From £46,6058

Merc's amalgamated mid-sized coupé puts richness and refinement ahead of any dynamic cutting edge

Picturing a mid-sized Mercedes luxury coupé like the new Mercedes-Benz CLE may not feel like an especially modern thing to do - but, without putting your mind to it, you’ll likely come up with plenty of options. A bluff but lovely 1980s ‘W123’ SE-Class, perhaps; a marginally curvier 1990s ‘W124’; or even a popular noughties-era CLK Kompressor.

Over the decades, Mercedes has spoilt us for choice with these extra-desirable two-door GT cruisers. And yet, rather sadly, it can no longer afford to. A consolidation process of the company’s combustion-engined offerings has been creeping quietly forwards for a while now, as Mercedes finds the R&D cash it needs for its electrified models by cutting others. It robbed us of a replacement for the pretty ‘C217’ S-Class Coupé as long ago as 2020, and it has now cut the firm’s smaller coupé and cabriolet model by half.

Mercedes UK has yet to announce equipment levels, and how much you need to spend to get a car with four-wheel steering – but if you want a car with much of a sense of agility, it’ll be worth having.

So instead of individual replacements for both C- and E-Class two-doors, we get this new CLE. Based on the same model platform as both the C- and E-Class families, it’s intended to answer the desire of owners of the last-generation C-Class Coupé for a more spacious cabin, as well as that of owners of the outgoing E-Class Coupé for a slightly sportier and more engaging drive.

mercedes cle review 202302 panning

Built at Mercedes’ own Bremen factory - alongside the Mercedes-AMG SL convertible, no less - the Mercedes-Benz CLE launches in the UK market later in 2023 as a fixed-head coupé, and then as a cloth-top cabriolet in 2024. 

At launch, the coupé will be offered in the UK market with a choice of four- and six-cylinder mild-hybridised turbo petrol engines (CLE 300 and 450, both with 4Matic four-wheel drive), but not as the cheaper, rear-driven CLE 200 petrol, nor the CLE 220d four-cylinder diesel, which Mercedes will produce for markets other than ours. The very existence of the CLE 450, meanwhile, confirms that there must be some E-Class under the skin of the CLE - because the current C-Class was famously the first car of its particular lineage to be designed for no engine larger than four cylinders. 

The CLE is actually a smidgeon longer than the outgoing E-Class two-door, with a clearer sense of elongated elegance about its proportions than the last, more cutesy C-Class Coupé had. It looks a little 'generic mid-sized Merc' – but I liked it.

Mercedes is working on a CLE 300e plug-in hybrid derivative for introduction in a year or so, but it’ll be a coupé-only powertrain when it comes. Although AMG performance versions are expected too, confirmation of their particular form remains to be made.

And so 4Matic four-wheel drive becomes a de facto standard offering on UK versions of the car. Engines mount in classic front, longitudinal fashion, with coil suspension and conventional steering fitted as standard; and adaptively damped suspension, with four-wheel steering, the preserve of upper-level models. Unlike on bigger Mercedes models, air suspension isn’t offered.


Merc cle driving shot

So to the first order of business: is this car more pumped-up C-Class or slimmed-down E-Class in its presence, layout and general character? At the kerb, you might expect the former, because of its sheer size.

But on the inside, the CLE’s fascia is obviously C-Class-derived. You may have already clocked the quartic, high-level air vents, the tapering fascia panel, and the glossy black union of centre stack and transmission tunnel that all give the game away, where perhaps you’d hoped to see the E-Class’s wider- and more expansive-looking fascia.

The lower fascia plastics lack the tactile material quality you’d expect of an E-Class, too, with just a hint of hard, reflective cheapness about them - although, as usual, Mercedes seeks to draw your attention away with its typical, top-level razzle-dazzle chrome and gloss carbonfibre. The overall ambience is rich enough, though it’s not as widely or pervasively lavish and expensive-feeling as some may expect.

But then there’s all of the car’s digital technology to consider - among which is the new E-Class’s third-generation, portrait-orientated MBUX infotainment system, which gets a more powerful processor, a simplified top-level menu system with bigger menu icons, and fully integrated and connected Android app-based compatibility with the likes of TikTok, Webex and Zoom (I didn’t have a chance to test them all, but trust that the video conferencing apps work only when the car’s parked). The revised home screen layout, meanwhile, offers a marked improvement on simplified usability.

So while E-Class Coupé owners might not find material quality levels commensurate with their old car in the CLE, they’ll certainly find the digital technology on which Mercedes so squarely trades these days. Decent usable space too. Up front, elbow and head room feel fairly generous even for taller adults, and in the back, you’ll need to be a smaller adult or child to be comfortable for any length of time - but even that is progress from where the decidedly pokey precious C-Class Coupé left off, and probably marginally beats the four-seat practicality of key rivals (Audi A5 CoupéBMW 4-Series Coupé).


