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Merc's CLC sports coupe driven

2008-07-11 07:39


Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Mercedes-Benz
Model CLC
Engine 1.8-litre supercharged four, 3.5-litre V6
Power 135kW @ 5 500r/min; 200kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 250Nm @ 2 800 - 5 000r/min; 350Nm @ 2 400 - 5 000r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual, five-speed auto; 7G Tronic
Zero To Hundred 8.3-; 6.3-seconds
Top Speed 235km/h; 250km/h
Fuel Tank 62-litres
Boot Size 310-litres
ABS Yes, with ASR
Airbags Dual front and side
Service Intervals 20 000KM
Warranty 2-year unlimited km
Price CLC 200 K R335 000; CLC 350 R405 000

Lance Branquinho

Despite testing market conditions Mercedes-Benz has launched its new small coupe – the CLC – locally.

Very much the junior coupe in the Mercedes-Benz product portfolio, CLC is a sure hedge against buyers who perhaps considered moving out of Mercedes-Benz two-doors because of strained local market conditions.

CLC aims to provide a compelling product alternative to CLK and CLS owners who would perhaps like to scale down to something smaller, or brand-blind buyers who seek an aspirational two-door German vehicle with the requisite brand cachet.

Something old, something new

Let there be clarity from the outset though: the new CLC is not a C-Class coupe. It rides on the previous generation C-Class W203 chassis, not the latest W204 incarnation. Secondly, it is a niche product globally, as it will not go on sale in the largest auto market around - North America.

Interestingly the CLC is built in Brazil of all places, and although there are subtle C-Class styling cues, the two-door profile with its seamlessly integrated roofline and small glass areas renders a distinctive presence.

The front end has a large radiator grille reminiscent of the bigger CLK and CL coupes, whilst the bigger new rear light clusters – why didn’t they use these on the C-class too? – are balanced with an elongated high-level brake light.

These thin strip high level brake lights help to distinguish the two model designations too – either 200 Kompressor or 350 – with a clear red lighting indicating forced induction, whilst the smoked finish denotes a 3.5-litre V6. Eagle-eyed Mercedes coupe connoisseurs will note the new LED embedded side mirror indicator lights too.

Overall the look is compact yet elegant. The rear-light cluster treatment – especially the elongated LED embedded high level brake light – manages to bring balance to what could have been agenerous rear three-quarter view.

New infotainment kit

Interior design features new check-backed dials on Sport package models and a host of options. Rear side airbags will set you back R3 750 and Parktronic R6 500 (both standard on the CLC 350), a 40 gig Command APS navigation is R21 000, the panoramic sliding roof R10 500 and a Harman Kardon surround sound system R5 500.

The Command navigation system now includes a 4 gig music library memory as a universal consumer electronics interface accommodating iPod, SD card, USB or external audio input whilst still retaining shuffle control with the steering wheel mounted satellite controls.

Purchasing options in packages always equate to a better deal and the Exclusive package includes memory electrically adjustable front seats and Thermotronic auto climate control, all for R9 000.

Supercharged and naturally aspirated power options

The larger capacity, naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 engine drives through a sophisticated 7G Tronic automatic gearbox, whilst the smaller, supercharged engine transfers its torque via a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic with optional paddle shift functionality - the latter being part of the R18 000 Sports package which is standard on the CLC 350.

Most 200 K buyers would probably opt for the Sports package which includes variable ratio direct steering, stainless steel exhausts, projection beam headlights and wider tyres – 225/45 front and 245/40 rears.

The direct steering system is a speed related servo assisted set-up with a new rack which varies steering assistance dependent on angle and speed resulting in a blend of low-speed manoeuvrability and high-speed tractability and feel.

Combined with a sophisticated three-link front suspension set-up featuring coil spring suspended McPherson struts the CLC displays a distinct performance bias in its ride/handling balance.

Both engines have been tuned to produce torque and driveability at low- to medium engine speeds across as wide a rev range as possible whilst still retaining sub 10l/100km economy. The long-stroke 1.8-litre, supercharged four-cylinder 200 K unit is worth 135kW at 5 500r/min and 250Nm from 2 800- right through to 5 000r/min.

