Bridging the gap between the C- and S-Class coupes
Back in the heyday of the American muscle car, it wasn’t all that rare for an automaker to make many different body styles from one model. Take the Chevrolet Chevelle, for instance. The second-generation car was sold as the Chevelle coupe and convertible, El Camino ute, and Malibu sedan and wagon. Mercedes-Benz takes the same approach with its bread-and-butter E-Class line. Mercedes introduced us to the E-Class sedan only last year, and the lineup has already expanded to include a wagon, a crossover-like wagon, a coupe, and a cabriolet. Leading up to the reveal of the newest model, the E-Class Cabriolet at the Geneva International Motor Show, the automaker flew us to Spain to get behind the wheel of the latest variant to go on sale: the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe.
The formula for modern European sedan-based coupes used to be rather boring: remove the back doors, stretch the front, and call it a day. Mercedes didn’t take that approach with the new E-Class Coupe. Sure, it shares its chassis, engines, and a few styling features such as its nose with the coupe, but what’s remarkable is just how different the E-Class Coupe is from the sedan. True to the sportier ethos of a coupe, the 2018 E-Class Coupe gets a sportier grille, a muscular power dome hood that evokes old American muscle cars, and a beautiful teardrop profile, with the upper half of the greenhouse flowing seamlessly into the taut, S-Class Coupe-like rear end. It’s a truly sleek and downright pretty design—it’s aerodynamic too, with Mercedes claiming a 0.25 drag coefficient for its new two-door.
Although the E-Class Sedan and Wagon both have a wide variety of available engines and powertrains, in the U.S. the new E-Class Coupe launches in just one variation. The Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe is powered by the automaker’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6, making 329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque, and mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. Rear-wheel drive is standard, and Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel drive is available. Although the E400 will initially be the only variant available in the U.S., a Mercedes-AMG E43 Coupe version using a hotted-up version of the E400’s V-6 is a strong possibility, but a V-8-powered E63 variant is unlikely.
But it’s not like the E400 Coupe really needs the extra power. Over two days of driving the E-Coupe through Spanish cities and the countryside, the Mercedes E400 Coupe reveals itself to be a wonderful grand touring car, but it’s still built in the same mold as the personal luxury coupes of the 1970s. The twin-turbo V-6’s 329 hp is plenty to get the roughly 4,100-pound coupe going. Combined with the well-geared nine-speed auto, the engine doesn’t suffer from any noticeable lag in the default comfort setting, and it happily purrs along quietly in the background; the E400 is a real cruiser in the American boulevardier sense, not like your typical German Autobahn rocket. Throttle response is nicely tuned in comfort to be smooth and linear. The transmission is tuned well, too, firing off quick downshifts when necessary and without any gear hunting. Throttle and transmission response sharpens up a ton in Sport and Sport Plus modes, but I wouldn’t bother—comfort mode better suits the demeanor of the car.
Unlike the always-soft demeanor of the E-Class Coupe it replaces, the new generation does a remarkable job at balancing comfort and sportiness (or “dynamism,” as the Germans call it) on both pockmarked city streets and twisty country roads.
The keys to that lie in its chassis and suspension systems. Thanks to the new E-Class’ modular chassis, Mercedes was able to shrink the new E-Class Coupe’s wheelbase 2.6 inches versus the sedan, lower its center of gravity, and widen its front and rear track to help the Coupe feel sporty and quick on its feet. That’s only half the equation, though; Mercedes also fit the E-Coupe with three different suspension systems: Direct Control (the base no frills suspension), Dynamic Body Control (a suspension with adjustable electric damping), and Magic Body Control (full air suspension).
I didn’t have the opportunity to sample the base suspension system, but I spent plenty of time with both the Dynamic Body Control and Magic Body Control units. From behind the wheel, there are very few discernable differences between the two suspension systems. On Barcelona’s city streets, both handled pot holes, trolley tracks, and the occasional pedestrian (I kid) without transmitting any of the punishment into the cabin.
The differences are a bit more noticeable on twisty country roads, with the air suspension-equipped E-Coupe exhibiting slightly less body roll, but the differences are so minor that it’s arguably not worth the likely hefty price premium one would pay for the air suspension. Besides, the E400 Coupe isn’t what you’d describe as a corner carver; though it’s perfectly capable of doing so, it does so with a sense of “do I have to?” reluctance. Again, the E400 Coupe would much rather be cruising.
Part of what makes the Mercedes E-Class Coupe such an exceptional cruiser is its cabin, which blends new technology with old-school luxury. Up front is the E-Class Sedan’s twin 12.3-inch LCD screens, the left of which is mounted directly in front of the annoyingly off-center steering wheel and serves as a modular instrument cluster, and the right, center-mounted display that handles infotainment functions. Both screens are controlled via touch-sensitive thumb pads on the corresponding sides of the steering wheel. The E-Coupe is also available with Mercedes’ Drive Pilot semiautonomous software, which helps reduce the driver’s workload by automatically matching the speed limit and even changing lanes by itself upon the driver’s command.
On the luxury front, the E-Class Coupe’s cabin features comfortable seats—as long as you skip the sportier option—and high-quality materials. The back seat is well-appointed with its own air conditioner vents and optional seat heaters, and they’re pretty spacious for a coupe too, with leg- and kneeroom comfortable enough for a six-foot-one-inch adult, though headroom is tight. Like most modern Benz’s, the E-Coupe’s interior is available with a wide variety of material and color options, including some beautiful unfinished wood. The one demerit the E400’s interior earns itself is in cabin noise; far more wind and tire noise than acceptable for a luxury car enters the cabin at highway speeds.
Pricing for the 2018 Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe will be announced closer to its summer launch, but customers shouldn’t expect its price to stray too far upward from the outgoing E-Coupe’s $55,000 starting price, which isn’t much more than the smaller C-Class Coupe’s $43,000 starting price and a significant bargain compared to the S-Class Coupe. Although the downturn of coupe sales the past few years might have scared other automakers off from making new coupes, Mercedes is confident that the new E-Class Coupe will comfortably bridge the gap between its other two two-doors. Based on my experience behind the wheel and the company’s recent successes, I’d say it’s probably right.