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Road tests

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet 2024 review: classy drop-top with more polish than pace

Filling the gap left by the old C-Class and E-Class cabriolets, the CLE is a well-rounded option let down slightly by its four-cylinder engine range

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

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Verdict

There’s plenty to like with the Mercedes CLE Cabriolet; its well-appointed cabin and decent cruising refinement stand out. But even with mild-hybrid assistance, the four-cylinder engine in the CLE 300 can’t quite deliver the sort of effortless performance that a car like the CLE Cabrio deserves. If you really want that, you’ll need a CLE 450 – and deeper pockets.

The market for convertibles has never been a major focus for car buyers – but in recent years open-topped cars have become even more of a niche purchase. That hasn’t escaped the notice of Mercedes-Benz, which has taken the decision to amalgamate its E-Class and C-Class Cabriolets into a single model, much as it has done with the equivalent coupés. Say hello to the Mercedes CLE Cabriolet.

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We were reasonably impressed by the new creation when we drove it abroad in the spring, but now it’s our first chance to see how it stacks up in the UK – and in the suitably changeable conditions of one of the least summery summers of recent years. 

Here’s a quick recap first. The Mercedes CLE mixes the front end of the E-Class with the rear of the C-Class, and gets its cabin from the second of those models. It’s being offered with a choice of petrol and diesel power, and almost all of the range is based on four-cylinder motors. There’s the CLE 200 petrol and CLE 220d (201bhp/320Nm and 194bhp/320Nm respectively), and for those who want a bit more punch, the CLE 300 that we’re driving here. It still features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, complete with mild-hybrid assistance, but its more aggressive state of tune delivers 255bhp and 400Nm of torque. It gets 4MATIC+ four-wheel drive, too, while retaining the same nine-speed automatic gearbox as the rest of the line-up.

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There is still a six-cylinder offering, with a turbocharged straight-six motor that produces a whopping 375bhp and 500Nm. Regardless of engine, all CLE Cabriolets have a fabric roof that can open or close in 20 seconds, and at speeds of up to 37mph. They carry a pretty heavy premium over their equivalent coupés, too; Merc wants you to pay more than six grand extra for the ability to lift the lid.

The CLE 300’s engine numbers sound promising enough on paper, and the official 0-62mph time is no disgrace either, at 6.6 seconds. But in reality, it’ll only take a few good acceleration blasts for you to realise that the extra two driven wheels, and the drop-top reinforcement, have resulted in a vehicle that weighs one well-stuffed wallet shy of two tonnes.

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That’s not to say that the CLE 300 is desperately slow, but rather that its engine sounds a bit thrashy if you really want it to maintain rapid cross-country progress. At a gentle 50mph cruise it fades away nicely, allowing you to appreciate the excellent roof-up refinement. But getting up to that speed in any sort of hurry will expose Merc’s four-cylinder engine, which has never been the smoothest or most sonorous of creations, and isn’t here either.

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We briefly tried a CLE 450 and it’s a remarkably different beast, with oodles of torque and a fabulously creamy, smooth power delivery that feels far more in keeping with what is meant, roof up or down, to be a sumptuous four-seater. Then again, it does cost more than £15k extra.

The Mercedes CLE doesn’t feature air suspension but in the AMG Premium Plus spec of our test vehicle, it does sit 15mm lower and get a more focused set-up. We’d argue that this isn’t exactly necessary in a car that doesn’t have much in the way of sporty character (or, frankly, the performance to back it up). But the CLE 300 does handle neatly, with decent resistance to ripply road surfaces mixed with sensibly weighted steering and body control that’s not exemplary but is more than fit for purpose.

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The cabin is closer to the mark than the engine, really, for while Merc’s glitzy dashboard backlighting and materials may not be to everyone’s tastes, there’s no denying the quality of tech and finish here. All versions of the CLE Cabrio get a 12.3-inch fully digital driver’s display, along with a portrait-layout 11.9-inch central infotainment panel, whose angle can be adjusted (as in the latest SL) to help avoid glare. 

That’s just as well, of course, because it does control many key functions, as well as housing the augmented reality-enhanced navigation system, which flicks to a camera view with dynamic arrows pointing you into the right road at junctions. It’s neat, though we remain unsure of the merit of actually encouraging you to look away from the road ahead, precisely at the point when you should be focusing on the next manoeuvre. 

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Far more useful are the Airscarfs – Mercedes speak for ventilated headrests that warm the back of your neck if you’re driving in open-topped mode on a cooler day. It was barely 12 degrees when we were behind the wheel, so we’re happy to attest to the fact that the Airscarfs work well, as do the heated seats (also standard in AMG Line Premium Plus versions). 

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The roof-down refinement is impressive too, thanks to an extendable header rail and a pop-up wind deflector directly behind the seats (called AIRCAP by Mercedes). With these elements deployed, you can be travelling at a fair rate of knots and still find yourself able to talk to passengers without having to yell across the cabin.

Speaking of your travelling companions, there’s space in the back for two modest-sized adults, but taller individuals are likely to grumble about where to put their feet, and it’s hard to get in or out with any more than a modicum of grace. Headroom feels a little confined, too. This view may be influenced, though, by which of the car’s indirect predecessors is being used for context; there is a bit more space in the second row than in the previous C-Class Cabriolet, for example.

The boot capacity is 385 litres, about the same as in many a family hatchback – although this does shrink to 295 litres when the roof is folded down, so if you’re planning a long run to the south of France, you’re going to need to either compromise how many swimsuits you bring or stick with air-conditioned, roof-up comfort until you’ve dropped off the bags at your destination.

Model:Mercedes CLE 300 4MATIC Cabriolet AMG Line Premium Plus
Price:£63,780
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbocharged petrol
Power/torque:255bhp/400Nm
Transmission:Nine-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:6.6 seconds
Top speed:155mph
Economy:38.2mpg
CO2 emissions:167g/km
Size (L/W/H):4,850/2,042/1,423mm
On sale:Now
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Editor-at-large

John started journalism reporting on motorsport – specifically rallying, which he had followed avidly since he was a boy. After a stint as editor of weekly motorsport bible Autosport, he moved across to testing road cars. He’s now been reviewing cars and writing news stories about them for almost 20 years.

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