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Car Review

Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe review

£46,305 - £77,130
710
Published: 10 Jan 2024
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Relaxing to drive but infuriating to operate, the CLE is an old-school coupe spoiled by poorly integrated tech

Good stuff

Unfussy styling, serenely smooth and quiet to cruise in

Bad stuff

Interior is crying out for common sense buttons. Not as satisfying to drive as a BMW 4 Series

Overview

What is it?

A realisation from Mercedes that it was making too many cars that did the same job. A few years ago, if you wanted a Mercedes that comfortably seated two (and occasionally four) people but were allergic to the sensible charms of a C-Class, then you could choose from a CLA/CLA Shooting Brake, a C-Class Coupe, a CLS or an E-Class Coupe. And that’s before you factor in the chopped-back SUVs, like the GLC Coupe. Yuck. 

So the CLE Coupe is a new E-Class Coupe, correct?

Yes and no. Basically, Mercedes has killed off the two-door versions of its two mid-range saloons and replaced both with one car: the CLE. It looks like a C-Class Coupe, but it’s bigger. In fact, it’s a smidge longer than the old E Coupe.

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Inside it presents the C-Class’s dashboard, and the engines are regular mid-range Mercedes fare. Prices begin a few thousand higher than an Audi A5 or BMW 4 Series, but that’s pretty immaterial once option packs and monthly payments are digested. Those are the cars the CLE Coupe competes against. And fewer of its own kind.

Well, at least the front is less scary than a BMW 4 Series.

Indeed: the CLE revels in the current Merc design language of ‘smoother than a buttered pebble’. It’s refreshingly clean to look at: free from the overly aggressive, fussy details of its German foes. You could even call it elegant.

Then again, from the rear three quarter angle, the back is so long it’s almost a bit ‘scaled down Tesla Cybertruck with the corners smoothed off.’ Just us? The rear’s width is accentuated by a bar between the rear light clusters which, unusually, doesn’t actually illuminate. And the pillarless doors are humongous. Good luck exiting gracefully in a narrow parking space.

What are the CLE Coupe’s big headlines then?

Actually, this is a rather traditional car. No all-electric version. Engines in the front, four seats in the middle (with considerably more space than the old C Coupe), and rear- or four-wheel drive. The main range features two 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engines, a 3.0-litre straight six, and a four-pot diesel.

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Is there a tyre-shredding one?

Topping the range later this year will be a muscular CLE 53 AMG, but that’ll get its own review once we’ve tested it. Meantime, let’s concentrate on the bog-standard cars.

Your entry-level CLE is the 200, with a whisker over 200bhp. You’d imagine the CLE 300 had 300bhp, then? Nope – it makes do with a 258bhp tune of the same engine, this time with 4Matic all-wheel drive helping it get from 0-62mph over a second quicker than the base car.

Still not rapid enough? The CLE 400 will generate a raspier straight-six noise as it purrs along with 380bhp on tap, also divided between all four wheels. And because Mercedes has invested a canyon-filling heap of money in diesel engines just as they fall out of fashion harder than skinny jeans, you can spec a CLE 200d, good for a claimed 60mpg.

Anything else I should know?

There’s a soft-top cabrio coming later in 2024, and we reckon something even spicier than the widebody 442bhp CLE Coupe 53. But nothing with a V8, sadly.

Our choice from the range

What's the verdict?

The narcoleptic step-off when pulling away and hideously fiddly interior tech that let an otherwise likeable car down

Mercedes is no longer confused. Trimming the niche cul-de-sacs it’d created, it very obviously had a clear idea of what it wanted the CLE Coupe to be: a fond farewell to internally combusting coupes. A successor to the E-Class Coupe, bringing along the C-Class Coupe’s more youthful audience and shamelessly favouring a relaxed, long-legged gait over the BMW 4 Series’ more tenacious, engaging handling.

The result is in many ways a fine car: it looks svelte, it rides and cruises beautifully with a strong range of powertrains. But it falls short of being a class-leader for the same reasons as so many other current Benzes. The narcoleptic step-off when pulling away and hideously fiddly interior tech that let an otherwise likeable car down. Perhaps you’ll get used to it. But remember when a Mercedes used to feel right, first time?

Onlookers will thank you for not sullying the neighbourhood with the styling of a 4 Series, but inside, it’ll be you that’s gurning and grimacing as you engage with the tech. If some buttons arrive with the facelift, Mercedes may yet be back to its best.

The Rivals

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