2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE-Class Cabriolet aims for fun, sun or not

By automotive-mag.com 14 Min Read

It’s not often that you can experience humid, gusty 60-degree conditions and dry temperatures approaching 100 degrees in the course of an hour, but I did that behind the wheel of a 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE-Class Cabriolet on the volcanic island of Tenerife. 

Part of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife lies off the coast of west Africa, and has several microclimates, ranging from idyllic sand beaches, to arid lava fields, to the Alpine climate of the snow-covered dormant volcano Mt. Teide. The twisty roads leading up toward Mt. Teide proved to be an ideal place to show off the three-season capability of the new CLE-Class Cabriolet and its fun grand-touring chops as well.

Like the 2024 Mercedes CLE Coupe I drove last year, the CLE Cabriolet replaces both the compact C-Class Cabriolet and the midsize E-Class Cabriolet with elements of both cars.

To let drivers go top-down in cooler temperatures, it also gets an evolution of the AirCap system that helps divert the wind away from passengers and the AirScarf neck-level heating system. These systems proved vital as I experienced a 40-degree temperature swing in the time it takes to watch an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz CLE Cabriolet: Three-seasons isolation

Mt. Teide rises 12,188 feet above sea level and is often covered by an inverted cloud layer. On the drive up toward the peak, I activated the AirCap button on the center console to limit the amount of wind that could get into the cabin and make conversation with my drive partner easier. Without the wind buffeting the cabin, it also kept it warmer as we ascended. 

AirCap consists of a windshield header that pops up 3.9 inches. It pairs with a rear windblocker that rises from behind the rear seats to direct air over the cabin. Activated with the touch of a button, it makes a notable difference for a calm cabin, especially if you keep the side windows up—a look I find rather nerdy but my drive partner argues is perfectly fine.

Using the AirCap system is great for isolation, but it’s not ideal for fuel economy. The CLE Cabriolet has a coefficient of drag of a slippery 0.27 with the top up, and that rises to 0.31 with the top down. AirCap increases the cd to 0.35, which is about what you’d expect with the top up in a coupe 10-20 years ago. The upshot? Expect to get 1-2 less mpg when driving on the highway with the top down and AirCap activated.

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

By the time we got to the top of the mountain, AirCap wasn’t enough. The wind picked up and the temperature fell to 60 degrees. It was time to activate AirScarf.

This neck-level heating system has vents in the headrests. It’s activated by a button on each front door, and it works like most seat heaters, with three levels of heating. Now chilled, I chose level 3—full blast.

The road soon headed downhill and the temperatures started to rise. I knocked AirScarf down a notch, then another. By the bottom of the mountain, the temperature had increased 40 degrees, and AirScarf was now a hindrance rather than a help. I turned on the air conditioning, thinking AirScarf would go cool. It didn’t. It’s a heating system, not a climate control system. I realized I had to turn it off.

Mercedes makes occupants comfortable in the heat, too. Sun-reflecting leather that reduces the temperature up to 53 degrees is available, the top itself is well insulated, and air conditioning can fight the heat. The top is available in black, red, or gray, and can be powered up or down in 20 seconds at speeds up to 37 mph. With the top down, the CLE Cabriolet is almost as well isolated as the quiet coupe.

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz CLE-Cabriolet equals C + E

The CLE is larger than the last C-Class Cabriolet. At 190.9 inches, it’s 6.5 inches longer overall, and its 112.8-inch wheelbase is an inch longer. It’s also 2.0 inches wider at 73.3 inches and 0.6 inch taller at 56.1 inches. Compared to the last E-Class Cab, it’s a half inch longer and 0.2 inch wider, but its wheelbase is 0.3 inch shorter and it sits 0.2 inch lower.

Unlike the CLE Coupe, Mercedes makes no claim that the Cabriolet’s suspension is tuned to combine the C-Class’s sportiness with the E-Class’s comfort. However, an engineer told Motor Authority that the CLE Cabriolet is tuned for a softer ride with more body roll than the CLE Coupe.

That doesn’t mean the CLE Cabriolet is sloppy on the road. Like the CLE coupe, the Cabriolet has standard four-link front and five-link rear suspensions that afford a lot of individual control of each wheel. It also sits 0.6 inch lower than a comparable C-Class sedan.

I drove a European CLE 450 4Matic model with the adjustable dampers that we don’t get in the U.S. Every U.S. model will come with a suspension lowered 0.6 inch compared to the last C-Class coupe. CLE 450 models and those with the AMG Line package with a sport suspension that includes firmer springs and dampers, and the dampers have an additional amplitude selective valve that adjusts their behavior to optimize it for long and short wheel travel, taking the sharpness out of deep ruts and quelling the ride over rough pavement. U.S. versions of the CLE 300 should handle a lot like the Comfort mode of the adjustable dampers and the CLE 450 should be closer to the Sport mode. In either mode, the ride is always forgiving, even with the available 20-inch wheels.

