Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 V6 Cabriolet £37,705
Acceleration: 0-62.5mph 8.2sec
Maximum speed: 150mph
Average fuel consumption: 27.2mpg
Insurance group: 14
Glorious Goodwood on a sunny morning is the perfect location for a drive in the glamorous new Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet. After all, it's a lot easier to see and be seen with the roof down. On the hottest day of the year so far, I drove the CLK down to Goodwood for the annual Festival of Speed. The 12,000-acre estate in Chichester, West Sussex, has been home to the Dukes of Richmond for the past 300 years. And since 1993, the impressive grounds of Goodwood House have also been home to the festival, which has become a magnet for car nuts.
Mine wasn't the only Merc glinting in the sun. On the track, another fine example of the marque was on show: Sir Stirling Moss was driving the 300 SLR in which he and motoring journalist Denis Jenkinson won the 1955 Mille Miglia in record time. Meanwhile, Jay Kay, the lead singer of Jamiroquai, was racing his Ferrari Enzo and supermodel Jodie Kidd was showing off her new Maserati Spyder.
Although I didn't get any closer to the track than the spectators' area, on the road the CLK Cabriolet oozes class and drew a few glances of its own. The revised model is longer and roomier than its predecessor, without being too big or clumsy. It's got four seats with decent legroom, and a sizeable boot.
There are also four powerful new petrol engines to choose from: prices start at £31,245 for the 200 Kompressor, rising to £61,445 for the top-of-the-range 55 AMG. If you're a diesel lover you're out of luck, though, as Mercedes-Benz's owners, DaimlerChrysler, take the view that diesel and open-top motoring don't really fit together.
Even the most high-octane petrolhead should make time for a tour of Goodwood House, which is open from March to October. The Egyptian state dining room and breathtaking ballroom, lined with Canaletto's views of Whitehall and the Thames from the family's London home, and adorned with fine 18th-century French furniture, are settings in which it's a pleasure to while away an afternoon.
My next stop was a mile or so away from Goodwood House. Sculpture at Goodwood, a charitable foundation at Hat Hill Copse, is a exhibition showcasing around 45 pieces of contemporary British sculpture. Even if sculpture's not your thing, the 20-acre grounds are worth the trip themselves, with carefully landscaped woodland dropping away to reveal the countryside beyond. The sculptures change on a regular basis and are up for sale if something takes your fancy. (You might want to save a visit for a sunny day, however, as the curious roofless toilets might not be so user-friendly in winter.)
As the evening drew in, it was time to get the roof back up and head home. This is where a significant improvement between the new CLK Cabriolet and its predecessor becomes clear: the new version has a remote-controlled, fully automatic folding fabric hood. With the older model you had to do some of the work yourself, releasing a handle just above the windscreen before opening and after closing the roof.
The new CLK Cabriolet offers a smooth, remarkably quiet drive for a convertible, with excellent roadholding. The automatic gearbox makes driving effortless, and as I headed back up the A3 to London after a busy day's sightseeing, I was glad of that - not so much a festival of speed as a festival of ease.
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