We drive new Mercedes CLE coupe that marks the end of an era as one of the brand’s last combustion-engined cars
4.0 out of 5
The CLE is a car designed to replace both the C-Class and E-Class Coupes, says Mercedes, and as such it looks smart, drives well, is decently packaged and is generously equipped inside and out – as it ought to be given how much it costs. But it also represents the end of an era for Mercedes, being one of the last all-new combustion-engined cars the company will produce. In an understated way it’s a fitting tribute, even if it doesn’t rewrite any headlines in the process.
Mercedes claims the CLE range represents four cars in one. It replaces the C-Class and E-Class Coupes, plus their open-top versions when a convertible appears at the end of the year. That’s a strong claim, but the CLE’s looks get if off to a strong start.
It’s a handsome alternative to an Audi A5 or a BMW 4 Series, combining style and muscularity with a refreshing absence of addenda. It’s aimed undeniably at the more mature buyer (Mercedes reckons the average CLE owner will be between 40 and 45), hence the lack of wings. That subtlety will no doubt be addressed with an AMG variant – at least one will appear within 18 months.
More significant than its new positioning in the market, the CLE will mark the end of an era at Mercedes-Benz because it’s one of the last all-new Mercs to be powered entirely by internal-combustion engines. All three versions destined for the UK market are mild-hybrids.
There’s a 2.0-litre turbodiesel badged 220 d, a 2.0-litre turbo petrol badged 300 4MATIC and a 3.0-litre straight-six petrol badged 450 4MATIC, and in each case up to 205Nm of extra torque is provided in short bursts by a 48V electrical system. And because there are no plans for a fully electric CLE, Mercedes’ engineers have been able to create this car from the ground up with conventional propulsion in mind.
As such, there are no excuses about having to design a platform with two different destinies. You can tell the CLE is a bespoke car, one with a refreshing clarity of purpose, right from the moment it starts to move. We drove the 300 4MATIC, likely to be the biggest seller here in the UK and set to cost around £60,000. Although the scales say it weighs 1,855kg, it doesn’t feel nearly as hefty as this on the move.
It’s not fast in outright terms, but the four-wheel-drive 300 CLE nevertheless has a fluid urgency to its performance that makes it feel quicker than the numbers suggest. So ignore the fact it has ‘only’ 255bhp and instead focus on the 400Nm it produces. And remember, this rises to 605Nm for short periods, based in part on how much charge is stored within the 48V electrical system when you open the throttle hard.
Mercedes claims a 0-62mph time of just 6.2sec and a top speed limited to 155mph, not bad for a mere 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo engine that barely occupies half the available space beneath the bonnet.
These are fair numbers, no doubt, but probably of more relevance to most customers are the packaging of the rear seats (despite headroom being a little tight for six-footers, it’s a bona fide four-seater) and the 420-litre boot, plus the quality of the C-Class-influenced hi-tech interior.
A pair of screens, including an 11.9-inch central display angled slightly towards the driver, form part of an excellent comms-and-navigation package. It’s all standard, too; for a Merc, the CLE is extremely well specified.
But in the end, it’s the fluid and effortlessly sporting way the CLE drives that defines it. Yes, it has a hi-tech, high-quality interior with dynamic ambient lighting and 64 different colour combinations. And, yes, it’s well packaged. Extremely well made, too. But what you remember most, long after you’ve climbed out and walked away, is how nice it is to drive: how soothingly it rides in Comfort mode; how engaging its steering and chassis feel in Sport mode; how composed and refined it is, in whichever of the various modes you end up selecting.
In many ways it feels like a Mercedes from yesteryear, given how it purrs along the road, and we mean that entirely as a compliment. One day soon they won’t make cars like this any more, not just at Mercedes but anywhere, at any price. So enjoy it while you still can. We certainly did.
|Model:||Mercedes CLE 300 4MATIC|
|Powertrain:||2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol|
|Transmission:||Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|
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