Driving along the northern coast of Spain with the morning sun shining on the Atlantic Ocean outside San Sebastian, the 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe comes into focus for me. This is the grandest of tours, and the CLE Coupe is more of a grand tourer than the E-Class Coupe luxury cruiser it replaces.
Mercedes says the CLE is the replacement for both the midsize E-Class and compact C-Class—in both coupe and forthcoming convertible body styles—but there’s far more E than C here. It’s not sized between the two; this car is actually slightly bigger than the outgoing E-Class coupe. But the new CLE takes some of the C’s sporty soul, as well as the current C’s interior.
At 191.0 inches long, the CLE Coupe extends 0.6 inch longer than the 2023 model and 6.5 inches longer than the outgoing C-Class Coupe. Its wheelbase of 112.8 inches is 0.3 inch shorter than the last E’s, though it’s an inch longer than the C’s. Other exterior dimensions are almost spot on with those of the last E.
Despite the size, the CLE is tuned for a sportier feel. Mercedes says it asked C- and E-Class Coupe owners what they wanted in a new-generation model. C-Class buyers wanted more cachet, while E buyers wanted sportier dynamics. The answer was to give the CLE-Class the size and look of the E-Class with C-Class dynamics.
Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe: E with the soul of C
I’m in a CLE 450 4Matic, which will be the top model when the CLE goes on sale in the first half of 2024, though it will certainly give way to one if not two AMG models later. It’s a European model with rear-axle steering and adaptive dampers that we won’t get in the U.S., but its tuning foretells what American customers should expect.
The CLE 450’s adaptive dampers have standard Comfort and Sport settings, as well as a Sport+ setting that’s accessed via the programmable Individual drive mode. Every CLE comes with a standard four-link front and five-link rear suspensions, and in the U.S. we get passive dampers. In both models, the ride height is lowered 0.6 inch versus the E-Class sedan, and the 450 model wears a sport tune for its springs, dampers, anti-roll bars, and bushings.
With the European tune, the Comfort setting makes the suspension a little too soft. The body takes a beat to settle down in lane changes and out of corners, but that’s rectified by the Sport setting, which makes the car feel tied down and quicker to react to inputs. Switching to Sport+ gives it even quicker reactions but firms up the ride so much that bumps and ruts become intrusive. Otherwise, the ride is supple, even with this car’s optional 20-inch summer tires.
Those tires are 245/35 front and 275/30 rear Continental EcoContact 6 Qs—summer tires for sure, but not exactly known for their grip. The 450 will come standard with 19-inch all-season or summer tires, and offer these 20s. The CLE 300 will get standard all-season 18s, and offer 19s as all-season or summer tires.
So, grip is just decent, and the CLE coupe also lacks some of the performance equipment Mercedes offers. In addition to the rear-wheel steering, it lacks a limited-slip rear differential and active anti-roll bars. That doesn’t mean it’s not sporty. It just means it’s more a grand tourer aimed for this type of coastal drive rather than a track car like an AMG CLE 63 would be.
The steering is typical Mercedes-with a light feel and quick reactions. The brakes have a predictable pedal and a confident feel. Mercedes hasn’t detailed their size or the number of calipers front and rear, but they’ll certainly fit with the grand tourer theme: fine for the street or a jaunt on a twisty road but not trackworthy.
2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe: New power for a new generation
The CLE is plenty powerful. Under the domed and rippled hood of the CLE 450 4Matic lurks a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 that spins up 375 hp, 13 hp more than the 2023 E-Class Coupe 450 model, and 369 lb-ft of torque. It’s aided by an integrated starter-generator that can add up to 23 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque at low revs.
This is no AMG model, but power is close. Mercedes quotes a 0-62 mph time of 4.4 seconds, but the top speed is limited to 130 mph. The turbo-6 has great grunt from a stop, and keeps pouring on the power thanks to a chunky 1,800-5,000-rpm maximum torque band. It growls when pushed, but is otherwise docile and content to remain in the background. If this were an AMG model, it would snap and crackle on overrun, but it’s too civilized for that in a standard-series car.
The lone transmission, a 9-speed automatic, is a willing partner, too. Driving in Sport mode, it keeps the gears low enough for frosty power on corner exit, but not so low that the CLE feels like it wants to set a new lap record.
An earlier drive in the CLE 300 4 Matic entry-level model revealed it’s no slouch either. Its 2.0-liter turbo-4 makes 255 hp and 295 lb-ft, which is also aided by the ISG’s extra 23 hp and 151 lb-ft. A similar engine without the mild-hybrid boost is available in the outgoing C-Class Coupe, but not the E. Slightly quieter than the turbo-6 without as deep of an exhaust note, it gets out of its own way quite well, thank you, posting a 0-62 mph time of 5.8 seconds. Passing any of the slow-moving Renault Clios and Twingos on these Spanish Basque country roads poses no problem for either engine.
2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe: A C cabin
That isn’t a letter grade. The CLE sports the dash from the current C-Class, with the same 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 11.9-inch touchscreen that runs the MBUX infotainment system. It also comes with heated sport seats with power adjustments, navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless smartphone charging, a Burmester audio system with two speakers in each front headrest, 64 colors of ambient lighting, and a panoramic roof.
Interior options include multicontour massaging and cooling front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, augmented reality for the navigation system, a head-up display, a surround-view camera system, and a flat-bottom steering wheel that comes standard in the 450 model.
It’s high-quality cabin with well-chosen and assembled materials that start with synthetic leather upholstery and move up to nappa leather with available perforated diamond shapes. Other available trim materials include walnut, anthracite, or open-pore black wood; a metal weave; a silver-mixed metal fabric; and aluminum. It’s not quite up to E-Class standards, but there’s no shame in that.
The interior dimensions are marginally smaller than those of the last E Coupe. For instance, it has 1.7 inches less rear legroom, 0.4 inch less rear headroom, and 0.6 inch less front headroom. However, it’s larger than the outgoing C Coupe.
While the front seat has good space in all dimensions, the rear seat will only work for kids or for shorter adults in a pinch. Getting in and out also requires the seven basic yoga moves.
Mercedes hasn’t announced pricing for the CLE-Class yet, but it’s already on sale in Europe where it costs a few thousand euros less than the outgoing E-Class Coupe. Should you get the chance, take one for a spin on a winding coastal road, preferable with the rising or setting sun as the background to your grand tour.