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2024 Mercedes CLE Cabriolet First Drive: Weekend Luxury You Can Enjoy 7 Days a Week

A Mercedes convertible with few compromises

2024 Mercedes CLE Cabriolet driving along the coast
  • The CLE Cabriolet slots in between the C-Class and E-Class convertibles it replaces.
  • It's the largest and most luxurious 2+2 convertible in the segment.
  • Four- and six-cylinder turbo mild hybrid engines offered with standard 4Matic all-wheel drive.
  • Mercedes' Aircap electric wind deflector system and Airscarf neck warmer are standard.

Just as life is better lived in sandals, motoring with the top down in the all-new 2024 Mecedes-Benz CLE Cabriolet feels a little like a permanent vacation. The new CLE replaces the two-door models from both the compact C-Class and midsize E-Class, occupying a sweet spot where "functional" and "sexy" intersect. There's enough cabin space to fit you and three other fun people comfortably yet the body proportions still look pretty athletic. Since we already covered the CLE Coupe at length here and it shares the same powertrains and next-generation MBUX infotainment system, we're going to focus on what makes this M-B Cabriolet ("convertible" en anglais) a standout among its luxury ilk.

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2024 Mercedes CLE Cabriolet rear

Sizing up the competition

The CLE Cabriolet's main competition is the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5 and S5 Convertibles. All feature 2+2 seating configurations, meaning the rear seats are designed more for occasional use. But the CLE more closely mirrors the larger E-Class length and wheelbase than it does the C-Class, affording rear passengers more space and everyone aboard a cushier ride. At 191 inches, the CLE is 3 inches longer than the BMW and just over 6 inches longer than the Audi. I'm 5-foot-9 and had ample legroom sitting behind myself, though if you're running with the top up, I was nearly maxed out on headroom.

The Cabriolet's trunk offers 13.6 cubic feet when the top is up, more than enough space for a few carry-ons or so, plus some duffle bags. Roof down, there's a new electric partition in the trunk that automatically shrinks that space down to 10.4 cubic feet to account for the soft-top stowage. There's also a useful pass-through to the cabin for longer items if you fold the rear seats down. Given the added length of the CLE, we'd expect total cargo to top the class, though numerically it's about the same as the BMW 4 Series.

A cut above in comfort and luxury

The front cabin looks to be lifted directly from the C-Class and, in the usual Mercedes-Benz fashion, feels a touch classier than what BMW and Audi offer. Perhaps it's the jet-inspired air vents, or the way the dash wraps and flows into the center console, or the hypnotic ambient lighting glow, but the luxury element is always palpable in a Mercedes. With the exception of slightly chintzy door armrests, there isn't much we'd change. The Cabriolet in particular offers some key Mercedes innovations that enable comfortable top-down driving in less-than-ideal weather.

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Cabriolet interior

Aerodynamics matters especially when you're exposed to the elements at speed. Mercedes-Benz has done extensive work with computer modeling and in the wind tunnel to optimize the flow of water (rain) off the front and sides of the car, as well as manage the wind buffeting around the cabin with the top down. The Mercedes Aircap electric wind deflector system is now standard equipment and has been improved for the CLE. The system is a combination of a wind deflector that deploys from the top of the windshield and a wind stop that extends up behind the rear passenger headrests like a tiny badminton net. When put to use, the windshield deflector is a bit of an eyesore from an onlooker's perspective, but completely hidden from view if you're in the good seats. Functionally, the effect on wind buffeting is incredible. Hurricane wind speeds are reduced to a light breeze, and regular conversation can be held instead of communicating through hand signals. Brilliant stuff.

2024 Mercedes CLE Cabriolet has Aircap wind deflector system

When the air temps drop but you insist on relishing an open-air experience, the CLE also features Mercedes' Airscarf as standard equipment. It's neat little air vents built into the front seat headrests that blow warm air onto your neck. It's surprisingly effective, kind of like inserting those little warming packets into your gloves and boots, except Airscarf never runs out of heat.

Should the mercury head in the other direction, Airscarf, unfortunately, won't switch to blow cool air onto your neck. But should you opt for the leather upholstery option, a special solar treatment on the CLE seats is designed to reflect the sun's rays, keeping the surfaces up to 53 degrees cooler than if the leather were untreated.

The sound of silence 

The mild hybridization of Mercedes' newest powertrains has done wonders for both its four- and six-cylinder engines. The engines are more powerful, more efficient, smoother to operate, and nearly silent at startup. The six-cylinder equipped CLE 450 4Matic we test-drove simply whispers to life when you press the ignition button. It was so subtle that I sometimes had to double-check the tachometer for a pulse. Credit goes to a powerful integrated starter-generator (ISG), an electric motor sitting between the engine and transmission that operates as the engine starter but also provides electric power assist at various stages of driving.

2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE Cabriolet profile

At some point, you may have to close the roof. Be it a sudden tropical downpour or a swarm of killer bees, retreating to the safety of closed cabin takes roughly 20 seconds and can be done while moving at speeds up to 37 mph — because, you know, BEES! Mercedes' multilayer acoustic soft top does an excellent job of making you forget you even bought a convertible. The top seals and insulates so well, keeping out all sorts of wind and ambient noise, and Mercedes says it can retain such qualities up to its top speed of 130 mph.

2024 Mercedes CLE Cabriolet rear, on the road

Seems perfect. What's the catch?

The CLE Cabriolet is a pretty compelling pick for a four-seat luxury convertible. But there are a few things working against the CLE. Like most other Mercedes models, the CLE is slightly more expensive, starting at $65,500 for the four-cylinder CLE 300 4Matic and $75,000 for the six-cylinder 450 4Matic. It does come with some great standard features like a 17-speaker Burmester surround-sound system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 12.3-inch digital driver display and 11.9-inch center touchscreen with the aforementioned third-gen MBUX operating system. But based purely on barrier of entry, the CLE is slightly higher at every rung.

The other scenario is if you want your convertible to have more sport in its step. The CLE 450 makes more than enough power to be entertaining and features an optional adaptive sport suspension, and the standard 4Matic all-wheel drive provides excellent, sure-footed traction coming off corners. However, the suspension, even in Sport mode, felt like it had a slightly more relaxed vibe on twisty roads where a BMW M440 or Audi S5 would likely deliver sharper response for those in maximum attack mode. Perhaps there's a AMG Cabrio somewhere in the pipeline, but for now, high-speed comfort is more the CLE's forte, which is what we think most convertible buyers are looking for anyway.

2024 Mercedes CLE Cabriolet front end

Edmunds says

The 2+2 convertible is usually about compromise in function or form, but somehow Mercedes has hit a sweet spot with the CLE Cabriolet. It combines the sexier compact dimensions of the C-Class convertible with the luxury proportions and accommodations of the E-Class convertible, resulting in a fun, comfortable, topless package that ticks all the boxes.