I was expecting to dislike the new E-Class Coupe from Mercedes. AMG versions aside, the outgoing CLK was about as interesting to drive as a Toyota Solara, and Mercedes has already announced that there would be no AMG versions of the new car. From the early photos of E-Class Coupe, I had already determined that the large glass sunroof with its meager mesh sun protection would curry little favor with me, and the little rear quarter window spoiled the look of this frameless coupe. To make matters worse, the 2010 E-Class Coupe’s engines are carryovers from the CLK. Mercedes claims our fuel quality isn’t suitable for the new direct injected engines offered in Europe. (Translation: the US is a dumping ground for some old engine inventory.) The E-Class nomenclature is another sleight of hand, as the chassis is still derived from the C-Class. Harrumph.
Still, the new car is attractive enough: a bulldog version of its much larger CL brother. Aesthetic joy: the louvered fairings under the rear valence hearken back to the AMG Black Series CLK. There is an exuberance of glitz in front—acres of chrome and four (count ’em) fog lights—which make for quite an entrance.
This “the CLK has moved up a notch” theme continues inside, where Mercedes has blessed the dash materials with a welcome upgrade and jewel-like gauges. The E-Class Coupe’s cabin design may be overly square, but modern and luxurious. The two-door’s seats have a wide range of adjustability. While comfy, the leather quality could use [another] upgrading. That said, the steering wheel was covered in buttery smooth leather; well worth a lengthy caress. And although the aforementioned rear opera window is ugly, it enhances the model’s existing, class-leading outward visibility.
In terms of toys, there are more than enough gizmos to tease the gods of depreciation. The standard “attention assist” is little more than an alarm clock which shows you a picture of a coffee cup after a pre-determined period. [Ed: Coffee!] The sound system is state of the art, offering power and clarity for the standard high definition radio, available satellite radio, DVD changer, hard drive music register and MP3 player, all accessible via a COMAND center lifted from the S-Class that is intuitive and easy to use. E-Class Coupe’s adaptive lighting swivels in relation to turns and automatically dims the high beams when encountering oncoming traffic.
Distronic Plus radar cruise control is available on the small coupe for the first time. You can’t fault the algorithm, but I call it the “rude driver” encouragement system. You can also order advanced parking guidance, which is as silly here as in the Lexus applications. There is a hold function for the brakes at stoplights, but its operation was buried deep inside one of the electronic menus.
If I closed my eyes and tried to guess the E-Class Coupe’s brand (closed course, no stationary objects), I would have guessed 75/25 Mercedes/BMW. The Merc’s steering offers shocking heft and directness. Under wide open throttle, the 268 horsepower V6’s exhaust note is throaty and enthusiastic. The speed matched the sonic pleasure; the E-Class Coupe can complete the 0 – 60 jaunt in a scant 6.2 seconds. The Merc’s brakes were easy to modulate and effective. The car’s engineers have dialed-back Mercedes’ typical syrupy throttle tip-in by a few notches—although it still emphasizes smoothness over sport. The transmission felt creamy and effortless on part throttle but downshifted somewhat harshly when caned.
The E-Class Coupe’s handling is much improved versus the CLK, although initial turn-in lacked the bite and encouragement compared to its BMW 3 Series competition. Overall the driving experience is impressive, more involving when you want it but with an overriding sense of luxury and composure. Softer than Audi or BMW and perhaps lacking in a pure sporting edge. In other words, it’s a grand tourer.
So Merc’s moved the CLK upscale in image and pricing and changed the name to fool the innocent. That’s about half right. The pricing on the new E-Class Coupe is about the same as the outgoing CLK: $48,050 compared to $48,100 Needless to say, the E-Class Sedan is touted as $4,600 cheaper than the E-Class car it replaces. As usual, the Mercedes E-Class Coupe is more expensive than its German rivals; the BMW 328 with automatic starts at $38,650 (good luck finding one of those). The Audi A5 with automatic starts at $42,000. Preliminary fuel economy figures are listed at 18 in the city and 26 on the highway; the BMW is slightly more fuel efficient while the Audi is slightly less.
Once upon a time, you bought BMW for performance, Audi for style and Mercedes for luxury and prestige. Without giving up any of it traditional virtues, Mercedes has dialed-up the style and sport in this new E-Class Coupe, making the choice of one of these three alternatives more difficult than ever.