One inevitable result of the long-standing Mercedes versus BMW rivalry is matching your competitor, model-for-model, engine-for-engine. You can imagine the frustration, then, of Mercedes’ salespeople in not offering a CLK challenger to the 330 Cd, one of the best real-world cars on sale. Amazingly, there’s not enough room under the bonnet of all C-class-based models (and the original M-class) to install Mercedes’ old in-line six-cylinder diesel engine – a packaging blunder of breath-taking proportions.
Happily, the compact new V6 turbo-diesel easily slots into the CLK’s engine bay to present BMW’s terrific diesel coupé with its first serious direct competitor. And, take it from us, the CLK 320 CDi is a formidable rival.
With 221bhp and 376lb ft of torque (or 302lb ft as a manual), the CLK surpasses the BMW’s 201bhp/302lb ft, to (just) outpoint the 330 Cd to 62mph – 7.3sec against 7.4sec –with a 3.1mpg fuel consumption advantage. That’s a whole 1.9sec faster than the old in-line five CLK 270 CDi, thus lifting the performance into a totally different class.
It’s not just about acceleration, but noticeably improved refinement from the new engine (in combination with the excellence of Mercedes’ seven-speed auto), combined with a sharper chassis. Even on the 225/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) 17-inch rubber of the optional AMG sport pack, the CLK is a fine-riding coupé with terrific handling. A quicker steering rack gives this CLK improved agility and greater driver appeal.
Sadly, the interior’s overall quality remains ordinary, lacking anything to make the cabin special. And quite why the rev counter is red-lined at 4600rpm, when the auto is set to change up at 4100rpm, remains a mystery.
The CLK 320 CDi offers effortless performance and first-rate economy. And because the powerplant is also available in the CLK cabriolet, buyers can enjoy the benefits of the new engine with the top down, too.