The new coupe that replaces the former C-Class and E-Class coupe generations relies on the classic elegance of the Mercedes Coupe, and the design is very successful. In testing Mercedes CLE 300 4Matic version, with 258 ps 2-litre turbo engine and 48V mild hybrid technology.
Do you remember the Mercedes E-Class Coupe W124? For many, it was the last classic Mercedes coupe: long hood, sculptural shapes, a rear pillar with a sharp angle for the rear side window, and, of course, no center pillar and windows without frame. It was perhaps the most beautiful coupe of the 80s, proving the creative artistry of Bruno Sacco, who also created the famous SL R129. And moving into the third millennium, the latest S-Class Coupe reminded us that Mercedes is close to haute-couture fashion, being a partner of Paris or Berlin Fashion Week. But S-Class Coupe disappeared without a successor because Mercedes directed its development funds towards electrification. And of the C-Class Coupe and E-Class Coupe, only one coupe remains, the new CLE. In fact, it’s the only two-door coupe in the entire Mercedes range, as the AMG GT is an AMG-exclusive model.
Closer to the E-Class Coupe
Mercedes decided to build a single coupe that would satisfy customer demand for both a C-Class Coupe and an E-Class Coupe. If the C-Class Coupe’s design was constrained by its compact size and the E-Class Coupe lacked a distinct personality, with the new CLE, Mercedes gave free rein to the imagination after many years.
Okay, it takes the front end from the C-Class but comes with a more raked windshield, a longer hood with two power domes, a long roof that slopes smoothly down to a short rear end with a small integrated spoiler, short consoles, and a low silhouette. We have to mention the sharp angles on the rear window and the narrow glass area that accentuates the dynamism. The elegant shape is also due to the generous length as the CLE is 15 mm longer than the E-Class Coupe, while the height is 2 mm lower, the width is the same, and the long wheelbase of 2865 mm is 8 mm shorter. Although it’s noticeably longer than the Audi A5 Coupe or BMW 4 Series Coupe, the engine range is comparable, with all three models being direct rivals.
E-Class Coupe exterior dimensions but C-Class Coupe interior: the Mercedes CLE 300 4Matic takes the dashboard from the C-Class with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and the multimedia system with an 11.9-inch portrait display mounted at an angle. That’s why we find the same graphics for the digital instrument cluster, the same steering wheel with mini touch surfaces, the same head-up display, and the same modern MBUX multimedia system that is intuitive and easy to operate. Between the front seats sits a high center tunnel with plenty of storage space, and two USB-C sockets, and at the base of the multimedia display are haptic feedback buttons for the drive train, climate access, and audio volume.
The press kit informs that the rear knee room is 43 mm shorter, and the headroom is 10 mm smaller than in the E-Class Coupe. To be honest, you don’t sit most comfortably in the back, but the space is decent nonetheless. A six-footer reaches the back of the front seats with their knees and the roof with their head but without having to bend over. But there is no place to rest your feet because there’s not enough room under the front seats.
There’s also only room for two people in the rear, and the backrest is a little too close to vertical. We console ourselves with a well-profiled rear bench, but the small glass area and narrow space aren’t proper conditions for long-distance travel even though the CLE is a full-size four-seat coupe. The rear backrest folds down only from the inside, giving access to a 420-litre boot, 20 litres smaller than the BMW 4 Series. Instead, you sit very low in sports seats in the front, with excellent side bolstering and integrated but adjustable head restraints, upholstered in standard black Artico leather and black microfiber.
AMG package, adaptive suspension and integral steering without extra price
The price of the CLE 4Matic version is very steep for a four-cylinder, starting at 68,544 euro. Rivals are almost 10-15,000 euro cheaper (BMW 430i xDrive 59,400 euro, Audi A5 45 TFSI Quattro 54,600 euro), but Mercedes is tempting customers with the standard AMG Interior and Exterior packages. In a nutshell, you get black Nappa leather on the upper part of the dashboard and door panels, Nappa leather multi-function sports steering wheel, black cloth roof, and on the outside, AMG Styling Package, 19-inch alloy wheels with enlarged front brake discs and sports suspension.
So, the sport suspension 15 mm lower than the C-Class is standard, and you have to get used to its firmness or option for free for the adaptive suspension with classic springs. We don’t know how much extra comfort offers the adaptive suspension as it wasn’t present on the test car, but the standard sports suspension puts the CLE in the BMW 4-Series zone. You can feel its firmness on short bumps, but on the long haul, it’s comfortable, as long as the road surface is of good quality. However, the slightly longer wheelbase than the BMW 4-Series and the slightly softer suspension makes the Mercedes CLE feel like you put a plush blanket over rough bumps compared to the BMW. Also, the suspension with four-link construction at the front and multilink at the rear is quiet, but at speeds over 120 km/h, there’s a slight rumble around the frameless windows.
In corners, you feel the 160 kg more weight and larger dimensions than the BMW 430i, despite an equally low center of gravity. But the very good grip and efficiency of the 4Matic all-wheel drive system make the Mercedes as quick in dynamic tests as its Bavarian rival. For its size, Mercedes CLE 400 4Matic moves nimbly thanks in part to its linear steering, which has plenty of weight in Sport mode and provides very good feedback. The secret of the CLE’s agility lies in the same four-link front axle that separates the suspension from the steering. ESP kicks in relatively early but then reacts progressively, with understeer at the limit being normal.
If you want to turn shorter in tight spaces, you can opt for free for the integral steering, which swivels the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front at low speeds, reducing the turning circle by 50 cm to 11.2 meters.
On paper, the 2-liter turbocharged engine with 258 ps and 400 Nm seems sufficient, but in reality, it has to contend with a large weight of 1,836 kg, which can rise to over 2,300 kg, when the payload of 494 kg is taken into account. That’s why, sometimes, under more vigorous acceleration, the engine feels like it needs all its resources even though it’s backed by a powerful 48V starter-generator with 23 ps and 200 Nm.
The nine-speed automatic gearbox harmonizes nicely with the engine and shifts higher in Sport mode, but sometimes, on downshifting and braking, it isn’t sure which gear to choose, and the driver feels slight jerks in the transmission. On the other hand, when accelerating, the engine has a pleasant, muffled growl-like sound that betrays the fact that it’s putting almost all of its power resources to work.
The new Mercedes CLE can also be ordered with a 2-litre diesel engine in the CLE 220 d, but all-wheel drive is reserved only for the petrol versions CLE 200 4Matic (optional), CLE 300 4Matic (standard) and the CLE 450 4Matic (standard), the only inline six-cylinder. And there’s also the option of an AMG version, which, thank goodness, also comes with an inline six-cylinder engine and not the AMG C 63’s “electrocuted” four-cylinder.
Sleek, beautiful, classic: the new Mercedes CLE 300 4Matic appeals with its classic coupe design. Touche, Mercedes! However, the generous exterior dimensions are not reflected in the cramped rear interior. The standard AMG packages add a noble touch to the interior and partly justify the high asking price. The 4-cylinder engine is sufficient but not exuberant, but there are two options for 6-cylinder engines.