Mercedes CLE Cabriolet Review: A Reverse Nichebuster That’s The Best Of Its Kind

The Mercedes CLE Cabriolet is here, directly replacing both the C-Class and E-Class Cabriolets. Does it feel like a middle-of-the-road option as a result? We find out
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, front 3/4, driving
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, front 3/4, driving


Seriously stylish
Exceptional for wafting in


Infuriating touch-sensitive buttons
Aircap isn’t as effective as Mercedes will have you believe

If there was ever a definition for a reverse nichebuster, it’s possible ‘Mercedes CLE Cabriolet’ could be it. Ok, you may be thinking “Hang on, it’s a two-door, four-seat cabriolet, does it get more niche?” but hear me out, as the CLE Cabriolet is born from Mercedes’ ongoing trimming of its existing model ranges - at least those powered by internal combustion engines, anyway.

As with its hardtop equivalent, the Cabriolet replaces two outgoing drop-tops - the C-Class and E-Class Cabriolets respectively - and falls in the middle of the two as a result. It’s a sensible cost-cutting measure in theory, although throws up a bit of a conundrum for existing customers. Those coming from a C-Class previously may find the CLE falling beyond their price range, while those in an E-Class may fear this being a step down.

Looks alone should go some distance in squashing most fears of the latter and let’s face it, that’s going to play a huge role in any buying decision for this kind of car. Its front end is pure C-Class but that’s to say it’s a well-judged balance between sleek and aggressive, with the rear bringing its own take on the now-typical wraparound tailight and bulbous back end combo.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, front 3/4, static, roof down
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, front 3/4, static, roof down

It’s a pretty spec-dependent design (if you’re going for matte black, do away with the chrome) but get it right and it’s a gorgeous-looking thing. Points off for the blatant fake exhaust exits, mind.

There’s little to shock inside the car, with the cut-and-paste formula of recent Mercedes models deployed here. That means a neatly-laid dash with two sizeable screens, and decent build quality but still a notch behind a BMW 3- or 5-series. An extensive use of Nappa leather makes it feel appropriately posh though, and you’ve got four colour options to pick from.

Typical modern Mercedes-ness does mean you’re having to put up with infuriating touch-sensitive steering wheel controls and a reliance on the 11.9-inch central display and its accompanying strip of haptic buttons below for many core functions.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, rear 3/4, static
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, rear 3/4, static

The CLE Cabriolet does have a few quirks of its own, the most prominent being the ability to tilt that central display by 25 degrees to help counteract sun glare with the roof down, as also seen in the SL. A neat feature but one that in practice doesn’t appear to make a huge amount of difference.

What will be more useful once winter strikes is the ‘Airscarf’ - a heater integrated within the headrest that’ll blast hot air directly around your neck. Those sitting in the back don’t get that luxury, though.

At least space for them shouldn’t be an issue. With a wheelbase that’s 25mm longer than a C-Class, you can rightly assume there’s more legroom than before here and although it’s shorter between the axles than an E-Class by 8mm, sitting behind my own driving position (at five feet 10 inches, for reference) felt comfortable. Heads may be pressed into the canvas roof if you’ve got it up, but that’s more reason to constantly have it down.

Mercedes CLE450 engine
Mercedes CLE450 engine

Engine choices for the CLE Cabriolet reflect that of the Coupe (with the exception of the AMG 53). That line-up in the UK consists of the 2.0-litre diesel, two 2.0-litre four-pot petrols and a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six.

It’s the latter-most of those, the 450, we’re driving. That’s sending 376bhp and 369lb ft of torque (convert) to a 4Matic all-wheel-drive system through a nine-speed torque converter. This translates to a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds and a 155mph top speed.

Not that either of those facts matters. This isn’t a car that feels like it wants to be driven fast, nor one you will want to drive it fast. The six-cylinder itself is a silky-smooth thing and although yes, it can be quick, you’ll get the most out of it sifting along at motorway speeds and in gradual progression at more urban-friendly speeds. It’s a similar thing with the gearbox - it’s not slow when called upon, but feels at its buttery smooth best when you’re coasting through its ratios.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, interior
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, interior

It’s a waftmobile at its finest, riding smoothly on its standard-fit air suspension, soaking up harsh bumps and road surfaces effortlessly as you cruise along.

You won’t be surprised by this stage to hear the electric steering setup is similarly at its best when you’re taking things slow. There’s not a great deal of feel to it, but it’s nicely weighted for gliding through bends and feels good around town too.

Wind noise with the roof down is a little more dramatic than expected, but in theory, that’s where the ‘Aircap’ technology comes in. This raises a thin section of bodywork above the windscreen as well as a wind deflector behind the rear headrests, feeding air above and over the cabin.

It does help a little in helping keep your hair together, but the effect isn’t greatly pronounced and comes across as a touch gimmicky. It spoils the looks, too, which may be a concern if you’re using the car as a tool to flex.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, rear 3/4, roof down
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet, rear 3/4, roof down

Starting at £53,020 for the CLE 200 and rising to £70,230 for the CLE 450, it’s about £4,000 more like-for-like than the old C-Class Cab and a couple of grand shy of the E-Class Cab. Yet, it doesn’t feel like a downgrade from the outgoing E-Class either and it’s posher than the equivalent Audi A4 and BMW 4 Series too, although that reflects in the price. It may be dialling back a niche, but the CLE Cabriolet is the best of its kind as a result.


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