2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE-Class First Drive: When One Coupe Is Better Than Two

The 2024 CLE-Class is a brand-new vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, yet at the same time, it's totally a blast from the past. The CLE is really just a smooshing-together of Mercedes' two-door C-Class and E-Class models, making it a modern interpretation of the dearly departed CLK.

Like the CLK, which was discontinued way back in 2010, the new CLE will be offered in both coupe and convertible body styles. The hardtop launches first, with U.S. deliveries kicking off in early 2024, while the convertible — which we've seen in photos but will have to wait a little longer to actually drive — will arrive a few months later, just in time for summer. Pricing won't be announced for a while, but it's fair to expect the 2024 CLE to start somewhere in the $55,000 to $60,000 range, effectively splitting the difference between the current C-Class and E-Class coupes that were both axed from the line-up recently.

CLE-Class by the numbers

At 191 inches long, the CLE is actually a little bit bigger than today's E-Class coupe. Its 73.2-inch width is a skosh broader, too, and in top-spec CLE 450 4MATIC guise this two-door will almost certainly have a similar heft to the discontinued E 450 4MATIC coupe: figure roughly 4,300 pounds. An official curb weight — as well as other specs like fuel economy and 0-to-60-mph acceleration times — are unavailable as of this writing.

The 2024 CLE coupe is half an inch shorter in height compared to the E's coupe, but its trunk is quite a bit larger. Mercedes-Benz says the CLE has 12.6 cubic feet of storage space — a nice increase over the C-Class' 10.5 cubic feet and the E-Class' 10.0 cubes — and I can confirm that this two-door can haul a pair of carry-on suitcases and two backpacks with room to spare. Not bad.

Generally speaking, I think the CLE looks pretty nice, with elegant lines and clean body surfacing. If I could request one change, though, it'd be for the CLE to use the same pillarless design as the E-Class coupe: a design trait Mercedes has long used on its two-door models. Being able to roll the front and rear windows down with no break between them is just so freakin' cool. 

Two doors, two engines

All U.S.-spec CLE-Class coupes come standard with mild-hybrid power, as well as Mercedes' 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system. Our friends in Europe have access to rear-wheel-drive CLEs, as well as a diesel-powered version, but neither is planned for North America. We'll definitely be getting the upcoming Mercedes-AMG CLE 63, however. Expect that one to use the same firecracker powertrain as the new AMG C 63 E-Performance.

The base CLE 300 4MATIC gets the same 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 as the C-Class, making 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A 48-volt integrated starter-generator can send a supplemental 23 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque to the wheels for brief bursts, aiding with initial acceleration while the turbo spools up. This extra electrical assist allows the engine's stop-start system to be used more liberally, as well.

You'll find that same 48-volt system mated to the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 in the CLE 450 4MATIC, which adds to that engine's plentiful 375 hp and 369 lb-ft. Regardless of engine, the CLE has a nine-speed automatic transmission that's unremarkable in the best way. Smart and smooth, the best thing about this gearbox is that it fades into the background.

But which engine is best?

The effortless power delivery of the inline-six really seems best suited to the CLE-Class — it's reminiscent of the outgoing E 450 coupe, a car I always loved for its on-road serenity above all. The 48-volt tech, combined with plentiful low-end torque delivery, means you can roll into the throttle for easy-peasy accelerating while passing slower-moving traffic. Careful, though: While laying into the gas ekes out a nice rush of power, it's accompanied by synthetic engine noise piped through the stereo, and wow, does it sound bad.

On the Spanish autovía between Bilbao and San Sebastián, the CLE 450 4MATIC is a doll — smooth and surefooted, and oh so comfortable. It really feels like the sort of coupe you could drive for hours and hours, with only the gas tank (or your bladder) dictating pit stops.

Problem is, should you decide to venture off the beaten path and hit a curvy mountain road or two, the CLE 450 loses its luster. The engine's still good, that doesn't change, but the coupe's light and numb steering, wafty body motions and mushy brakes definitely don't encourage you to drive with gusto. Switching from the CLE 450's Comfort setting to Sport doesn't make a noticeable difference, either. And do note: These impressions come after driving a European-spec car with agility enhancements like adaptive dampers and 2.5-degree rear-axle steering, options we Americans will not be getting.

Because of the CLE's relaxed nature, the smaller 2.0-liter inline-4 starts to make a lot more sense. This coupe doesn't want to be hustled, so while the larger 3.0-liter engine is nice, it's not like you'll really be able to make the most of that power. For 99% of owners 99% of the time, I can't imagine the four-cylinder engine will disappoint. If you want a fun-to-drive CLE, best wait for the AMG.

E-Class size, C-Class trimmings

While the new 2024 E-Class sedan can be had with Mercedes' dash-spanning Hyperscreen infotainment setup and a separate passenger-side display, neither such technology is found in the CLE. That's because the CLE's cabin is pretty much ripped straight from the C-Class sedan — which isn't necessarily a bad thing, for the most part.

Soft leather seats will hold you in place and everything on the dash and doors looks premium. Touch some of those surfaces, however, and evidence of cost-cutting starts to rear its head. Plastic trim on the center console feel flimsy and hollow, while the large glossy panel that makes up the bulk of the dash creaks when pressed, and its top edge is surprisingly sharp. I'd normally chalk this up to my CLE test car being a pre-production model, but I've experienced similar issues in other new Mercedes-Benz products.

Still, the cabin certainly makes a good first impression, what with its bajillion-color ambient lighting and interesting-looking color schemes. All but the tallest drivers and passengers will be able to get comfortable inside the CLE, though I wouldn't ask anyone you care about to sit in the cramped rear seats. It's pretty tight back there.

Updated MBUX tech

All CLEs have a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and an 11.9-inch central display. The MBUX infotainment suite continues to impress with its broad feature set and quick processing speeds, and I really like the revised menu layout, which features larger, more colorful icons, though I think it's a little silly that you can now have access to TikTok, Zoom and — sigh — Angry Birds right on your multimedia screen. (Not for use while driving, natch.) 

Mercedes' augmented reality navigation overlays are useful for finding exactly which little Spanish alleyway has the shop with the best selection of ham, and if you'd rather forego the native nav altogether, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connect wirelessly.

You can option the CLE with a whole bunch of driver-assistance features, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, a 360-degree camera system — the usual. It all works intuitively, and you can easily deactivate the systems that annoy you.

CLE is the CLK reborn

When it arrives at U.S. dealerships next year, the 2024 CLE-Class' closest rivals will be the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series, as well as the often-forgotten-about Lexus RC. Larger coupes, like the BMW 8 Series and the Lexus LC could also be considered competitors, but then again those cars cost tens of thousands of dollars more.

The personal luxury coupe segment definitely isn't as robust as it used to be, so it makes sense that Mercedes-Benz merged its two-door C-Class and E-Class models. Mercedes-Benz can now offer one all-encompassing coupe, rather than trying to make space in its lineup for two — and somehow explain to potential buyers which to consider of two models that had drifted closer and closer together over time. Indeed, it almost makes me wonder just how the CLK might've evolved, had Mercedes never broken it up into two offerings in the first place.