Softly-softly approach is the best route for CLE
At a glance
  • Handling
  • Comfort
  • Performance
  • Design
  • Interior
  • Practicality
  • Costs
Super-smooth suspension
Lovely interior
Looks good roof down
Expensive as a 450
Rear passenger space tight
Aloof handling
  • Variant: CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet AMG Line Premium Plus
  • Price: £74,320
  • Engine: 3-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder petrol with 17kW EQ Boost hybrid system
  • Power: 376bhp + 22bhp EQ Boost
  • Torque: 369lb ft + 151lb ft EQ Boost
  • Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
  • Acceleration: 0-62mph: 4.7 secs
  • Top Speed: 155mph
  • Fuel: 35.5mpg
  • co2: 181g/km
  • Road tax band: £1,095 year one, £600 years two-six ownership, £190 annually thereafter
  • Dimensions: 4,850mm x 1,861mm x 1,423mm
  • Release Date: Now

Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 Cabriolet 2024 review: Smooth drop-top Merc has clear familial link to its glorious predecessors

This Benz was made for wafting

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We wouldn’t normally bore readers with the mechanics of our job, but sometimes – when launching an all-new model of car – manufacturers can bring along an example of a vehicle from their back catalogue that has a link to the latest product they’re trying to promote.

Mercedes pulled this stunt with the introduction of the new CLE Cabriolet, bringing across from the company’s heritage museum in Stuttgart an extraordinary example of the car which, five generations ago, began the E-Class line: the 124-series.

Mercedes-Benz E-class Cabriolet 124 series
Family resemblance: the cabriolet version of the Mercedes-Benz 124 series, which became the E-Class

This 1980s legend, which soldiered on into the ‘90s and brought the E-Class name to the world during its 1993 facelift, is your archetypal Mercedes. It’s beautifully built, appointed with serious luxuries and tech for its age (hand you your seatbelt, sir? Certainly), and just an unmitigated delight in which to waft along an A-road.

The car in question also has a big 3-litre straight-six cylinder engine up front, which in its heyday produced 217bhp — which was considered plenty of power back then — and bestowed upon it the desirable “300 CE-24” boot badging. An high performance AMG variant wouldn’t appear until the 124-series became the E-Class a year later.

But much as we could spend all day admiring its gorgeous lines, we’re not here to drool all over an impeccably clean example of one of Mercedes’ bona fide modern classics. Instead, what’s refreshing about the old-timer’s appearance is that it gives us a defined lineage through the ages to the new Merc CLE, and what it’s trying to achieve.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

Because the German company wants to confuse people as much as possible (probably), it has canned the idea of having separate coupé and cabriolet lines for both its C-Class and E-Class product ranges, instead selling those long-serving nameplates only as more pragmatic saloons and estates.

That leaves the newly minted CLE as the car consolidating four model strands into two, as it is also available as a tin-topped Coupé and this fresh Cabriolet variant.

And much of the formula of the car we’re testing here is oh-so-similar to that 300 CE-24. This is the 450-badged CLE Cabriolet, which has a big straight-six cylinder engine up front, a high-end and luxurious interior, and an emphasis on supreme long-distance comfort over any sort of handling nous.

The good news is that this approach works wonders for the CLE, which in character feels slightly more tilted to the elegant behaviours of an E-Class, more than any sporty connotations that might come with the C-Class elements of its DNA.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

But, short of picking the AMG CLE 53, the 450 is the top dog of the big soft-top’s range, just like that 300 CE-24 was 32 years ago. It develops healthy peak outputs of 376bhp and 369lb ft of torque (twisting force), sent to all four wheels via Mercedes’ proprietary 4Matic system and a nine-speed automatic transmission.

That makes it brisk. If you ask the car for any sort of meaningful acceleration by planting the accelerator firmly into the CLE’s plush carpets, you’re greeted with a cultured roar from the engine up front and a thoroughly decent turn of pace to go with it.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

The nine-speed gearbox is also slick and accomplished, if occasionally found hunting for the right ratio from the surfeit it has at its disposal.

