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First drive: Mercedes-Benz CLE. Image by Mercedes.

First drive: Mercedes-Benz CLE
Mercedes gives us a retro throwback in an SUV age - behold the diesel coupe!

   



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Mercedes-Benz CLE 220d

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Look! Look! I've found it! The only new car we'll drive all year that's not an SUV, not a crossover, and when people say it's a coupe they mean it's actually genuinely, properly a real coupe - a car with 2+2 seating, two doors and low-slung styling. It exists! And it's called the Mercedes CLE. Rejoice! Christmas is a time for miracles etc etc...

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 220-d AMG-Line Plus
Price: CLE from 46,605, car as tested 49,060
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel with 48-volt mild-hybrid assistance and 17kW starter-generator
Transmission: nine-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power: 200hp at 3,600rpm
Torque: 440Nm at 1,800rpm
Emissions: 123g/km
Economy: 58.9-60.1mpg
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Top speed: 148mph
Boot space: 420 litres

Styling

The CLE has a difficult job to do, and Mercedes is kind of admitting that through the fact that the CLE is one car that replaces two. The old C-Class Coupe andE-Class Coupe are no more, and the CLE replaces both, an indication (indictment, if you ask us...) of how the market has shifted almost totally to SUVs and crossovers.

Style-wise, and this is going to become a recurring theme, the CLE looks more like a C-Class than it does an E-Class. It's actually about the same size as the old E-Class Coupe. In fact, it's 15mm longer, and the wheelbase is only shorter by a paltry 7mm, so on the tape measure this is an E-Class adjunct. However, in its design it definitely has more of the C-Class about it, from those slim headlights, all the way back to that heavily angled C-pillar that sweeps in the bootlid. It's a very good-looking car, but it does lack a little bit of the hauteur of the old E-Class Coupe, which is a bit of a shame.

AMG-Line spec is the entry-level model, so the CLE will never look anything less than at least mildly sporty, thanks to 18-inch five-twin-spoke wheels and a subtle AMG bodykit.

Interior

Again, there's a distinctly stronger flavour of C-Class about the cabin of the CLE, which seems to have been lifted pretty well directly from the current saloon and estate. That's hardly a bad thing - quality and comfort levels are right up there with the best - but again, you'd miss the sense of space and airiness that you found in the departed E-Class Coupe.

Actually, there's one major disappointment and that's the side windows. Unlike the old E-Class Coupe, the rear side glass of the CLE is fixed in place, so there's no option to get all of the windows down for a classic pillar-less coupe effect, which is truly delightful on a warm summer's day. Shame.

Still, it's not all bad. You get lovely high-backed bucket seats in the front of the CLE, and the combo of the 12.3-inch driver's instrument panel and the 11.9-inch touchscreen in the centre of the dash (this time angled slightly towards the driver) works really well. It's true that there are no physical controls for the climate system (boo!) but the MBUX on-screen software is slick and simple enough to make that much less of a problem. With the split-spoke steering wheel (complete with irritating touch-sensitive buttons), the rank of five squared-circle air vents, and the general pervading air of solid Teutonic quality, the CLE's interior, in the front at least, is a lovely thing.

Practicality

What about the back? Actually, it's not as bad as you'd think. That long wheelbase means that the front-seat passenger can easily scooch forward a little, opening up genuinely practical legroom for at least one person in the back. Headroom is a touch tight, but it's tolerable for all but the tallest.

In the front, there are the usual storage spaces in the centre console, under a large retracting lid, that include cupholders, a wireless phone charger, and USB sockets. There's more space under the butterfly front-seat armrest and well-sized door bins too, so for a two-door car the CLE is pretty practical.

It's useful in the cargo stakes too, with a 420-litre boot, so some proper grand touring is most definitely possible in the CLE. And it'll tow 1,800kg of trailer (braked). Mind you, if you're using a CLE for towing, you possibly need to take a bit of a look at where your life's gone...

Performance

Just as the CLE's two-door actually-a-real-coupe body shape feels, in a very melancholy sense, like a throwback to an era long past, so too its 2.0-litre diesel engine feels the same. There is a fig-leaf nod (can fig leaves nod?) to modernity thanks to the EQ mild-hybrid system, which runs on 48-volts and includes a 17kW (23hp), 205Nm electric motor which can run the stop-start system with greater efficiency and generally helps to boost performance and aid fuel economy.

And aid fuel economy it most certainly should. Mercedes claims 60mpg for this CLE 220d and that seems entirely doable if you drive with a touch of restraint. The sheer mental health boost from climbing aboard and seeing better than 500 miles of available fuel range also reminds you what the climate crisis and 'Dieselgate' have robbed us of.

Performance doesn't look great on paper - 7.5 seconds for 0-62mph isn't anyone's idea of fast - but with the 440Nm of torque on offer, and the extra 205Nm that can be added in bursts by the mild-hybrid system, the CLE 220d feels fleeter than that once it's rolling properly. Refinement is good too, aside from a hint of cold-start rumble, but the 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic gearbox does occasionally fluff its changes. Too much choice, perhaps?

Ride & Handling

The CLE, once again, feels very much like a C-Class to drive, and slightly oddly feels more compact than the old E-Class Coupe, in spite of it being actually slightly longer. Maybe it's just that everything seems small once you've driven an EQS SUV...

The steering is light and direct, in the classic Mercedes fashion, and a touch of low-speed lumpiness to the ride quality dissipates as the speeds rise. The CLE comes with sports suspension that's 15mm lower than that of the C-Class saloon, but to be fair it's not intrusively hard-edged.

As with all the best Mercedes models - and yes, the CLE is stealthily working its way up that list - the CLE gets better to drive the more you ask of it. Point it down a particularly challenging, tight, twisty and slippery road, and it responds with poise and precision. And yes, fun. It's maybe not quite so plugged into the road as a BMW 4 Series, but the dynamic gap between the two is vanishingly small.

Value

OK, so 46,605 isn't quite what you'd call a bargain, but think of it like this - for the same price as the Brabus version of the anonymous-looking Smart #3 we tested last week, you could have a slinky Mercedes coupe on your driveway; one, in the case of the CLE 220d, with the ability to get you to Paris by lunchtime should the desire take you.

Standard equipment includes those 18-inch alloys, the big touchscreen, Dynamic Select driving modes, heat-insulated tinted glass, LED high-performance headlights, ambient cabin lighting, keyless entry and ignition, heated and electrically adjustable front seats with memory, blind spot monitor, parking sensors and reversing camera, and traffic sign recognition.

Verdict

This Mercedes might be a touch stuck in the nineties in terms of both its body style and its diesel engine, but this CLE 220d is - if nothing else - a terrific reminder in the apparently lost art of making a 2+2 coupe. It's practical enough to be a daily driver, smooth enough to be comfortable for your passenger, fun enough on the right road to be just about considered a driver's car, and gorgeous in a subtle way which will allow it to be enjoyed without you attracting too much in the way of unwanted attention. Cherish it while it lasts, folks.



Neil Briscoe - 4 Dec 2023



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2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Image by Mercedes.








 

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