Mercedes CLC 220 CDI SE

Entry-level Mercedes coupé given striking facelift.

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

EVERY motorist has to weigh up the benefits of prestige over price – so at first glance, this entry-level Mercedes coupé will seem like a good compromise. But despite its improved styling, smart interior and generous tally of standard equipment, buyers opting for the new CLC could find they have ended up with the worst of both worlds. When you strip away the sat-nav system, the leather-trimmed seats and the other extras, it’s a lot of money for an old car.

It's the cheapest coupé in Mercedes’ model range. But the new CLC is by no means a budget option – and it has the price tag to prove it!

The diesel-powered 2.2-litre CDI version driven here will set you back just short of £22,300. On the face of it, that’s a large amount to pay for a car which originally went on sale back in 2001 – although buyers still get a lot of Mercedes for their money.

It boasts a striking facelift, bringing the design in line with the latest-generation C-Class. And there is also a range of hi-tech improvements over the outgoing Sports Coupé.

Fresh body panels create a longer nose and boxy rear, giving the car a more aggressive and muscular stance. Smart details such as the brake light LEDs integrated into the tailgate are welcome additions, too.

Inside, the dash has a simple design, and the high-quality soft-touch plastics on display throughout provide a luxury feel. This was enhanced by the optional leather trim on the well bolstered seats in our CLC.

Occupants in the rear benefit from a reasonable amount of legroom, but access could be easier – we banged our head on the ceiling while climbing out, and the long doors are heavy.

The CLC is packed with equipment. Features such as parking sensors and automatic climate control come as standard, while there’s a smart three-spoke multifunction steering wheel, too. Turn the ignition key, however, and all the car’s airs and graces begin to fade. While Mercedes claims that the makeover extends to the engine line-up – which is now said to deliver improved fuel economy and lower emissions – the diesel in our model appeared to be from a different era.

In the low gears it sounded agricultural, drowning out sat-nav instructions and the music we were playing on the comprehensive sound system. This did subside on the motorway, but was replaced by road noise. Our CDI was also fitted with a six-speed manual transmission, yet it didn’t have a particularly slick shift action.

Mercedes’ clever direct-steer system was conspicuous by its absence from our model’s options list. This is included on the Sport variant, and incorporates a variable ratio rack, which adjusts according to the speed and turning angle. Without it, the two-door isn’t as easy as the saloon and estate to place on the road.

The CLC’s conventional set-up is well weighted, but surprisingly vague. And while the dynamics are biased more towards comfort than fun, the car lacks the precision of the class leaders. So in spite of the new look, the driving experience keeps reminding you that this is an ageing design.

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