BMW 430i xDrive Coupe vs. Mercedes-Benz CLE 200 – Test

Savings for all SUV coupes

Nowadays, the designation ‘coupé’ is mainly found on SUVs with a sloping roofline, sporadically supplemented by sedans and liftbacks with a somewhat lower silhouette. Mercedes-Benz and BMW are largely responsible for this, but fortunately these brands also have real coupes in their range. The brand new Mercedes CLE sits between the C and E class and therefore finds its arch rival in the BMW 4 Series, which in any case operates between the 3 and 5 Series in terms of name.

So Mercedes and BMW are the patrons of the real coupe?

Let’s not just praise the brands in this area. After all, Mercedes was also the brand that made the ‘four-door coupe’ great with the CLS, while BMW once introduced the ‘coupé-SUV’ with the X6. These cars are in fact atonement for previous ‘sins’. In the case of Mercedes, there is one more thing: the arrival of the CLE also means that a coupe is disappearing. The CLE succeeds both the C-class Coupé and the E-class Coupé. These two cars have existed side by side for two generations and together succeeded the CLK, of which there are also two generations. History repeats itself, because Mercedes also positioned the CLK, just like the new CLE, between the C and E class.

Do these cars really fall between two segments, or just in name?

With a length of 4.85, the CLE is literally exactly between the C-class (4.75) and E-class (4.95) in that respect. It also extends about 8 centimeters further than a 4-series Coupe, which to complete this story is about 5.5 centimeters longer than a four-door 3-series. In that sense, the 4-series does justice to the number in its type name, although its separation from the 3-series in 2013 was previously the result of the choice to give two-door models a separate type name. Anyone who, as a car manufacturer, makes a model that falls between two model lines would of course be crazy to technically base that car on the larger and more expensive of the two. It is much smarter to ‘boost’ the smaller car to a higher level, in order to do the same with the profit margins. It is clearly visible in both cars that this was also the approach here. The 4-series shares its wheelbase and interior with the 3-series, the CLE shares its wheelbase and interior with a C-class. Fortunately, that is no shame at all. It is striking, especially at Mercedes, that the interior is still top class, even in this somewhat higher price segment.

Of course, you buy such a coupe mainly for its appearance. What stands out about the design of the CLE and the 4 series?

We come across the current 4-series a lot in the Netherlands, but that is mainly because the five-door Gran Coupé as an electric i4 is not available to business drivers. That may make the two-door 4-series coupe slightly less striking, but no less exclusive. The Mercedes also does not immediately catch the eye. Its design is a fairly good mix of everything we know from the current Mercedes, with the nose strikingly similar to that of the smaller CLA. It is a pity that the CLE clearly breaks with the E-class coupe in one respect: it simply has a B-pillar and the rear side windows remain closed. This is also the case with BMW, but Mercedes has a long tradition of ‘hardtop coupes’ without a fixed ‘pillar’ between the side windows.

The Mercedes CLE and BMW 4 Series look sporty, but are they?

In terms of driving, the differences between a CLE and a C-class are not overwhelming. At least: in the tested version. We drive the CLE as a modest CLE 200 without Dynamic Body Control. Like a real Mercedes, the car does not tire you too much with what happens under the wheels and mainly impresses with silence and luxury, but secretly it has excellent road holding. The CLE actually always follows the chosen track, but does not invite you to push the boundaries. In the Netherlands, this model has always been designed as AMG Line, which includes a sports suspension. This means that the CLE is no longer silky smooth, but don’t expect a super direct sports car. The BMW gives that feeling much more. Here too it is worth mentioning that options can have a great influence on driving behavior, but these options are checked here. The 4-series really allows you to play with it and is therefore a very entertaining car, which is also very suitable for covering long distances in comfort. The drivetrain also plays a role: the BMW’s engine is more powerful than that of the Mercedes and its automatic transmission is smoother.

It is not surprising that the BMW is faster, because you are comparing a 430i with a CLE 200. Wouldn’t a 420i have been better?

For the money that the CLE 200 costs – €71,277 without options – you can easily take a step up from BMW. Even with the xDrive all-wheel drive of the test car, the 430i costs less than the simplest CLE, which is also optionally available with all-wheel drive. However, that does not say everything, because the standard equipment at Mercedes is very generous. Fully equipped like the cars on these pages, you should expect an amount around 85 grand in both cases, with the Benz being more luxurious than the BMW. If you want to end up at the same luxury level, it is better to select electrically adjustable seats and keyless entry instead of xDrive. Indeed: that is not an option with the tested BMW of 86,000 euros…

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