Mercedes-Benz has had a long history of producing spectacular open-top cars. Towards the beginning of their company's history, when fixed roofs were a rare feature, Mercedes-Benz automobiles still managed to stand out from the rest of the drop top crowd thanks to their incredible designs and engineering prowess. Gradually, the automaker would move towards standardizing their lineup of automobiles to include sedans and coupes, but they would continue to ensure that convertible editions of their vehicles were always available to the discerning driver.
In the 1950s, Mercedes-Benz began to head down a new path in terms of convertible development with the sale of the successful 300 SL roadster. Based upon the drop-dead gorgeous 300 SL gull-wing coupe, the roadster signaled the beginning of Mercedes-Benz's move away from traditional coupe-based four-passenger rag tops. While these vehicles were still built from time to time, particularly the CLK-Class cabriolet, the German car company became increasingly focused on small two-seat roadsters that offered not only the standard soft top but also a removable hard top.
The SL-Class would become an extremely popular seller, and Mercedes-Benz would step up production of the vehicle throughout the 1970s and 1980s. At the beginning of the 1990s, however, the decision was made to morph the SL-Class from small roadster into a two-passenger grand touring car. This new model was equally elegant and graceful in terms of design, and certainly quicker, but it also possessed a greater heft that made it much less of a sports car than before. Towards the end of the decade, Mercedes-Benz moved to plug the hole in their small car lineup that had been created when the SL-Class blossomed into its modern incarnation, creating the SLK-Class. This new vehicle was not only built on a new short and sweet platform, but it also incorporated a retractable hardtop, bucking industry trends and adding an extra layer of exclusivity to the vehicle. The SLK-Class was priced below the SL, but it was still regarded as a premium convertible when compared to other compact roadsters on the market.
This article discusses the 3 best used convertibles available from Mercedes-Benz, the SL-Class, the SLK-Class and the larger CLK-Class. While each of these automobiles target a very specific segment of drop top buyers, they are all are fine examples of the power, luxury and driving enjoyment that are built into every vehicle that leaves the Mercedes-Benz factory.
2005 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class
When it came time to re-style the popular Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class, the company didn't pull any punches or play it safe. Instead of subtly tweaking the vehicle's exterior, a dramatic new persona was created, one which followed cues first seen on the stratospherically priced SLR McLaren supercar. Most eye-catching is the pronounced nose featured at the center of the vehicle's hood and grille, which itself bears an enormous three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star logo. The rest of the car has been butched up when compared to the previous generation, adopting a more muscular look that serves it well.
Engine choices have also been upgraded to reflect the 2005 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class' more aggressive design. Initially, buyers were offered two choices: a 3.5-liter, 286 horsepower V-6 matched to a 6-speed manual transmission (7-speed auto optional), or a 355 horsepower V-8 with a 7-speed automatic offered by the AMG-tuned SLK55. An entry-level SLK280 was added to the mix in 2006, and it offered a 228 horsepower, 2.8-liter V-6 with identical transmission choices. Obviously the SLK55 is the king when it comes to rapid acceleration and mind-numbing top speed, but the lesser editions of the car are still impressive when the pedal is mashed to the floor, making the SLK much more of a driver's car than other vehicles built by the manufacturer.
The 2005 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is somewhat larger than the vehicle it replaces, although it is hard to see that difference in the roadster's interior. The SLK-Class is tight inside by design, but it does pass the comfort test thanks to wonderfully supportive leather seats and excellent quality in the interior materials. Perhaps the most intriguing feature found in the SLK-Class is the 'airscarf', which blows warm air on the necks of occupants when the vehicle's top is down in order to allow for the use of the convertible once the weather has turned chilly.
When it comes to used convertibles, the 2005 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class is a premium roadster that is tough to beat in terms of style, features and power.
2003 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class
The Mercedes-Benz SL-Class received yet another size boost when the new generation debuted in 2003. While certainly not a large car, the SL-Class' width and long hood help to give it a road presence not often seen in a convertible. Measuring at just under what could be considered full-size, the SL-Class offers a dignified and semi-exotic convertible ride to drivers who expect to be pampered as soon as they push the button to retract the vehicle's steel hard top.
Power is certainly not an issue with the 2003 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class. In North America, only 8 and 12-cylinder examples were ever sold, meaning that secondhand buyers have an attractive range of engines to choose from. In the first year of production, drivers could choose from either a 5.0-liter, 302 horsepower V-8 or a supercharged 5.4-liter 8-cylinder engine that produced 493 horsepower. The latter engine is found in the sport-oriented SL55 AMG edition of the convertible. The V-12 SL600 was added the following year, and it offered the same power as the SL55 thanks to twin-turbo charging. As if close to 500 ponies weren't enough to satisfy even the heaviest of right foots, in 2005 the SL65 hit the streets with 604 horsepower from an even larger V-12 mill. The first year of production saw 5-speed automatic transmissions all around, while later models benefited from two extra forward gears.
The SL-Class' interior has been designed with care, and even with the top down normal conversation is still possible without shouting over the roar of the wind - or the engine. A well-organized dashboard display and easy to use controls are typical of Mercedes-Benz's attention to ergonomics, and the SL-Class can be loaded up with a bewildering array of features such as HID headlights, a glass roof (that is still of course retractable), active cruise control and special leather packages that add a level of distinctness to the cockpit's standard trimmings.
The 2003 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz SL-Class is the pinnacle of used convertibles, a luxury design that takes no prisoners in terms of highway performance or styling points.
2003 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Cabriolet
Recognizing that occasionally convertible drivers enjoy the company of more than just one passenger, Mercedes-Benz released the 2003 - 2007 CLK-Class Cabriolet as their premium 4-seat convertible. Aimed at the cross section of the market interested in the BMW 3 Series drop top but dreaming of the BMW 6-Series, the CLK is a nice combination of style and grace wrapped up in a close to mid-size body style. The CLK-Class coupe's fine flowing lines translate well to a topless state, and the vehicle is a favorite amongst those looking for understated luxury.
The 2003 - 2007 CLK-Class convertible makes use of a much improved platform that helps the vehicle feel might tighter during harsh maneuvers and on bumpy roads when compared to older editions of the car. This level of refinement extends to the engine bay, where buyers are treated to a solid selection of power plants. From 2003 to 2005, the base CLK-Class was outfitted with a 215 horsepower 3.2-liter V-6. The 2006 model year saw the introduction of an updated to 3.5-liter, 268 horsepower unit. V-8 convertibles start out with the 302 horsepower CLK500, which was also bumped up later in the cabriolet's lifecycle to the much more powerful, 382 horsepower CLK550. Fire-breathing CLK55 and CLK63 AMG editions of the car are available for drivers who cannot be satisfied with anything less than 500 horsepower. Each CLK-Class convertible uses either a 5-speed or 7-speed automatic transmission.
While even large convertibles are usually two-person affairs, the 2003 - 2007 CLK-Class Cabriolet is not all that unpleasant for rear adult passengers on short trips. It is possible to have a conversation fore-to-aft without being too distracted by wind noise, and the vehicle's supportive seats absorb any road harshness that might be translated through the vehicle's suspension. The automobile's interior trim is to the high standard expected from Mercedes-Benz, and only the pickiest buyers will find fault with the arrangement of the controls and the level of standard equipment provided.
The 2003 - 2007 Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class Cabriolet is a used convertible very much in the spirit of the powerful Mercedes-Benz drop tops of their glory years, one which combines class and agility with an effortless driving experience.