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In-depth reviews

Mercedes CLE review – kills two birds with one stone

“The Mercedes CLE looks good, offers a decent amount of room inside and drives well, replacing two models in one go”

Carbuyer Rating

3.9 out of 5

Owners Rating
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Pros

  • Attractive styling
  • Good to drive
  • Fairly spacious

Cons

  • Can get expensive
  • No plug-in versions yet
  • Rivals have slightly more boot space

Verdict - Is the Mercedes CLE a good car?

In the quest to replace two models with one, the resulting Mercedes CLE is a perfectly solid new contender amongst executive coupes. Its styling should appeal to a broad audience, there’s enjoyment to be had from behind the wheel, and the interior boasts the usual Mercedes wow factor. As one of Merc’s very last new petrol models, it doesn’t really move the game on in any real sense, but as a last hurrah for more traditional buyers, it should hold plenty of appeal.

Mercedes CLE models, specs and alternatives

Mercedes has consolidated its lineup by combining the C-Class and E-Class coupes into this: the Mercedes CLE coupe. It will be followed by a Mercedes CLE convertible in due course. This streamlining coincides with the rise in popularity of SUVs and new electric models, with much of Mercedes’ focus on expanding those areas of its lineup instead. The CLE is a model primed to compete with the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5 head-on. 

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In terms of size, the CLE is actually slightly longer than the outgoing E-Class Coupe, but with a fractionally shorter wheelbase (the space between the front and rear axles). As a result, headroom and legroom are between the two outgoing models but much closer to the E-Class, with a 420-litre boot that’s slightly smaller than the BMW 4 Series (440 litres) and A5 Coupe (450 litres) offer. 

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In terms of size, the CLE is actually slightly longer than the E-Class Coupe, but with a fractionally smaller wheelbase (the space between the front and rear axles). As a result, headroom and legroom are between the two outgoing models but much closer to the E-Class, with a 420-litre boot that’s slightly smaller than the BMW 4 Series (440 litres) and A5 Coupe (450 litres) offer. 

The CLE will be one of the very last all-new Mercedes models designed primarily for combustion engines. These are all mild-hybrids, and a 2.0-litre petrol and diesel form the core of the range, badged 300 4Matic and 220 d respectively. A 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine is the flagship, for now at least, badged 450 4Matic and outputting a healthy 381bhp.

A nine-speed automatic gearbox is standard, and while the CLE might not be intended to be one of Mercedes’ most efficient models, the CLE 200 petrol engine can return up to 44.1mpg, while the 220 d diesel can return 60.1mpg.

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Every version of the CLE comes well-equipped, and the widescreen TFT displays that sweep across the dashboard look a step on from what’s offered in the Audi A5. It’s a nice place to sit, enhanced by 64 different colour combinations for the ambient lighting and lots of upmarket materials. While it’s a pricey option, the Burmester stereo upgrade also feels fitting here and delivers amazing audio quality as you cruise along in style.

Trim levels

Power options

  • TBA
  • 2.0-litre (MHEV) diesel 197bhp
  • 2.0-litre (MHEV) petrol 204bhp
  • 2.0-litre (MHEV) petrol 258bhp
  • 3.0-litre (MHEV) petrol 381bhp

Mercedes CLE alternatives

The luxury four-seat coupe market has dwindled in recent years as more buyers flock to SUVs, but there are still a few desirable contenders from established players.

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MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions

“Mild-hybrid engines make the Mercedes CLE affordable to run for private buyers”

Considering the fact the Mercedes CLE is a car you’ll likely buy with your heart as much as your head, it’s actually rather sensible to run. It won’t appeal to company car drivers as much as plug-in hybrid or EV models, but private buyers shouldn’t be put off by the CLE’s running costs.

Every model comes with mild-hybrid technology, which recuperates energy into a small battery under deceleration, before using it to give the combustion engine a small helping hand. This helps the entry-level petrol CLE 200 achieve 44.1mpg, with CO2 emissions from 145g/km. The flagship CLE 450 is likely to remain a niche choice, and it’s fairly thirsty, returning from 36.2mpg. While diesel sales are dwindling in the UK, Mercedes still offers the 220 d for now, and it’s likely to be your best bet for lots of long-distance motoring, returning a frugal 60.1mpg in official figures – when we tested it we found this figure hard to achieve in the real world, though fuel economy was still good for a car this size, at over 50mpg.

With prices starting from around £50,000, the Mercedes CLE is liable for luxury car tax, so it will cost more than £500 per year in VED (road tax) in years two to six, before returning to the standard rate.

