Looking in the rearview mirror doesn't reveal much about where things are headed. In the case of the 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe, that trap is easy to fall into if you dwell on the outgoing C- and E-class coupes when attempting to make sense of the car that's slated to replace both. The new one doesn't seem to split any sort of difference, until you realize that the C- and E-class sedans that spawned those predecessor coupes are irrelevant. Both date to 2017.
Since then, the C-class was redesigned and enlarged for 2022, entering its fifth generation. A new coupe was not part of the deal, so the two-door carried on with fourth-gen mechanicals. Meanwhile, the old E-class sedan persisted until a redesigned 2024 E-class was recently announced. Again, no coupe for you. With those developments in mind, the emergence of the 2024 CLE explains much about the shuffling going on behind the scenes.
More C Than E
The CLE shares its 112.8-inch wheelbase with the new C-class sedan. It's an inch longer than the outgoing C-class coupe, but well short of the gargantuan 116.6-inch wheelbase of the upcoming E-class. The CLE's overall length of 191.0 inches falls roughly halfway between the two, while its 73.2-inch width hews a bit closer to the E-class. In short, the CLE's dimensions make it a credible tweener, but it rides on the shorter C-class's wheelbase, which makes more sense for a coupe.
Fans of the pillarless E-class coupe will be saddened to learn that the CLE has a door pillar like the C-class coupe. But this doesn't harsh the vibe, as its flanks are smooth and flowing, with subtle fender creases that further elongate the shape. In fact, the "cab backward" description of the fifth-gen C-class sedan is even more apparent here, as the CLE's extra body length makes the hood look considerably longer. All told, there's a hint of AMG GT coupe in the proportions, even though the CLE shares nothing with that high-performance two-seater.
Instead, the underpinnings consist of the same sort of multilink front and rear suspension layouts as the C-class. This gave the CLE poise and balance on a sinuous drive route along the coastal roads of northern Spain. Unfortunately, the C-class similarities don't end there, as it also displayed the same driving-simulator steering and brake feel that we bemoaned during our C300 road test. There's accuracy and predictability in abundance, but the driver feedback loop isn't adequately developed.
We'd like to say the suspension filtered out the rough stuff and took the edge off when the 20-inch Continental tires encountered unpleasant pavement, but we can't. It absolutely accomplished that, but the cars we tested had a Europe-spec calibration with adaptive dampers and rear-wheel steering that we won't see. CLE300 base models in the United States will get passive dampers, while the CLE450 will come with position-sensitive passive dampers as part of a sport suspension setup. Theoretically, these should ride smoother than that sounds when you're driving straight because they will develop less damping when the shocks are near mid-stroke. Time will tell.
Two Engines, One Transmission, 4Matic Only
Under the hood, the base CLE300 has the same uprated turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder first seen in the 2022 C300. It makes 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, the latter representing a 22-lb-ft increase over the old C300. Step up to the CLE450 and you get a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six that makes a cool 375 horsepower and 369 pound-feet. Both engines feature an integrated starter-generator (ISG) that allows the 48-volt hybrid system to add as much as 23 horses and 151 pound-feet at opportune moments. The ISG doesn't bolster either engine's total output, but it does paper over turbo lag and make start-stop episodes virtually unnoticeable.
Neither engine sounds particularly enthralling, but the 450's inline-six motivates the car without hesitation. Mercedes hasn't disclosed the CLE's curb weight or estimated acceleration times, but our test of a 2022 C300 provides a clue. We expect the CLE300's 60-mph time to be no more than a tenth of a second off the 4044-pound C300's 5.3-second effort. As for the CLE450, we reckon it'll be a second quicker. Both varieties will top out at 130 mph, according to Mercedes.
Downstream, there are no choices to make. Each mill comes paired with Benz's nine-speed automatic transmission, and power flows from that into a standard 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Rear-wheel-drive models have been on the coupe menu in the past, but Mercedes isn't ready to say if they'll return. They also won't confirm or deny any subsequent AMG-branded models, but that seems inevitable. One look at AMG's current C-sedan offerings is all it takes to imagine where that's headed.
A Familiar Interior
Inside, the CLE is impressive in terms of design, materials, and the initial impression of the dual-screen layout. It's a huge case of déjà vu, in fact, because the cockpit looks nearly indistinguishable from the 2022 C300 we tested. That car impressed us with its interior craftsmanship, and so does the CLE. But that utter similarity also leads to the same familiar consternation, as there are no switches or knobs in evidence. The central touchscreen is the go-to place for all manner of adjustments, from climate control to drive settings to you name it. Also, the numerous buttons on the steering wheel are all look-alike touch-sensitive zones.
The result is pure lunacy, to the point where we once asked the passenger to change the drive mode so we could keep our eyes on the road in the thick of driving. How's that for voice control? Admittedly, there's more capability in this new third-generation MBUX system than one could master in a day's drive. There are personalization templates, automated AI-powered routines, and a sound and massage "revitalization" utility that pops up if some algorithm thinks you might be tired. Still, the fact that many basic control adjustments are far from self-evident tells you something. But, hey, when parked, it'll let you do TikTok things or play 2009's Angry Birds, so it's all good, right?
The CLE's interior is spatially superior to the old C-class coupe, with more front and rear passenger volume. The biggest gains are a nearly one-inch gain in front legroom and shoulder room and over two inches of added rear legroom. Trunk volume is up too, but the extra back-seat space and luggage capacity still don't make this a long-distance proposition for four.
Mercedes won't announce pricing information until closer to the car's early-2024 release date, but our extrapolations suggest the 2024 CLE300 might start around $60,000, while the CLE450 could go for about $75,000. Is blending two coupes into one the right move? It would seem so, as the coupe market continues to shrink while the E-class sedan itself grows larger. But we're not quite convinced that the CLE coupe has the right combination of ingredients. Ultimately, our take will depend on how well U.S.-spec models perform on familiar soil.
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