Shropshire Star

First drive: The Mercedes CLE Cabriolet has arrived just in time for summer – but is it better than its rivals?

The old C-Class and CLK Cabriolets were a byword for comfort, hi-tech and luxury open-top cruising – can the new topless CLE keep up that reputation?

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What is it?

The CLE replaces the old C-Class Coupe and Cabriolet models. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

The CLE replaces the C-Class coupe and now Mercedes has decided to chop the roof off it to make it attractive to those who want the wind in the hair experience. Essentially a successor to the old C-Class Cabriolet, the CLE Cabriolet is directly competing with the convertible versions of the BMW 4-Series and Audi A5.

Designed to offer four-seater luxury with the ability to travel longer distances, the CLE Cabriolet has been created by Mercedes to be refined, comfortable and above all, engaging to drive. That’s the intention, anyway, which is why we’ve headed to sunny Tenerife to see what it’s all about.

What’s new?

The AirCap system has been redesigned to allow air to flow higher over the car to reduce wind noise. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

The Cabriolet version of the CLE, like the coupe model, has a new exterior design with a more curved and swooping body compared with the C-Class models it replaces, while a longer wheelbase – with an extra 164mm over its predecessor – aims to make the interior more spacious for everyone aboard.

The fabric hood has been designed to stand up to the very harshest of weather. This is down to an insulated multi-layered soft top, which can be operated at speeds of up to 37mph and takes 20 seconds to be lowered and raised. Plus, a new and improved ‘AirCap’ system located in the top frame of the windscreen allows the air to flow over the car at greater height to reduce drag and wind noise.

What’s under the bonnet?

We drove the predicted best-seller being the CLE300. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

A range of engines are on offer for the CLE Cabriolet including two 2.0-litre in-line four cylinders in the CLE200 and CLE300. A 2.0-litre diesel, meanwhile, is found on the CLE220 D and the top-of-the-line CLE450 comes with a 3.0-litre in-line six petrol.

Mild-hybrid technology comes as standard on all versions to help improve efficiency, economy and CO2 emissions.

Our test car was the CLE300 which came with a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder that produces 261bhp and 400Nm of torque – with emissions and fuel economy figures of 167g/km of CO2 and 38.2mpg. Mercedes quotes a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds, too.

What’s it like to drive?

We drove the predicted best-seller, which was the CLE300 and although the power is plentiful, it’s let down by a hesitant automatic gearbox and steering that lacks feel. That said, standard-fit four-wheel-drive helped inspire confidence in the bends and will certainly be a welcome attribute back in the wet and wild UK.

However, there is no denying that the CLE is a heavy car – weighing in at 1,985kg. So on a twisty road, it feels a little bit out of its comfort zone, with the car wallowing when exiting a corner. Thankfully, the CLE fits the role of the comfortable cruiser well with the suspension doing a great job of absorbing any lumps and bumps in the road. Combine that with an engine which is quiet and sedate at speed and you have a drop-top which feels well-suited to sweeping bends in the sun.

How does it look?

The design is more curvaceous than before. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

To our eyes at least, the CLE Cabriolet is a very elegant and svelte-looking car with lots of free-flowing lines. Although similar to the coupe version, the CLE will definitely go down well for those who want to pose on the city streets.

The design of the CLE is nothing out of the ordinary with other Mercedes aesthetics and that’s no bad thing as it keeps the firm’s traditional image of class and luxury all rolled into one.

The new design makes the new car more modern and the rear tail lights that merge into the rear hatch area are a nice touch. It’s just a shame that Mercedes still designs fake-looking exhaust tailpipe exits at the rear which makes the car look cheap.

What’s it like inside?

The CLE has a very upmarket feel, with lots of soft touch materials. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

Inside the CLE there are plenty of good points, with soft plastics used throughout and the infotainment screen was clear and easy to use. It can even be angled towards the driver further when in direct sunlight.

The space in the back was good with an ample amount of legroom and headroom wasn’t too bad with the roof up while boot space was also impressive at 385 litres – which is the same as the BMW 4-Series and five litres more than the Audi A5.

One good point to make is the climate control settings are always present on the infotainment display. They may not have the mechanical feel of direct buttons, but it’s an improvement instead of burying them into the infotainment display and ensures that you can quickly and easily adjust the temperature inside the car. Furthermore, other standard features of the new CLE feature Mercedes’ AirScarf allowing warm air to blow onto the necks of the passengers to keep them warm in colder months.

What’s the spec like?

The AirScarf system comes as standard. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

The CLE Cabriolet is available in four different flavours for British buyers with the entry-level AMG Line starting at £53,030 and rising to £61,280 for the Premier Edition.

The car we drove was the equivalent of the UK specced AMG Line Premium which starts at £58,780.

As standard it features ambient lighting, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, keyless entry and start, heated and ventilated front seats, 20-inch alloy wheels, a sports steering wheel with Nappa leather and blind spot monitoring.


The CLE Cabriolet is still a great all-rounder for those looking for a comfortable four seat convertible. (Credit: Mercedes-Benz Media)

The CLE Cabriolet was not designed to be a B road basher or a track day toy for the driving enthusiast. Instead, it’s been set up to be a relaxing cruiser for those sunny road trips down to the south of France. It also has usable back seats and a bigger boot than the Audi A5 cabriolet making it practical and a genuine four-seater.

Also, thanks to standard mild-hybrid technology, the CLE Cabriolet will be a lot cheaper to run than the old C-Class Cabriolet.

Although it’s not revolutionary, the drop-top version of the CLE is still a great choice for those wanting a usable yet premium four-seater cabriolet with that three-pointed star pedigree.

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