Mercedes-Benz officially confirms the CLE name for the upcoming successor to its existing C- and E-Class coupe and cabriolet models.
To be revealed in coupe form in July, prior to the planned start of North American sales in 2024, the 2-door model forms part of a plan by the German automaker to consolidate its traditional internal-combustion-engine model lineup on the back of increased investment and engineering focus in all-electric models.
Alongside the CLE coupe, Mercedes-Benz is also set to launch the CLE cabriolet featuring a traditional fabric roof next year.
The decision to merge the C- and E-Class coupe and cabriolet lineups into a single CLE coupe and cabriolet lineup was made as long ago as 2019, says the new model’s head of overall testing, Christof Kühner.
“We asked current C-Class coupe owners what they expected from a successor model. The overwhelming answer was ‘greater luxury.’ E-Class coupe owners, on the other hand, said they wanted ‘a more sporting driving character.’ We’ve attempted to imbue these qualities into a single model, the CLE,” Kühner tells Wards.
The strategy was inspired by the decision taken by Mercedes-Benz with the CLK back in 1997. Based on the second-generation C-Class, it was pitched as a replacement for the long-established E-Class coupe and remained in production until 2010 across two model generations, before the launch of individual C- and E-Class coupe and cabriolet models.
The basis for the new coupe and cabriolet pairing is the Modular Rear Architecture (MRA) platform – a high-strength steel and aluminum structure also used by the C-, E- and S-Class sedans among other Mercedes-Benz models. It has been modified to provide the CLE with its own unique wheelbase.
The exterior styling builds on that of the existing E-Class coupe with a sporting silhouette (pictured, below) featuring a long hood, heavily curved roofline, curvaceous C-pillar treatment, a heavily angled rear window and sloping trunk lid within a rounded rear end.
Design elements hidden beneath the camouflage of the prototype include a so-called shark nose at the front end. Farther back are two power domes within the hood, prominent haunches over the rear wheels and a tapered glasshouse. Wheels range in dimension from 18 to 20 ins. on standard CLE models, with larger wheels set to be offered on AMG models planned for launch next year.
Dimensions are yet to be revealed, though Kühner says the CLE is longer than the C-Class coupe with a footprint slightly smaller than the E-Class coupe it also replaces.
Inside, the dashboard and associated trim elements borrow heavily from the latest C-Class sedan and wagon with separate digital instrument and infotainment displays. The front seats offer substantial support in the backrest and integrated headrests as well as electric adjustment as standard. As tradition dictates, there’s also a belt assist mechanism for the front seatbelts.
Kühner says changes to the floorpan and design of the center tunnel have expanded space within the front footwells compared to those of the outgoing E-Class coupe.
Like the now-discontinued second-generation C-Class coupe, the CLE coupe receives a B-pillar – something the E-Class coupe did without. However, the front seats do motor forward to provide a reasonable aperture through which to climb. Accommodation in the rear is similar to that of the C-Class coupe: snug rather than roomy owing to the low seat, high waistline and heavy curvature of the roof.
The third-generation MBUX operating system for the portrait-style infotainment display receives similar updates and menus to those brought to the new E-Class sedan. Mercedes-Benz will offer the CLE with Level 2 automated driving assistant system technology. Options include a head-up display unit and panoramic glass roof.
The engine lineup for the CLE coupe won’t be announced until closer to introduction, though Wards can confirm it will initially consist of 2.0L 4-cyl. and 3.0L 6-cyl. gasoline units, together with a 2.0L 4-cyl. diesel for European markets – all featuring 48V electrification and mild-hybrid properties.
The 4-cyl. gas engine will also form the basis of a gasoline-electric plug-in hybrid-powered CLE model in combination with a gearbox-mounted electric motor delivering up to 120 hp, according to Kühner.
As in the existing C- and E-Class lineups, all engines are mated to a standard 9-speed automatic gearbox. Overall, there are four driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual.
Buyers will be able to choose between standard rear- and optional all-wheel drive with the 4-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, with the 6-cyl. gasoline engine set to be combined with Mercedes-Benz’s 4Matic all-wheel drive system as standard. The plug-in hybrid will be sold exclusively with rear-wheel drive.
As with the earlier C- and E-Class coupe and cabriolet, there will also be selected AMG-engineered CLE models. The existence of a 6-cyl. gasoline engine in standard CLE models hints at a possible plug-in hybrid CLE53 4Matic E-Performance model. Mercedes-Benz is holding back on details right now.
Information about the U.S. engine lineup is expected to be revealed next month.
As part of engineering efforts to provide it with the agility to match its sporting looks, Mercedes-Benz will offer the 2-door with optional rear steering and up to 2.5 degrees of rear steer angle. It operates in combination with front steering with a nominal ratio of 13.8:1.
The CLE will be produced exclusively at Mercedes-Benz’s Bremen plant in Germany for all markets.
First Ride: Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe
Where there were four models, now there are two. That’s the upshot of Mercedes-Benz’s decision to replace the C- and E-Class coupe and cabriolet with the CLE coupe and cabriolet.
An initial ride in a low-mileage validation prototype on ultra-smooth surfaced roads around Mercedes-Benz’s factory in Sindelfingen, Germany, reveals the 2-door does not stray too far in character from the two models it succeeds.
There are a lot of C-Class sedan and wagon styling cues inside. But a lower-set front seating position provides the CLE coupe with a more sporting feel than its 4-door sibling from the passenger seat.
Perceived quality has been improved over the old C- and E-Class coupe and cabriolet, as is the operation of the infotainment system, which works with the latest incarnation of the Mercedes-Benz MBUX operating system, bringing faster reaction times and greater resolution from new-generation displays.
In initial top-of-the-line 6-cyl. gasoline guise, the CLE offers smooth and effortless performance. Mechanical refinement is excellent, as is the prototype’s ability to isolate wind noise at typical motorway cruising speeds.
Mercedes-Benz testing chief Kühner says a lot of effort has gone into providing the CLE coupe with typically relaxed and subdued long-distance cruising qualities. It shows.
A synthetic sound generator provides added aural intent when the driver dials up the Sport mode, though it can be turned off to retain the overall feeling of refinement without losing the sporting edge.
Over more challenging roads, the CLE is satisfyingly agile, thanks in part to the effort of the optional rear-wheel steer system. Body roll is also well suppressed.
There is a GT-like appeal to the ride, which combines inherently firm spring rates with excellent damping control to provide taut but controlled qualities on the optional suspension.
The real proof, however, will come in driving the CLE coupe – one of the last ICE models to be based on Mercedes-Benz’
' MRA platform – later this year. For now, though, Mercedes-Benz appears to have succeeded in taking the best properties of the C- and E-Class coupes and rolling them into one appealingly styled two-plus-two. One that will challenge the likes of the Audi A5 coupe and BMW 4-Series head-on.