UPDATE: several years later (2009)!
Many people who read the original Op may have forgotton all about it. But I guess enough time has passed to reveal the 'legal' reason I had to give up this wonderful car prematurely.
The car came with a job which had a very bad ending. There were financial problems - the global management paid themselves rather than making repayments on the company's debts. The UK management was put under pressure to trade in ways we could not condone, and which may have been illegal. We chose not to do so and were dismissed, illegally and unfairly.
I reckoned I could keep the car until they found me, so had it for a total of 9 months. At one point the leasing company was ringing my mobile phone threatening me if I didn't tell them where I was - by sheer coincidence I was doing interim work next door to them!
My colleagues and I eventually won an expensive legal battle, but by that time that company had gone into administration and escaped without paying us a penny.
Well, I'm still driving the car. Just past 8000 miles and not a second of worry. Much of my recent travel has been 100-miles motorway trips. I lock the cruise on 80, point the front wheels and average about 37 mpg. That's quite acceptable, I think. But the 10 miles around the North Circular to get to the motoway gives me about 22-26 mpg in moderate early morning traffic. A trip to Brent Cross on Saturday afternoon is cheaper by taxi!
I like things that have quality and style. Everyone has a different perception of style, but my definition of quality is that the item does what it's meant to do to a high standard, reliably and consistently.
A car is such an expensive item, most of us have to compromise our ideals for reality. I can look back kindly on every car I've driven and recall things I liked: the Morris Minor, the Mini Cooper S, Austin Princess, Fords Cortina and Sierra, Peugeot 405, Vauxhall Cavalier, Renault 21, Volkswagen Passat. The one that came closest to my ideal of style was a Vauxhall Calibra V6 - it was very satisfying to drive, too, except that things had a habit of falling off at short notice and I was gutted by the residual after three years of hit-and-miss reliability, or lack of it!
After this, I decided that 'quality' must be my watchword in cars. I reasoned I'd rather have a quality second hand car than a new one that fell too short of my ideals. I bought a three-year-old Mercedes S280, which was wonderful - easy to drive, comfortable to ride in, totally reliable and impossibly expensive to fill that 100-litre tank every 400 miles! but I was hooked on the quality of a Mercedes.
At this stage in my career, I have had the opportunity to choose a quality new car. I remembered the excitement of driving the Calibra, and the kids have left home so we're a two-person
family again. With a budget of about £500 a month on a fully-maintained leased car, most manufacturers couldn't give me anything to approach the value of a Merc. I toyed briefly with the idea of a very old Aston Martin, but let's be real! This was my opportunity and, with the C- and E-classes so boring and offering relatively little in terms of excitement, I settled on a CLK 320.
I used the Virgin Cars website to 'build' my ideal model from scratch, just to get an idea. The array of optional extras was mind-boggling. I chose metallic paint and full leather interior; heated electric seats with four-position memory, wood/leather steering wheel; electric folding wing mirrors; 10 speaker sound system with 6-cd auto-changer; satellite navigation; rain-sensitive windscreen wipers; tilt'n'slide electric sunroof; automatic climate-controlled air conditioning; oh and of course .... front seat cup holders! I was staggered to find I'd over-spent my budget by about 30%. Anyway, Mercedes were quoting a 14-week delivery on a new-build order.
The leasing company we used said they had a CLK 320 on order already for delivery in about five weeks. It was green/black metallic, with full leather interior and 'parktronic' - otherwise it was the basic model. The only option I could add at that late stage of manufacture was the 6-cd auto-changer to be fitted in the boot, but even this put me slightly over my budget. I argued that I didn't really want the parktronic system, but I'd take the car off their hands if they took this off the cost. To my amazement and pleasure, they agreed and the order was confirmed.
They offered to arrange for me to fly out to visit the Mercedes factory, tour the Mercedes museum, stay overnight in a hotel, collect my car and drive it back, with a full tank of fuel and ferry ticket for the return, all at no extra cost. I thought this was a really innovative idea and very tempting,
but I couldn't really take the time off so had to decline with regret. I waited impatiently for my car to be delivered.
It arrived on time, to the day. I have to say right now that the car has lived up to all my expectations, and much more. It's just such an attractive-looking car from all angles, especially from the inside looking out! It drives like an exciting dream and it is totally reliable. You have the comfort of knowing that if anything went wrong at any time in the first TEN YEARS of the vehicle's life, Mercedes would call out a main dealer almost anywhere in the world to get you sorted and put you back on the road, so long as you've always had the car serviced by a main dealer. This is one of the main reasons this car is so inexpensive to own, of course, because it keeps the residual value so high relative to other makes. Consider also you'll never need to pay extra for 5-star cover to go abroad, or those other costs that mount up over the years, and it's a bargain!
