Head-turning, breeze-making, button-filled luxury on wheels

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Head-turning, breeze-making, button-filled luxury on wheels

For weeks, every curious bone inside me has been craving the very first test-drive of the Mercedes-Benz New CLK 320 Cabriolet, to be launched this weekend.
Hong Gi-ok, assistant PR manager for Mercedes-Benz Korea, introduced me to the car inside the Star Tower parking lot.
“It’s basically a four-seater family car whose concept first began with the CLK Coupe,” says Ms. Hong, pointing to a shapely sedan in “Tanzanite blue.” This convertible is, in short, a youthful, slim and sporty version of the popular E Class.
She hands me a small plastic “key,” which looks more like the handle to a key, and which functions as both remote control lock and starter. Its flat black plastic end fits into a tiny mold located behind the steering wheel.
The New CLK 320 Cabriolet requires a special orientation session to fully understand its sophisticated technology. There are about a dozen tiny buttons for maneuvering the angles of the two side mirrors. The large console on my right opens three different ways, one revealing a phone jack (which Ms. Hong says doesn’t work in Korea). A six-CD changer and additional CD storage slots are hidden inside the compartment. On the front panel is an LCD screen the size of a postcard, surrounded by a few dozen buttons and dials. This is a whopping 5-millionwon ($4,200) option that includes a global positioning system and a television monitor, except, again, in Korea, where neither will be available.
The steering wheel is equipped with multiple buttons as well, which include telephone controls, a volume control and a panel control. The gauge displayed some messages about the car’s mechanical status, but I knew deciphering them would take another session, so I skipped it. Ms. Hong admits the complexity of the car’s digitized functions.
The simplest and the coolest function of all is the black button near the gearbox. The button opens and closes the soft top, which takes about 20 seconds.
Then Ms. Hong summons the Mercedes-Benz trainer assistant manager, Kim Yong-soo, so he can further explain some technical aspects of the car.
Opening the hood, Mr. Kim says that the entire engine compartment is a “crumple zone,” which means it is designed to absorb shock, the way a baseball catcher does with his glove, when the car faces a head-on collision. “Mercedes-Benz is not a strong car ― it’s a safe car,” he says. He also tells me how powerful the New CLK Cabriolet is, with a 3,199-cubic-centimeter V6 engine and 218 horsepower. I asked Mr. Kim what “ESP” meant; it is written on a small cylinder and also on one of the buttons inside the car. “Electronic Stability Program is one of the best features of Mercedes-Benz. It automatically controls the stability of the car at all times,” Mr. Kim explains. “Because it’s always switched on, in special conditions, say, when a tire gets stuck in heavy snow or on a muddy, rainy road, you should turn it off.”

As soon as the door is shut, the seat belt loop whirs out to deliver a silent message: Buckle up. The grey interior is sturdy and spacious. Once behind the wheel, the windshield seems higher than in most sports cars. Out in the warm Seoul street, the heavy flow of chilled air from every direction circulates to cool the interior, while the outside thermometer reads 33 degrees centigrade (91 Fahrenheit).
This modern, sleek convertible exudes old money, the ultimate uptown fashion, and can pass even the country’s most conservative taste-o-meter. Its presence in the street screams “class” ―in a conservative, practical yet stylish way. It’s the kind of convertible in which your friends or children won’t feel embarrassed sitting in the relatively comfortable and roomy rear seats. If Porsche and Ferrari were flashy rock star boyfriends, the New CLK 320 Cabriolet is marriage material approved by both sets of parents. Even in downtown Seoul, the car attracts quiet stares. The stare is never the “where-did-she-get-the-money” look, but rather the “I-wonder-who-she’s-married-to” look. I stop to have a drink, and the owner thanks me for parking the car in front of her shop.
Suddenly I develop an urge for a shopping spree at Tiffany’s.
Inside the New CLK 320 Cabriolet, the Seoul street has never been smoother. The feel of the ride is as though the car will never let you go overboard within the city’s camera-monitored speed limit. It feels as though an invisible gearshift springs back to a lower setting every time you lift the foot off the gas pedal. Combined with hard steering, the drive is safe, very stable and strong.
But beyond 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour, the car enters a completely different orbit of speed. All that sense of control suddenly disappears, and you’re in the comfort zone of unlimited speeding experience. Wow, this is fun ― I’m thoroughly impressed. It is just too easy to go up to 120 kilometers per hour, and perhaps all the way up to 230 kilometers per hour, if it weren’t for the midafternoon traffic on the freeway.
The volume control button for the radio and CD on the steering wheel is indeed convenient while driving. I regret that without its TV and GPS functions, the high-tech LCD monitor, which costs as much as a small Korean car, is there for only two basic functions: a radio and a clock.
And the rest of the buttons, lights and jargon remain completely unknown. Now I desperately feel the need to become fluent in that special, high-class language of Mercedes-Benz.
In Korea, the New CLK 320 Cabriolet will be available in 13 colors and cost 92.7 million won.

by Ines Cho
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