CLE is longer than outgoing C-Class and E-Class coupés
BMW 4 Series rival gets 375bhp four-wheel-drive range-topper and C-Class-inspired interior
Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the CLE, a sleek new two-door model that acts as an indirect replacement for the C- and E-Class coupés.
Set for UK sale by the end of 2023, it forms part of Mercedes-Benz’s efforts to consolidate its traditional internal-combustion-engine range as the German car maker ramps up investment in new pure-electric models.
The Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series rival is based on Mercedes-Benz’s MRA platform, sharing a combination of components with both the fifth-generation C-Class and more recently unveiled sixth-generation E-Class. It is therefore one of Mercedes-Benz’s last dedicated ICE models.
It arrives first in hard-top coupé form, with a soft-top cabriolet – complete with bespoke styling cues and added structural reinforcements – to follow in 2024.
The exterior styling builds on that of the existing E-Class coupé with a classically sporting silhouette, prominent grille with a light ‘shark nose’ effect, long probing bonnet, heavily curved roof, curvaceous C-pillar treatment, heavily angled rear window and sloping bootlid within a heavily tapered rear end.
At 4850mm in length, the CLE is longer than both the C- and E-Class coupés, as well as the BMW 4 Series.
Inside, the new Mercedes-Benz model adopts a 2+2 layout. Newly developed front seats have integrated headrests, heating and four-way lumbar support as standard.
The dashboard design – with 12.3in instrument and 11.9in portrait-style infotainment displays – is heavily based on that found in the latest C-Class.
There is significantly more room inside than with the C-Class coupé, particularly in the rear. Boot space is rated at 420 litres – some 20 litres less than the 4 Series coupé.
The launch line-up consists of four models with a combination of longitudinally mounted four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines and either rear- or four-wheel drive.
The rear-wheel-drive CLE 200d kicks off the range with a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine developing 194bhp and 325lb ft. It is joined by the rear-wheel-drive CLE 200, whose turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine delivers 201bhp and 236lb ft. The same engine is used in the four-wheel-drive CLE 300 4Matic, where it produces an added 54bhp and 59lb ft, at 255bhp and 295lb ft.
Topping the standard line-up is the four-wheel-drive CLE 450 4Matic. It receives a turbocharged 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine with 375bhp and 369lb ft for a claimed 0-62mph time of 4.4sec and 155mph top speed.
Each engine receives 48V mild-hybrid properties, with a gearbox-mounted electric motor providing an additional 23bhp and 147lb ft for short periods under acceleration.
All models come as standard with a seven-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. Alongside the CLE 300 4Matic and CLE 450 4Matic, the CLE 200 can also be ordered with 4Matic four-wheel drive.
Mercedes’ AMG performance car division also plans at least two high-powered versions of the CLE, details of which have yet to be made official.
Underneath, the CLE receives a steel suspension featuring a double-wishbone design at the front and multi-links at the rear. It is based heavily on that used by the C-Class, but with a 15mm reduction in ride height.
UK pricing for either model has yet to be announced, but it is expected to sit above the £50,000 mark.
New Mercedes CLE first ride
Where there were four models, there are now two. That’s the upshot of Mercedes-Benz’s decision to replace the C- and E-Class coupé and cabriolet with the CLE coupé and cabriolet.
An initial ride in a low-mileage validation prototype on ultra-smooth roads around Mercedes-Benz’s factory in Sindelfingen, Germany, reveals the new two-door does not stray too far from the two models it succeeds in its overall on-road character.
There are a lot of C-Class saloon and estate styling cues inside. But a lower-set front seating position provides the CLE coupé with a more sporting feel from the passenger seat. Perceived quality is improved over the old C- and E-Class coupé and cabriolet, as is the operation of the infotainment system, which works with the latest version of the Mercedes-Benz MBUX operating system, bringing faster reaction times and greater resolution from new-generation displays.
In initial top-of-the-line six-cylinder petrol guise, the CLE coupé offers smooth and effortless performance. Mechanical refinement is excellent, as is the ability of the prototype to isolate wind noise at typical motorway cruising speeds.
The new Mercedes-Benz model’s head of testing, Christof Kühner, says a lot of effort has gone into giving the CLE coupé typically relaxed and subdued long-distance cruising qualities. It shows.
A synthetic sound generator provides added aural intent when the driver dials up the Sport mode, though it can be turned off to retain the overall feeling of refinement without losing the sporting edge.
Over more challenging roads, the CLE coupé turns in sharply and is satisfyingly agile, thanks in part to the effort of the optional rear-wheel steer system, which provides 2.5deg of rear steering angle.
There is a GT-like appeal to the ride, which combines inherently firm spring rates with excellent damping control to provide taut but controlled responses on the optional suspension.
The real proof, however, will come from driving the CLE coupé – one of the last internal-combustion-engined models to be based on Mercedes-Benz’s MRA platform – later this year.
For now, though, Mercedes-Benz appears to have succeeded in taking the best aspects of the C- and E-Class coupés and rolling them into one appealing package that looks certain to make life hard for the likes of the Audi A5 coupé and BMW 4 Series.