The car's security system is operated with an electronic remote key fob with three buttons. You can programme the first button to open just the driver's door, or both doors, or the doors and boot and fuel flap all at once. It's quite comforting to have only the driver's door unlock as you get to the car in a dingy car park, but if you have company you just press the same button again to unlock the passenger door. The second button unlocks the boot and, if you hold it in for a second, the lid pops open - keep your chin out of the way of you're leaning over it! The third button locks everything with one push - hold the button down and it'll even close the windows before you walk away. If you accidentally push the button to unlock the car, don't worry because it'll automatically lock again if you don't open the door within a few seconds.
The seats and seating positions are very comfortable, even on
long journeys. Both front seats have electric lateral and height adjustments as standard, with wheels on the side of the seats to adjust base and backrest tilt angles. These wheels are fiddly and stiff, which is a bit of a disappointment but, once you have them in the right position for you, there's no need to worry again. If more than one driver is going to use the car regularly, I recommend the optional extra of full electric seats with the memory function, but this is OK for us.
The dashboard has a very easy layout. White dials with black and red needles and numbers for speed, revs, oil pressure and water temperature, digital clock and outside temperature gauge. An array of warning lights would tell you if anything is going wrong - you're only likely to see these when you first switch the engine on! In the middle, looked at straight through the steering wheel, is the main digital multi-finction display screen.
The multi-function display is standard. It's controlled by switches on the steering wheel and allows you to choose as much or as little information as you need. When you switch on the engine, there's a reassuring display to tell you whether the managememt system has diagnosed any faults, that the oil level is OK and how long you have to the next service - there's no fixed interval, it depends entirely on your driving style and conditions.
Switch function and you can see your total mileage, average speed and fuel consumption, the same information since you last re-set the 'trip' meter, your remaining fuel load and how far you can go before refuelling at your current level of consumption, or you can select a simple digital display of your current speed.
Another switch of mode controls the sound systems, selecting radio/pre-set station/search, cassette/ffwd/rwd/search, cd/disc/track and, of course, volume.
Another switch and you have the fitted mobile phone controls. I didn'
t have this as it was too late to order, anyway you only have a choice of two Nokia phone models and it's very expensive. If it's fitted, however, you can make calls using the steering wheel switches to scroll through your phone book in the dashboard display, or answer a call with the display showing the caller's name if they're in your book.
Selecting gears is easy. First decide your mood - keep it in 'E' for economy if you're feeling laid-back and ecological, move it to 'S' for sport if you want more of a thrill and can afford the extra fuel costs! Then keep your foot on the brake as you pull the lever down from 'P' past 'R' and 'N' to 'D', remember how to release the parking brake in a Mercedes (pull the handle under the dash at your right hand!) and GENTLY push the accelerator, and you're away. The tiptronic allows you to manually select forward gears by nudging the gear lever away from you to go down, or towards you to move up.
Getting in and out of parking spaces is a doddle with the parktronic system. A sensor is fitted to the four corners of the car and these constantly measure the distance to the nearest obtacle. Information is fed to the driver through two displays at the bottom of the front windscreen and another two at the top of the rear window - the driver can see these easily in the rear view mirror. If you get within about a metre of any obstacle, the respective display's lights move towards a red 'danger' area and you get an intermittent beep. If you get within about 10 cms the lights turn red and the beep becomes constant. It's a slight nuisance to have the beeps going off when a pedestrian walks past too close when you're parked, but that's a small price to pay.
Now, that's the boring stuff. I didn't get this car because it's easy to change the cd and park, and you know I didn't. At the risk of annoyi
ng some of you (and you know who you are!) I'll 'fess up that I bought it because it accelerates like sh** off a shovel and will cruise (with the cruise control) at well over a ton with absolute ease. At that speed, there's plenty to spare to get out of trouble when some pillock threatens to pull out in front of you without looking. Of course, this car was designed and built in Germany, and I only drive at these speeds when I take the car to visit it's natural habitat, where speed limits are advisory on many autobahns. Honest ;-)
Roads are much safer in Germany, because Germans know how to drive. Trucks stay in the inside lane doing a constant 80k's - none are too old or over-loaded to keep this pace up, and none are so indisciplined as to break the speed limit and overtake their buddies. Thus, the middle lane is free for everyone who likes to drive at 120 - 150k's, checking their mirrors carefully before they pull into the outside lane to overtake. They check carefully because they know there's a high likelihood that a ton of five-litre metal with a three-point star will be thundering along at above 200k's - that's what they're designed for, after all! So on the rare occasion someone disturbs this idyll, there's a high probability that they're in a RHD Metro and have a GB sticker on the back!
It's very expensive, of course. With a little discipline you can return high 20's on average. Keep to the UK speed limit on a long motorway journey and you can get to the middle 30's. On my usual journeys pottering around London, the fuel consumption is an ecological disaster and the frequency of refuelling stops will make you cry. And the taxable benefit kills your P11D.
For legal reasons, I can't tell you why I'll soon have to part with this car. The dream will soon be over and I'll have to wake up. I won't miss the tax bill or the fuel costs. I will miss th
e sheer thrill of driving an extremely classy vehicle. And if I win enough on the lottery to get another one, with money left over to give to environmental charities so I don't feel so guilty, I'll definitely get another one - maybe even the 430!