Mercedes-Benz CLE spied for the first time

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The new CLE model will replace two-door versions of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and E-Class.

The new Mercedes-Benz CLE is being readied for a 2023 launch, and has been spotted testing in Germany again. Our spies previously caught the cabriolet version undergoing development trials, but these new images are our first glimpse at the CLE coupe.

It will rival the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series, but while the Audi A5 replaced coupe and cabriolet versions of the A4 and the BMW 4 Series did the same with the 3 Series, the CLE will have a bigger job, as it will replace models in both the C-Class and E-Class ranges. This streamlining of Mercedes’ model lineup is thought to have been in motion for several years as the German firm has owned the CLE trademark for some time.

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With multiple CLEs spotted testing, the final production car should look almost identical to our images. There won’t be much to differentiate the coupe and cabriolet visually, apart from the roof.

At the front, we can see a more slender headlight design than those fitted to the latest C-Class, and the grille is likely to mimic those seen on the rest of the Mercedes range. Unsurprisingly, there’s a blanked off section in the grille where a large three-pointed star will sit.

There are two air ducts behind the rear wheels, a common design trait on current Mercedes models. Unlike the C-Class and E-Class, the rear number plate sits on the rear bumper rather than the bootlid. The car also appears to be a non-AMG model, in contrast to our previous spy images, with a blanked-off rear bumper rather than twin exhaust tips. The smaller wheels also point to a less sporty model.

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As for the convertible, Mercedes has favoured the use of a fabric roof in its drop-tops of late and the CLE will adhere to this approach. The overall proportions of the test cars we’ve spotted look typically Mercedes, so we’re not expecting a drastic change of design language for the CLE.

The convertible test car we’ve spotted sits on 15-spoke alloy wheels and features a dual exit exhaust system, usually reserved for AMG models. It’s more likely this is an AMG 43 rather than a full-fat AMG 63 model, however.

We’ve not seen inside the new CLE just yet but we expect the cabin to follow a similar layout to the latest Mercedes C-Class. This would mean a new infotainment system running the same MBUX software introduced in the current S-Class. It should be displayed on a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, a 11.9-inch touchscreen. The screens will be separated from each other, rather than connected like the display Mercedes is using for its all-electric EQ models.

Head-up display technology will also be available, but not the augmented reality HUD system found in the luxury S-Class. The latest MBUX system can also receive over-the-air updates from Mercedes.

The Mercedes model portfolio reached a high of 50 vehicles in 2020 and brand executives have spoken in the past of a need to reduce complexity, especially with the rollout of the all-electric EQ range. Speaking earlier in that year, Mercedes Chief Technology Officer Marcus Schafer pointed to the brand’s convertible offerings as being “high density”, with the recently axed SLC, C-Class Cabriolet and E-Class Cabriolet all vying for space in a market that isn’t a big money maker.

However, Schafer admitted that from a branding perspective the coupe and cabriolet models are important; for a premium car company such as Mercedes, being in this space lays down an important marker.

“We want to focus on these models,” he explained. “They have their niche and their purpose. That’s why we are going to tailor exactly the right vehicle in this segment. There’s more to come on the coupé and cabriolet side in this mid-segment but it’s going to take a little bit more time before we can speak about it.”

The brand has already reinvented the full-size SL as a sportier and more purposeful offering using a new platform developed by AMG. The CLE is likely to be based on the same MRA-2 platform as the new C-Class and S-Class, rather than the SL’s new architecture. The flexibility of MRA-2 means that four and six-cylinder power is possible, appealing to the CLE’s likely buyer.

Alastair Crooks

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