TENARIFE, Canary Islands – There’s nothing quite like going for a leisurely, top-down drive. Sadly, convertibles continue to disappear from showrooms as shoppers’ appetite for SUVs seems to be insatiable. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, Mercedes-Benz has consolidated two of its previous models into one. The previous-generation C-Class and E-Class were both offered as coupes or convertibles, but this time around, the two-door offerings are covered by a single, new Mercedes-Benz CLE arriving in showrooms this spring.

In terms of size, the CLE is about an inch longer than the last E-Class Cabrio and 6.5 inches longer than the previous drop-top C-Class. Pricing effectively splits the difference between its predecessors. The entry-level CLE 300 4Matic Cabriolet starts at $65,500 (including $1,150 in destination fees), or about $5,000 more than the old C 300 4Matic Cabriolet. The more powerful CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet starts at an even $75,000, or about $5,000 less than the old E 450 4Matic Cabriolet. There will not be a convertible version of the AMG CLE 53 Coupe we’ll be driving in the coming weeks.

The CLE 300 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 255 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque, while the CLE 450 goes with a 3.0-liter turbo inline six that’s good for 375 hp and 369 lb-ft. Both are paired with a 48-volt mild hybrid system that adds up to 23 hp and 151 lb-ft through an integrated starter/generator. A nine-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and both versions exclusively send power to all four wheels.

Styling-wise, the new CLE represents an evolution of current Mercedes-Benz themes. The grille could easily be mistaken for almost any sedan in the lineup, though around the back, the taillights are joined in the middle with a black plastic trim element. The familiarity isn’t a bad thing as it still exudes class, luxury and refinement. As an all-new model, though, I expected just a little more pizzazz.

I was handed the keys to a lovely CLE 450 4Matic Cabriolet to drive around Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco. Right off the bat, I was impressed by the CLE’s startup. With the top down, I barely noticed the engine spring to life after tapping the start button. There was almost no shudder or sound, making me question if it was indeed running. This quiet start is a result of the 48-volt hybrid system, and it’s been optimized for this kind of smoothness.

Setting off on the highways and narrow roads, my shoulder-length hair wasn’t being tousled nearly as much as it is in any of the convertibles I’ve owned over the past three decades. Even at 60 mph, I was able to hold a conversation with my passenger without having to raise my voice. That’s impressive, but the real test is to deploy Mercedes‘ latest Aircap wind deflector system to see how that affects buffeting.

With a lift of a toggle on the center console, a mesh screen rises from behind the rear headrests while the windows rise to create an insulating bubble around me. Out of my sight, a narrow strip of wing also rises atop the windshield with a thin mesh material spanning the gap. What little turbulence that was present before was reduced to barely a breeze. This is as calm an experience I’ve had in any convertible. Full stop.

Calmness also applies to the way the CLE 450 drives. It accelerates with confidence, and Mercedes claims it will reach 60 mph in only 4.2 seconds. The CLE 300 should take another two seconds. Power delivery is smooth and plentiful, though the muffled engine sounds more like an inline-four than an inline-six. The brakes feel trustworthy and are easy to modulate and bring to a smooth limo stop.

Although the 450 comes standard with the adaptive “Sport” suspension that’s an option on the 300, it is primarily tuned for comfortable touring, and in this application, it seems perfectly matched. Bumps and ruts are barely acknowledged, and the CLE corners with grace and composure. It doesn’t encourage you to charge hard into the next bend, but it does give you the confidence to swerve out of the way of debris if needed. At no point did the CLE feel like a smaller vehicle than it is, as its wide stance and roomy cabin were constant reminders that this is a big car. That said, it will perform on a higher level than the vast majority of drivers will ever desire. 

Inside, the CLE is nearly identical to the latest C-Class. A curving dashboard flows and tapers into the console, with a large, tablet-like, 11.9-inch touchscreen tacked onto the center stack. A smaller, horizontal digital instrument display sits just in front of the steering wheel. As expected, materials quality is excellent and every surface has a solid construction feel underneath. The silver plastic door hand rests do seem out of place, with a decidedly down-market look and feel, but that’s one of the few and minor complaints.

With the top down, I also felt as though the beltline was a bit too high. I often like to drape my elbow over the top of the door, but that angle is too steep to comfortably hold it there. The padded section of the armrest is an acceptable alternative. The seats themselves are well-shaped for all-day comfort and the upholstery has a special coating to reflect near-infrared light and keep the surfaces cool. Should that be insufficient, ventilation is an option, along with massage functions. If things get cold, the front seats are heated, and the standard Airscarf gently blows warm air against the back of your neck.

The folding fabric top can deploy in 20 seconds at speeds up to 35 mph, and there are no manual latches to fuss with. You just pull on one of the switches and wait until the system chimes to let you know the transformation is complete. When in place, it’s easy to forget you’re in a convertible because the top impressively silences any wind noise. You also won’t hear any creaking when cornering or driving over rough pavement.

The CLE further benefits from the latest MBUX infotainment system. It’s easy to use and has some of the best voice recognition commands out there. The augmented reality overlays in the main touchscreen and in the available head-up display made navigating through the confusing island roundabouts stress-free, leaving very little guesswork. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and pair well with the rubberized wireless charging pad tucked away in the center console. There is also adequate space for beverages and personal effects, but on a long road trip, you might desire a bit more space for snacks and the like.

The rear seats – now accessible through a leather pull on the seat backrest – took some shimmying to access with the top up, but once situated, there was just enough space back there for my 5-foot-10 frame. My head was bumping into the headliner, but my legs weren’t squeezed up against my chest. I’d be fine as a rear-seat passenger for shorter trips, but I could see myself getting cramped after 30 minutes or so.

You could definitely transport three average-sized friends with the top-down in relative comfort, but getting all of their luggage stowed may be problematic despite decent-sounding volume figures of 13.6 cubic-feet with the top down and 10.4 cu-ft with it stowed. By my visual estimation, you should only be able to squeeze in two carry-on roller bags and not much else. The rear seatbacks do fold down to provide a narrow pass-through, but larger items will have to be loaded through the passenger compartment.

For most interested parties, the rear seats will be useful when needed, but otherwise, the CLE makes for an excellent tourer for a luxury-minded couple. After many hours on the road, I handed back the keys with very little fatigue and an overall mellow attitude. To me, that’s precisely what the CLE should accomplish. It takes very little effort to log hundreds of miles and the lack of top-down buffeting means you’ll arrive looking and feeling fresh, if a little sunburnt.

The 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE-Class is one of the easiest convertibles to live with, though considering how few there are, that statement may not hold as much weight as it used to. Its larger, sportier and more expensive SL-Class sibling delivers a similar driving experience, but it’s far less versatile due to its limited cargo and rear seat space. The BMW 4 Series convertible is priced similarly to the CLE and gains an advantage for its more engaging driving experience, but its frontal styling continues to vex. The larger 8 Series is more in league with the pricey Mercedes SLAudi also has some open-air choices with the A5 and S5, but this aging pair’s performance, luxury and technology trails its German rivals. Porsche remains in the convertible game with the tiny Boxster and pricey 911, but their focus on sporty dynamics typically has them appealing to a different class of shoppers.

As it stands, the 2024 Mercedes-Benz CLE-Class is the best luxury convertible for most drivers. It delicately balances comfort with performance while delivering all of the latest tech features. With any luck, its appeal will grow if the coupe’s AMG powertrain is made available as a cabriolet, but there’s no official word on that yet.

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