Mercedes CLE 450 Cabriolet First Drive Review: Best luxury convertible for most drivers

Mercedes CLE 450 Cabriolet First Drive Review: Best luxury convertible for most drivers

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TENARIFE, Canary Islands – There's nothing quite like going for a leisurely, top-down drive. Sadly, convertibles continue to disappear from showrooms as shoppers' appetite for SUVs seems to be insatiable. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, Mercedes-Benz has consolidated two of its previous models into one. The previous-generation C-Class and E-Class were both offered as coupes or convertibles, but this time around, the two-door offerings are covered by a single, new Mercedes-Benz CLE arriving in showrooms this spring.

In terms of size, the CLE is about an inch longer than the last E-Class Cabrio and 6.5 inches longer than the previous drop-top C-Class. Pricing effectively splits the difference between its predecessors. The entry-level CLE 300 4Matic Cabriolet starts at $65,500 (including $1,150 in destination fees), or about $5,000 more than the old C 300 4Matic Cabriolet. The more powerful CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet starts at an even $75,000, or about $5,000 less than the old E 450 4Matic Cabriolet. There will not be a convertible version of the AMG CLE 53 Coupe we’ll be driving in the coming weeks.


The CLE 300 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, while the CLE 450 goes with a 3.0-liter turbo inline six that's good for 375 hp and 369 lb-ft. Both are paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that adds up to 23 hp and 151 lb-ft through an integrated starter/generator. A nine-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and both versions exclusively send power to all four wheels.

Styling-wise, the new CLE represents an evolution of current Mercedes-Benz themes. The grille could easily be mistaken for almost any sedan in the lineup, though around the back, the taillights are joined in the middle with a black plastic trim element. The familiarity isn't a bad thing as it still exudes class, luxury and refinement. As an all-new model, though, I expected just a little more pizzazz.

I was handed the keys to a lovely CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet to drive around Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. Right off the bat, I was impressed by the CLE's startup. With the top down, I barely noticed the engine spring to life after tapping the start button. There was almost no shudder or sound, making me question if it was indeed running. This quiet start is a result of the 48-volt hybrid system, and it's been optimized for this kind of smoothness.

Setting off on the highways and narrow roads, my shoulder-length hair wasn't being tousled nearly as much as it is in any of the convertibles I've owned over the past three decades. Even at 60 mph, I was able to hold a conversation with my passenger without having to raise my voice. That’s impressive, but the real test is to deploy Mercedes' latest Aircap wind deflector system to see how that affects buffeting.

With a lift of a toggle on the center console, a mesh screen rises from behind the rear headrests while the windows rise to create an insulating bubble around me. Out of my sight, a narrow strip of wing also rises atop the windshield with a thin mesh material spanning the gap. What little turbulence that was present before was reduced to barely a breeze. This is as calm an experience I've had in any convertible. Full stop.

Calmness also applies to the way the CLE 450 drives. It accelerates with confidence, and Mercedes claims it will reach 60 mph in only 4.2 seconds. The CLE 300 should take another two seconds. Power delivery is smooth and plentiful, though the muffled engine sounds more like an inline-four than an inline-six. The brakes feel trustworthy and are easy to modulate and bring to a smooth limo stop.

Although the 450 comes standard with the adaptive "Sport" suspension that’s an option on the 300, it is primarily tuned for comfortable touring, and in this application, it seems perfectly matched. Bumps and ruts are barely acknowledged, and the CLE corners with grace and composure. It doesn't encourage you to charge hard into the next bend, but it does give you the confidence to swerve out of the way of debris if needed. At no point did the CLE feel like a smaller vehicle than it is, as its wide stance and roomy cabin were constant reminders that this is a big car. That said, it will perform on a higher level than the vast majority of drivers will ever desire.