Quick and acoustically interesting though the CLE 450 is, however, when it comes to cornering it’s better to adopt a relaxed pace. The steering is quite a lot lighter and less rich-feeling than the set-up used in the related AMG CLE 53, while there’s a degree of lean to the Merc’s body in faster corners that befits its nature as a grand tourer. This is certainly no sports car, despite a sub-five-second 0-62mph time.

But these are not major drawbacks to the way the CLE Cabriolet drives. If anything, they actually make it more pleasurable — for example, the easy-going weighting, speed and reactions of the steering are far more natural-feeling for a large car like this, one which weighs almost 2.1 tonnes, while the squidge in the suspension leads onto absolutely exemplary ride comfort and rolling refinement.

Even on the worst surfaces of the British roads network, the CLE 450 summons up a grace and dignity that’s quite astounding. You’re rarely, if ever, aware of the huge 20in wheels at the corners of the car (and their resultingly slim, uncompromising tyre sidewalls), while having the hood down doesn’t result in an overly noisy passenger compartment, either — a clever electrically deployable wind deflector at the rear of the car helps with this.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

There’s then the subliminal reinforcement of the idea you’re in an expensive land yacht with the trim on the Premium Plus model, which has a black open-pore wood material overlaid with vertical lines of aluminium, making you think of opulent decking on a sailing vessel.

Indeed, the entire look of the CLE Cabriolet, hood up or down is glamorous, and the interior fittings only uphold that. The process of raising or lowering the roof, by the way, is completed in just 20 seconds, and it’s even possible to perform the switch on the move at speeds of up to 37mph.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

Admittedly, if there’s a drawback to the cabin it’s that calling this a four-seater is stretching credibility somewhat. Due to the stowage of the roof, there’s 68mm less legroom and a 70mm shorter seat base in the back row of the Cabriolet when compared to a CLE Coupé, while the chairs are mounted more inboard than they are on the models with a fixed roof, too.

All this means it’s far less spacious and comfortable for adults to sit in the back of the CLE 450 Cabriolet for even a short amount of time, no matter if the roof is up or down.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

But the boot is a decent size, holding 385 litres outright. That number will drop when the roof of the CLE is stowed away, unfortunately, yet there’s a clever separator system in the cargo area which means you could probably still pack four carry-on suitcases in the Mercedes’ boot and continue to enjoy top-down motoring on your way across the continent; that’s decent grand tourer behaviour, to be fair.

Otherwise, the interior of the CLE is a very pleasant place to be. The technology levels impress, with the 11.9in central infotainment display, a clear tablet for the digital dashboard, and then a large head-up display above which is broadcast onto the windscreen, so that the driver can keep an eye on various key data without taking their eyes off the road ahead.

Mercedes CLE Cabriolet

Perhaps the other main drawback is cost. Trying to channel E-Class vibes, the CLE is on the expensive side for this type of four-seat convertible, as the Cabriolet range kicks off at £53,030.

And a CLE 450 AMG Line Premium Plus like our test car? You’re looking at £74,320, which is evidently not what could be termed “affordable” and is indeed even more than the “proper” AMG version of the CLE Coupé.

However, in what might look like a bourgeois statement in this cost-of-living-crisis era, new cars these days are expensive and the CLE 450 Cabriolet feels worth every penny of its asking price. If anything, the modern-era car it reminds us strongly of is the short-lived, grandiose S-Class Cabriolet — a Bentley and Rolls-Royce-challenging creation which passed away without a replacement in 2021.

But, more importantly than links to the now-deceased S-Class soft-top, what the CLE feels most like is a clear descendent of that wonderful 300 CE-24. Despite three decades’ worth of development separating these two, if you were to drive them back to back and blank off all the Mercedes badges, it would still be obvious even to people with no interest in cars whatsoever that both machines were from the same stable. There’s a feeling, an edifying sensation when driving them, that only a truly well-sorted Mercedes-Benz convertible can deliver.

It’s heartening, then, that despite the German company consolidating its model lines, the CLE Cabriolet gives the impression that it’s a worthy successor to the best Mercedes soft-tops of yore. Even if, as brilliant as the new CLE 450 is, we’d still rather drive home in that glorious 1990s 300 CE-24 sitting alongside it in the car park.

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