 270 CDI, 200 CGI (not sold in UK), 200 Kompressor, 240, 320, 500, 55 AMG, DTM AMG
- POST-FACELIFT 220 CDI, 320 CDI, 200 Kompressor, 280, 350, 500 (M113), 500 (M273), 55 AMG, 63 AMG, 63 Black Series TRIM LINES Elegance, Avantgarde, Sport, AMG
- IN THE CLASSIFIEDS 2006 CLK220 CDI Coupe Elegance, 59,000 miles, black metallic with beige leather, £4,750, trade seller
CLK Cabriolet (A209)
- LAUNCHED Spring 2003
- SERIES PRODUCTION 2003 to 2010
- FACELIFT DEBUT Summer 2005
- NUMBER BUILT 100,000+
- MODELS PRE-FACELIFT 200 CGI (not sold in UK), 200 Kompressor, 240, 320, 500, 55 AMG
- POST-FACELIFT 200 Kompressor, 280, 350, 320 CDI, 500 (M113), 500 (M273), 55 AMG, 63 AMG, DTM AMG TRIM LINES Elegance, Avantgarde, Sport, AMG
- IN THE CLASSIFIEDS 2006 CLK350 Cabriolet Sport, 36,000 miles, silver metallic with black leather, £7,495, trade seller
CLK320 CDI V6 turbodiesel was a big deal for Merc.
Pricewise, the 209-series CLK has become remarkably affordable
Less AMG Black and more black pump, the 209-series CLK also met the mid-to-late 2000s demand for diesels
Did you know?
A new generation of four-cylinder engines debuted with the 209-series CLK. The 200 Kompressor’s ‘Twinpulse’ system featured balance shafts, compressor, charge air cooling, variably adjustable camshafts and four-valve technology, achieving six-cylinder levels of refinement and improved fuel consumption.
We are big fans of the 362bhp CLK55 Coupe and Cabrio. Inside the Black Series you'll find bucket seats. CLK Black Series has gained a cult following.6.2-litre CLK63 replaced the CLK55 in '06. Black's V8 had 26bhp more than regular CLK63's. CLK DTM Cabrio of 2006 with a colossal 574bhp much sleeker than concept model. W203 C-Class rear axle adapted for the 209 CLK.
Twinpulse unit said to be an aural delight.
Pre-facelift CLK320 V6; model refresh in 2005.
The 4-, 5- and 6-cyl CLK diesels were big sellers.
Traditional materials and elegant lines. This M112 V6 was usurped by the M272 in 2005. 209-series CLK debuted at Geneva show in 2002.