For those seeking naturally aspirated power there is the over-square 3.5-litre, 24-valve V6 which powers-up to 200kW at 6 000r/min and 350Nm between 2 400-5 000r/min.

With the CLC 200 Kompressor (1 480kg) and CLC 350 (1 550kg) Mercedes claims 8.6- and 6.3-second 0-100km/h sprint times respectively, the 350 claim would predispose it to have strong performance potential.

More pointedly in the current fuel price climate is consumption with both carsalleged to run under 10l/100km/h – 200 Kompressor 8.2l/100km and 350 9.8l/100km. Local diesel quality and the low-volume nature of coupe sales have precluded the possibly of a 220 CDi version.

On the road

Despite 1 100 new components, fact is: CLC rides on the previous generation C-Class chassis – albeitwith a 15 mm suspension drop up front and 5 mm at the rear. The 200 Kompressor retains characteristic Mercedes-Benz performance dynamics – an awful manual shift gearbox and relaxed high-speed cruising capability.

Mercedes is famed for not engaging its customers with manual, floor-shift gears and with more than 80% of the cars it sells shifting themselves it shows in the quality of the six-speed ‘box which drives the CLC 200 Kompressor. Although light to the touch and effortless to guide through the six-speed pattern gate, the throw is way too long and feels too oddly loaded – it hardly encourages dynamic driving.

The 1.8-litre engine has the most uninspiring, drone-like exhaust note and although there is a nice ‘pick-up-and-push-off’ point at 2 800r/min it is swift at medium-to-high cruising speeds instead of quick. I did not drive the five-speed automatic, but even with a ratio less I would consider it the better option.

In contrast the CLC 350 engages one as a distinctly more resolved package. The seven-speed automatic transmission might not have lighting quick shifts, yet it’s reassuringly smooth and always drops the red tachometer needle right where you want it in the torque peak when downshifting.

Although it will see a drop-off in performance at Reef altitudes, in the George area where we drove on the launch, the 3.5-litre V6 had sufficient torque reserves to power past logging trucks, whilst the 7G Tronic gearbox ensured rapid cruising ability with its surfeit of ratios.

From a ride and handling perspective the bias is decidedly towards ride-comfort and straight-line stability concerned parameters. Damper settings and suspension geometry have been tailored to provide on-the-limit fail-safe understeer and no, there will be not be an AMG version for the kamikaze brigade.

Overall road manners are good, with a bit more tyre-road noise intrusion than expected. The variable rack ratio rack ratio angle direct steering is hardly alive with feel, yet the weighting is a good compromise, especially as one speeds up and loads the chassis.

The most disappointing dynamic aspect of the CLC – beyond the 200 Kompressor six-speed manual gearbox and anesthetised engine note – is oddly the seats. New they might be, but Mercedes might as well go back to the AutoCAD design terminal and start all over – they’re terrible.

First off they don’t adjust down low enough, rendering a baby’s high-chair driving position. One understands visibility is an issue in Coupe cars with smaller glass areas, so obviously a higher driving position is desirable – one ought to have the choice to sit as low as you want to go though.

Issue number two is that the seats might be accommodatingto larger framed individuals with a nearly completely flat base and minimal side bolstering, but during dynamic driving an average sized front passenger would be well advised to brace themselves with the inside door-trim grab handle – sliding around in your seat is a given.

Sensible small coupe?

For the rest CLC is an interesting market entry. Yes, the rearward visibility is rubbish – but it’s a coupe. Yes the manual gearbox is a dog – but it’s a Merc, you’ll buy an automatic anyway.

More substantial and spacious than a 1 Series Coupe – with admittedly less dynamic verve – and cheaper than an A5, the CLC may woo buyers in the market for a German small Coupe more intent in getting somewhere stylishly instead of overly quickly. At least until a W204 underpinned two-door comes along…


CLC 200 Kompressor R335 000

CLC 350 R405 000

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