Although notably plainer-sounding than the straight-six CLE 450, the four-cylinder CLE 300 4Matic is likely to dominate the UK sales mix, and while it does lack the more seductive audible richness of its sibling model, it doesn’t want for good mechanical isolation, easy drivablity or respectable outright performance. 

There’s only a distant four-cylinder rasp about the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, audible most at idle and when revving beyond 3500rpm. It’s not quite the soundtrack you expect of a car like this, but it’s an awfully long way from harsh or unpleasant.

Mercedes’ improved mild-hybrid drive assistance (it can now supply up to 23bhp and 151lb ft of boost, mostly as torque fill while the engine is off boost at low revs) doesn’t allow the car to run engine-off much. But it does enable meaningful, accessible roll-on performance in give-and-take traffic, and often seems to keep the nine-speed automatic gearbox from downshifting under part-throttle acceleration. The car doesn’t exactly feel urgent at full power, especially when revving above 4000rpm, but it’ll be quick enough for buyers who’ve probably turned down sportier options in any case in favour of a more classically Mercedes luxury dynamic vibe.

The CLE 450, meanwhile, feels surprising brisk on the road: torquey and responsive from lowish revs, but also considerably keener to rev than the four-pot CLE 300 - and much sweeter on the ear. The straight six’s greater richness of performance is actually what customers will be paying for, you’d imagine. And digitally enhanced or not, the 3.0-litre unit really does sound quite blue-blooded, and it’s predictably smooth-revving and enticing even in its milder moments.


CLE buyers will get what they’re likely to be expecting in the car’s supple ride. We tested the CLE in AMG Line Premium trim, on 20in wheels and with Mercedes’ optional adaptive sports suspension fitted (passive, frequency-selective sports suspension will be standard on UK cars, and four-wheel steering as an option). 

A simple menu of drive modes combining powertrain, driveline, suspension, stability control and steering calibration offers you Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual settings. In Comfort, the car rides gently and with a hint of wafting suppleness, tripping up only over sharper edges that bite through what protection is afforded by the car’s low-profile tyres. 

Sport mode adds enough steering weight and body control to let you hurry the car along with plenty of precision and assurance when you want to and delivers clearer high-speed composure than the loping old E-Class Coupé had. It stops short of introducing much distinguishing cornering balance or handling athleticism into the driving experience but, without compromising the car’s comfort levels much or making it much more demanding to drive, it may be just the right dynamic compromise for the car’s target market.

Refinement of the sort you’d expect of a luxury car at the price of the upper-level CLE 450 is a fairly strong suit for the car, although not quite exceptionally so. On 20in wheels, the ride is isolated, comfortable and quiet over most kinds of asphalt, although the very coarsest can begin to rumble and roar its way into the cabin occasionally. 

The CLE 450 isn’t any different from the CLE 300 in respect of its comfort-first dynamic agenda and doesn’t feel any firmer-set. It can provide creditable handling precision and body control at speed and lots of grip and stability, although few would mistake it for a true sports car.

mercedes cle review 202301 tracking front

Mercedes-Benz UK’s prices for the CLE hadn’t been set at the time of writing, but are likely to extend upwards from around £55,000 for a CLE 300 4Matic to a little short of £70,000 for a fully loaded CLE 450. The 2024 CLE 300e PHEV is likely to slot in somewhere in between, while any Mercedes-AMG performance versions will join the range higher up.

For economy, lab-test WLTP efficiency in the high-30s is claimed for the CLE 300, and in the mid-30s for the CLE 450, the car’s mild-hybrid electrification narrowing the efficiency penalty for the more powerful derivative of the two. In mixed-road testing on Mercedes' European press launch, the CLE 450 returned around 32mpg, and the CLE 300 around 37mpg.

The tax-qualifying credentials of the forthcoming CLE 300e plug-in hybrid have yet to be announced.


Mercedes cle review 202320 static front 0

In seeking to amalgamate the customer bases of two distinct predecessor models, the Mercedes-Benz CLE was always likely to leave some owners wanting more. But in practice, in its understated prioritisation of luxurious dynamic qualities over sporting ones, as well as with its decent four-seat usability, desirability and kerbside appeal, it feels like a particularly traditional kind of Mercedes has come along at a time when there may be considerable appetite for one.

While the four-cylinder CLE 300 offers a balance of drivability, refinement, efficiency and value that should return it a deserved place at the heart of the car’s UK sales mix, the CLE 450 has a greater richness and potency about its driving experience that plenty will justify paying extra for.

Although there’s more of the C-Class about how this car looks inside and out, then, there are certainly clear notes of the E-Class about how the CLE rides, handles and performs. Think of it as one of the segment’s more practical, comfortable options, a car that meets a mature, laid-back, boulevardier-style brief rather well. Without quite hitting the luxurious high notes of some of its famous predecessors, it should easily find a home in a coupé market made of up of rivals of more sporting priorities.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.