Model 

Fuel economy

CO2 emissions

CLE 220 d

60.1mpg

123g/km

CLE 200

44.1mpg

145g/km

CLE 200 4Matic

42.2mpg

153g/km

CLE 300 4Matic

40.4mpg

159g/km

CLE 450 4Matic

36.2mpg

176g/km

Insurance

Insurance groups haven’t been confirmed for the Mercedes CLE yet, but it’s likely to get slightly higher bandings than an equivalent C-Class. The saloon finds itself in groups 38 to 45, which is slightly higher than the BMW 4 Series, spanning groups 30 to 42. 

Engines, drive & performance

“The Mercedes CLE favours comfort over outright pace, but isn’t lacking in panache”

Models like the Mercedes CLE find themselves in an interesting spot, because they need to feel as sporty as their rakish looks suggest, but also cosset the driver and passengers on a longer trip. None of the current engines on offer make the CLE a hot rod, but it feels fluid and covers ground at a surprising rate.

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So far we’ve tested the CLE 300 4Matic and 220 d. The 300 4Matic feels like it generates speed pretty effortlessly as it goes up and down its nine-speed automatic gearbox. Despite being ‘only’ a 2.0-litre petrol engine with 255bhp, the fact its mild hybrid system can help generate 605Nm of torque in short bursts helps to explain why it shrugs off its significant mass of over 1,800kg.

Similarly, when we drove the 220 d on UK roads, we found that while it only offers 194bhp, it has plenty of pulling power for most drivers, without feeling particularly sporty. It’s well suited for long cruises, though, with a smooth power delivery and a subtle but satisfying grumble from the engine. There is a Sport mode, but aside from making the steering feel weightier and sharpening up the throttle response, it doesn’t change the driving experience all that much.

The CLE comes with four wheel steering, with the rear wheels turning up to 2.5 degrees and helping it feel slightly more agile in the bends. The steering feels very light, though, and there’s not much feedback from the road or chassis through the wheel.

We also found that the low profile tyres fitted to our test car’s 20-inch wheels produced quite a lot of road noise, although this may be marginally better on cars fitted with the standard 18-inch and 19-inch alloys. Happily, however, there’s little wind noise thanks to the CLE’s aerodynamic shape.

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The CLE’s soft suspension setup coped well with bigger imperfections in the road, but smaller surface blemishes could be felt all too often – again this may be less noticeable on cars fitted with smaller wheels.

Petrol models

Petrol engines make up the bulk of the Mercedes CLE range, and there are three for British buyers to pick from. The entry-level CLE 200 uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 201bhp, which can be upgraded to 255bhp in the CLE 300 that gets 4Matic all-wheel drive as standard. While these aren’t massive power outputs in the era of scorching EVs, they’re likely to feel plenty quick enough for most drivers buying the CLE more for its design than its ability to set lap times.

Even the flagship CLE 450 4Matic with 376bhp could only be described as “brisk” for a coupe brandishing the three-pointed star, and it goes head-to-head with the BMW M440i XDrive with 374bhp. 

Model 

Power

0-62mph

Top speed

CLE 220 d

197bhp

7.5s

149mph

CLE 200

201bhp

7.4s

149mph

CLE 200 4Matic

201bhp

7.5s

147mph

CLE 300 4Matic

255bhp

6.2s

155mph

CLE 450 4Matic

376bhp

4.4s

155mph

Plug-in hybrid models

While a plug-in hybrid model wasn’t offered from the CLE’s launch debut, a PHEV is expected to join the range later on. While nothing has been confirmed, it could follow a similar format to the C 300 e saloon, with a 2.0-litre petrol engine and 126bhp electric motor, for a combined output of just over 300bhp. This will allow a plug-in CLE to drive silently when desired and get from 0-62mph in around six seconds. 

Diesel models 

If you often travel long distances, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel could also be worth considering. It’s fitted with a variable turbine geometry turbo that can adapt to work more effectively over a wider range of engine speeds, so it can provide its maximum 440Nm of pulling power from just 1,800rpm.

Interior & comfort

"The CLE's interior is attractive, though some trim pieces don't feel as premium as they could"

Thanks to its shared platform with the C-Class, the CLE doesn’t feel too different from that car inside, which sparks no complaints from us. The driver and front passenger sit in a cocoon-like cabin, separated by a large centre console, with a storage compartment doubling as an armrest. 

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Jet-like air vents arranged across the dashboard add to the visual flair, and everything looks and feels tasteful and upmarket. While buttons have mostly been relegated to the parts bin, there are numerous steering wheel controls for important functions. Ambient lighting with 64 colours sees the cabin come alive when the sun sets, with the comfortable front seats offering heating, cooling and even massaging functions. We had some qualms with the amount of piano-black surfaces used in the CLE, because of their tendency to show fingerprints and the like, and some larger pieces of trim creak a little too much for our liking, especially considering this is a premium model with a price tag to match.

