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Car Review

Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe review

£46,305 - £77,130
710
Published: 11 Jul 2024
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Driving

What is it like to drive?

Let's start with the non-AMG. So far we’ve only tested the heart of the CLE Coupe range: the 300 4Matic. In English, that means a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine lounging around under the lengthy bonnet, good for 258bhp, 295lb ft and 0-62mph in a swift 6.2 seconds. Like all CLEs, it’s joined to Merc’s nine-speed automatic gearbox.

Prod the starter button and there’s no waiting for the engine to catch. It whirrs into life almost silently having been awoken by the 48-volt mild hybrid gubbins that lurk within the gearbox. It’s charged when you coast or brake, and automatically delivers a 23bhp boost for quick squirts of acceleration, as well as smoothing out the power delivery when the turbo is drawing breath. Clever.

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That makes it smooth, right?

Uncannily so, for the most part. Not just the start-up sequence, but generally mooching about, surging out of villages and so on. It’s so quiet you could almost be fooled into thinking it’s electric at times. Compared to the drone-tone that used to emanate from four-pot Mercs, it’s a revelation.

You can disturb the peace by selecting Sport mode, which pumps in an augmented engine note. It stays the right side of harsh, but little about the CLE’s wafty demeanour screams ‘grab those chunky alloy paddleshifters and let’s dance.’ Yes it’s 15mm lower than a C-Class, but that’s not uncorked any latent giggles in this chassis. 

Our only bugbear with this powertrain is a slight hesitancy when moving off from stationary, or near-as-dammit. Say you’ve coasted up to a roundabout, squeezing the brakes. The engine has decoupled from the transmission to increase efficiency. You spot there’s a gap to take advantage of and press the throttle again, but there’s a noticeable delay then a bit of a jerk as the hybrid system awakens the engine and normal service is resumed. Like you’re driving around in beta software.

This isn’t a problem isolated to the CLE Coupe, mind you. Even Bentley’s Continental GT is prone to the same fault.

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And what if I want to be all schporty? 

Drive the CLE straight home (sedately), fire up your Xbox and play with a Black Series on Forza instead. It doesn’t take long behind the CLE’s chunky steering wheel to realise that Mercedes clearly decided chasing BMW 4 Series-matching dynamics was a futile exercise and decided to cover off the Audi A5 and Lexus RC instead. Both are far older and should be easy meat, after all.

While the car is impressively damped – don’t worry about ticking the box for some expensive adaptive suspension, the standard set-up is a good match for UK roads and sits very assuredly on the motorway – if you press on there’s not much entertainment to be unlocked.

Steering? Numb. Four-wheel drive system? Safety first. Gearbox kickdown? Lethargic. This isn’t an AMG gateway drug. It’s a supermarket own-brand Rolls-Royce Spectre. No bad thing, that.

Please tell me the AMG 53 fixes this?

It's certainly more dialled in, as you'd expect. There's a rear-bias to the 4WD set-up, making it feel suitably pointy: in tandem with the immense grip and four-wheel steering, it gives you license to power through corners flat and with purpose. Fun? Not quite. But definitely satisfying. Weightier steering helps with that. Brake feel is tremendous, though it can get out of shape if you really bury the pedal.

The 3.0-litre engine's a real antidote to the rest of the line-up too. Okay so it's not a V8, but acceleration is muscular and it provides an apt soundtrack that adds character, even if the transmission has a habit of imposing upshifts near the redline. Clearly there's room in the stable for a 63...

Ride in Comfort is firmer in the 53 than the regular CLE is in Sport, especially at low speed. But you can live with that. The driving position is bob on and visibility's decent. Road and wind noise climbs significantly above 50mph.

We saw 24.7mpg real-world against a claim of 29.4. Remember the rest of the range promises consumption between mid-thirties and mid-forties, with the diesel an outlier at 60mpg or thereabouts.

Highlights from the range

the fastest

CLE 53 4Matic+ AMG Night Edn Prem + 2dr 9G-Tronic
  • 0-624.2s
  • CO2
  • BHP442.5
  • MPG
  • Price£77,130

the cheapest

CLE 200 AMG Line 2dr 9G-Tronic
  • 0-627.4s
  • CO2
  • BHP201.2
  • MPG
  • Price£46,305

Variants We Have Tested

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