On these mountain roads, the CLE 450 4Matic was well controlled, without the wallowing that can be associated with larger Mercedes like the S-Class. It had the brand’s sharp, semi-weighty steering that reacts quickly and could use a little more feel. Reinforcements to the underbody, wheel arches, rockers, and A-pillars also prevented the body quake that convertibles can suffer over bumps.

My car also had the AMG Line’s optional staggered-size 245/35R20 and 275/30R20 Continental EcoContact 6Q summer performance tires (19-inch summer tires are standard). These may be summer tires, but the “Eco” is right in the name, and they’re not made to grip like a Michelin Pilot Sport 4S or a Pirelli P Zero. The tires started squawking when I pushed it into corners and while they provided good traction, plenty of other summer tires will grip harder. They fit into the car’s cruiser/tourer character, allowing for a brisk drive with a comfortable ride and no thoughts of a racetrack.

While the larger AMG Line brakes (14.6-inch front rotors and 12.6-rear rotors—Mercedes hasn’t shared the caliper count) handled my sometimes excitable driving style on the way down the mountain but not entirely willingly. The pedal remained progressive and never faded, but the smell told me that might not have lasted much longer. The CLE 300’s 13.5-inch front rotors with and 11.8-inch rear rotors might have faded with all that downhill braking.

The brakes may have struggled, but the engine certainly didn’t. The CLE 450 gets a turbocharged inline-6 that makes 375 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It’s aided by a 48-volt electric motor in the transmission that can add up to 23 hp and 151 lb-ft for short bursts, in an arrangement that makes it a mild hybrid. The powertrain pushes the CLE 450 from 0-60 mph in a Mercedes-quoted 4.2 seconds on its way to a 130-mph electronically limited top speed. It’s backed by a 9-speed automatic transmission that sends its power to all four wheels in both models.

The turbo-6 moved the CLE 450 with gusto, easily accelerating hard even when going uphill. The 9-speed provided better access to the power in Sport mode, and sometimes dawdled to shift in Comfort mode, but I never wanted for more power. A 4.2-second 0-60 mph time is Mustang GT territory, and it’s one of the main elements of this car that makes it so fun. It’s also tuned to be less boisterous than in other applications, with a quieter engine note and none of the pops and crackles of an AMG version.

CLE 300 4Matic buyers get a 2.0-liter turbo-4 that spins out 255 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, teamed with the same transmission, 48-volt system, and all-wheel drive. It’s pretty quick, too, with a 6.2-second 0-60 mph time. I didn’t drive it in the Cabriolet but I did in the coupe and can say it has good power for most any need, and its front end feels lighter.  

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet

Mercedes-Benz CLE-Cabriolet prioritizes comfort

The interior sports a combination of luxury and sportiness, the latter especially with the AMG Line package. The package’s sporty elements include flat-bottom steering wheel and stainless-steel pedals. It also gets silver chrome accents on the climate vents and gloss-black door trim also with silver chrome accents.

AMG Line or not, the CLE Cabriolet comes with sport seats that include two speakers in the driver’s headrest. Comfortable, roomy, and supportive, these seats are ideal for long-trip comfort. They are upholstered in synthetic leather as standard, but a variety of real leathers are optional, including nappa leather and the sun-reflecting leather. 

Other standard features include heated front seats, ambient lighting, a Burmester surround-sound audio system, driver and passenger seat memory, navigation, and 18-inch wheels for the CLE 300 and 19s for the CLE 450.

The dash comes from the current C-Class sedan, and it features a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and an 11.9-inch portrait-style infotainment touchscreen that can be tilted between 15 and 40 degrees to avoid sun glare. The infotainment runs on the latest version of the MBUX system that is laid out like apps on a smartphone. It responds to the “Hey Mercedes” voice prompt and it can now recognize some other voice commands without the prompt.

The CLE’s large size gives it 0.6 inch more rear legroom than the last C-Class Cab and 0.9 inch more rear shoulder room. That doesn’t make the backseat particularly inviting. While it has good shoulder room for two, legroom will be tight unless short occupants are sitting up front.

Trunk space is good for a convertible, with 13.6 cubic feet of space with the top up, and 10.4 cubes with the top down. Be careful where you store those packages if you’re going to put the top down.

Set to arrive this spring, the 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE 300 4Matic will start at $65,500, including an $1,150 destination fee, while the CLE 450 4Matic will run $75,000. Both figures would be a lot for strictly a summer ride, but the new CLE-Class lets you enjoy top-down driving whether it’s summer or not.

Mercedes paid for travel and lodging for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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