Infotainment and navigation

There’s a 12.3-inch central touchscreen ahead of the centre console and an 11.9-inch driver’s display, both running the latest MBUX infotainment software. While not quite as customisable as some rival systems, it features clear and crisp graphics, with snappy responses thanks to a more powerful new processor. While an abundance of information and configurations meant it was a little daunting to use at first, we found it easy to use after a day or two, even while on the move.

Key features

 

Trim name

AMG Line

  • 18-inch alloy wheels
  • Sports suspension
  • Sporty AMG styling
  • LED headlights with adaptive high-beam
  • Electric folding door mirrors
  • Rain-sensing windscreen wipers
  • Ambient lighting
  • Leather upholstery
  • Reversing camera with parking sensors
  • 11.9-inch infotainment screen
  • 12.3-inch digital driver’s display
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility
  • Wireless device charging
  • Heated front seats

AMG Line Premium

(AMG Line plus...)

  • 19-inch alloy wheels
  • Tinted privacy glass
  • Panoramic sliding roof
  • Adaptive Highbeam Assist Plus (highbeam can individually block out other road users)
  • 360-degree parking camera
  • Augmented reality function for sat nav

AMG Line Premium Plus 

(AMG Premium plus...)

  • 20-inch alloy wheels
  • Air Balance air purification and fragrance system
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Head-up display

Premier Edition

(AMG Line Premium Plus plus...)

  • 20-inch alloy wheels
  • Night Package (black exterior and interior trim and wheels)
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Nappa leather upholstery

Practicality & boot space

“Rear space is decent, so the CLE can prove practical when you need it to be”

The CLE might replace both the C-Class Coupe and E-Class Coupe, but it’s nearer the latter model in terms of size. That’s good news for occupants, and the sort of buyers the CLE is aimed at, who may well want to head off on far-flung adventures or fill the boot with golf clubs.

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Still, adults will need to be reasonably agile to squeeze into the back seats, and anyone approaching six feet tall will find themselves rubbing against the sloping headliner. It’s actually slightly more roomy than the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5 Coupe, though, so it’s not a bad pick if you’re planning on using the rear seats.

Size comparison

Model 

Length

Width

Height

Mercedes CLE

4,850mm

1,860mm

1,428mm

BMW 4 Series

4,794mm

1,852mm

1,383mm

Audi A5 Coupe

4,697mm

1,846mm

1,371mm

Lexus RC

4,710mm

1,845mm

1,390mm

 

Boot space

It’s a bit of a mixed bag here, because while the CLE boasts a 60-litre bigger boot than the outgoing C-Class Coupe, it’s five litres down on the E-Class Coupe. More importantly, its 420-litre volume is smaller than both the A5 Coupe and 4 Series, so if boot space is really vital, you may want to consider one of those cars instead.

Still, 420 litres is hardly small for a stunning coupe, being larger than you’ll find in most family hatchback models that people use as their cars every day of the year. 

Boot space comparison

Model 

Boot space

Mercedes CLE

420 litres

BMW 4 Series

440 litres

Audi A5 Coupe

450 litres

Lexus RC

366 litres

Reliability & safety

“There’s lots of safety equipment, but Mercedes owner satisfaction is in the doldrums”

Mercedes has real pedigree when it comes to safety, so you can expect not only a strong car with lots of crash protection, but also the latest driving aids. Despite being the oldest manufacturer of passenger cars, reliability is a bit more of a thorny issue. While Mercedes’ models are built to a high standard, the manufacturer only came 25th out of 32 brands in our latest Driver Power survey. 

Almost a third of owners (28%) reported a fault within the first year of ownership, with 33% of these caused by electrical issues, 15% citing interior trim problems and 13% reporting engine and safety feature problems. Mercedes scored well for interior design and boot space, but fell down in areas like value for money, servicing and insurance costs.

Safety

As you’d expect from a Mercedes costing over £50,000, there’s lots of kit to keep you out of harm's way. This includes a myriad of sensors that ensure you aren’t drifting out of your lane, or worse, and also keep an eye on you to recommend a break as soon as it senses you’re tired or distracted. It’s not yet known if Euro NCAP will crash test the CLE separately, but it’s reassuring to note the Mercedes C-Class already received a five-star rating in 2022, with an impressive 93% score for adult occupant protection.

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Charlie writes and edits news, review and advice articles for Carbuyer, as well as publishing content to its social media platforms. He has also been a regular contributor to its sister titles Auto Express, DrivingElectric and evo. As well as being consumed by everything automotive, Charlie is a speaker of five languages and once lived in Chile, Siberia and the Czech Republic, returning to the UK to write about his life-long passion: cars.

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