CRUISING DOWN Shek O Road in a brand new Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 was nice enough. But this was a Cabriolet, the top was down and the sun was shining. Motoring writer paradise, in other words. Added to that, I had not been to this part of the island for 10 years, so there was an air of discovery about the drive. We'd set off from the Lee Gardens showroom through congested traffic, inching along Electric Road and onto the East Island Corridor, the tyres thumping across the concrete sections just as they would on an autobahn. At at steady 60km/h, we escaped Chai Wan and went zooming up the mountain road towards Tai Tam. Here we could relax and enjoy the car. This was the Avantgarde version, which means dark grey leather and a kind of brushed metal trim instead of the maple wood found on the Elegance line. Frankly, I prefer the latter, but in view of all this luxury and style - not to mention the weather - I decided not to be choosy. The exterior is all grace and refinement, from the three-pointed star on the low nose to the sharply raked windscreen, the side-strakes and the seven-spoke alloy wheels. It looks even better with the top down, when there's only the merest line around the upper boot to suggest where it's been hidden. We stopped at the earliest opportunity and I pressed and held a single button. Electric motors hummed, clicked and whirred as the boot lid went up, the top detached from the windscreen and folded into the boot, and the rear deck dropped back down - and all in just 20 seconds. We soon reached the narrow Shek O Road, a run that demands acceleration where it's least appropriate. Going fast here means trusting to luck on the curves, so we opted for discretion. We swooped down the lethal curves to Shek O, the tight bends cambered to fling the unwary down the shotcrete slopes, then cruised past the impossibly green golf links and into Shek O village, now replete with modern bathing facilities, lots of shops and a huge parking lot. Here we stopped to deactivate the sensitive front parking sensors. By this time I was having fun getting comfortable in the driver's seat, which can be moved non-incrementally in any direction using the switches located on the door. Having got the seat just right, you then buzz the steering wheel up or down, then fore or aft, until it's perfect. But a few kilometres later you adjust again as you get settled in - this to me is the greatest luxury. The pampering goes on. When you open the door, the optional Easy Access setting moves the seat back and the steering wheel aside, returning them to their memory-stored positions once you're seated. As you close the door, feeders pop forward on little mechanical arms to hand you the seat belt. As for starting the car, you no longer use a key but a smart card that does everything by remote control, including raising or lowering the windows and turning on the engine while you stand nearby. Driving back up the road, I gave the CLK a bit of rein and saw a glimpse of the 218 horsepower offered. When your seat belts start flapping in the breeze it's time to slow down, though poseurs will doubtless be impressed by the optional screen that stops backdraught from messing up your hair (there's no mention, however, of a gizmo that powders your nose). Along this straight and with no traffic in sight, I did the old-fashioned panic stop, hitting the brakes as hard as possible. The CLK pulled to an extremely smooth but firm halt, with not a peep from the anti-lock braking system (ABS). A sudden left turn and we were hurtling down to Stanley, the CLK purring across the Tai Tam reservoir dam like a teenage lion ready to run. Rain threatened at Stanley, so we whirred the top back up in seconds, before climbing the hill towards Chung Hom Kok, looping down the curves to Repulse Bay, and then driving up to Wong Nai Chung Gap. By now I was using the console-mounted tiptronic gear selector, which moves from side to side. The idea is to bump it gently away with your closed fist to shift down, and pull it towards you with three fingers to shift up. The CLK does not offer massive brute power, so at least once on the approach to the Gap I bumped the shifter down to second to dig up the oomph and hurtle uphill. Over the top, I used third and second gears as engine braking as we slithered gently down to Wan Chai. Overall, the CLK is a beautiful piece of machinery, looking good even with the top up, and like a graceful fantasy with it down. Someone asked me to compare it with the Porsche Boxster, but I'd have to say they are not in the same category. Judging by earlier drives of the pre-S Boxster, the Porsche was a gloriously hi-tech machine, but still a raw sports car under the skin. Put it this way: while you would be neither trading up nor down from the Boxster, you would be graduating from top-down excitement and spurting adrenaline to refined open-top touring in the CLK's pampered comfort and luxury. HOW MUCH? $662,500 for the Avantgarde 320 as tested. WHAT MOVES IT? Front engine, V6, 3.2-litre, offering 218 brake horsepower. HOW THIRSTY? 10.6 litres per 100km, but will you really care when you're cruising?