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Expert Reviews 2 of 7
By Joe Wiesenfelder
September 29, 2009
Completely redesigned for 2010, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class now comes as a two-door coupe as well as the sedan. This review focuses on the coupe, which shares the sedan's model name but is nonetheless a smaller car. See the two compared here, along with the 2009 Mercedes CLK-Class, a similarly priced coupe that the E-Class replaces.
Typical of Mercedes, the E-Class coupe is both pricey and lean on standard features. The V-8-powered E550 I tested has its charms, but it also has its quirks, and its capabilities on the road suggest that this comfortable, stylish coupe is best realized as the E350, which has a V-6 engine. Exterior & Styling With the 2010 E-Class, Mercedes eliminates not one but two of its most outdated designs. The CLK-Class remained through 2009 as an awkward adaptation of the earlier and more conservative C-Class, whose 2008 redesign introduced Mercedes' new, edgier design direction. Likewise, the outgoing E-Class, which made a respectable splash upon its 2003 redesign, had come to look plainer than anything in its price class.
The 2010 model year changes that, with dramatic headlights, sculpted front bumpers and prodigiously creased hoods and bodysides. The coupe is the more daring of the two, with more pronounced fender haunches and a smaller grille dominated by the Mercedes symbol, similar to Sport versions of the C-Class. Because it was the higher, E550 trim level, my test coupe also had a deeper front bumper and side skirts.
I didn't see it at first, but after a few days with my test car — and no shortage of positive reactions from observers — I grew to appreciate the car's styling and its eager, forward-leaning stance. Unbridled Power It takes less than a few days — more like a few seconds — to learn that the V-8-powered E550 can lean forward with the best of them. A healthy 382 horsepower propels the coupe to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds, and if the power doesn't coax you into planting your right foot, the exhaust note will. As you'd expect from a luxury car, you don't hear the engine most of the time; it doesn't need to work very hard during normal acceleration and cruising, so it's all but silent in those conditions.
It should go without saying that the V-8's power is unnecessary. Being a luxury car, even the E350's lesser engine — a 268-hp V-6 — provides healthy acceleration of zero to 60 mph in about 6 seconds. Beyond the practical issues of a lower base price ($48,050 versus $54,650) and better mileage (a 2 mpg overall advantage), there's another argument for the E350: The rest of the E550 doesn't live up to its powerful V-8.
Yes, the brakes seem up to the task, but the rear wheels can't always get the V-8's robust 391 pounds-feet of torque to the ground without setting off the electronic stability system. Unlike the sedan, the E550 coupe has no all-wheel-drive option. More important, though, is that the handling is merely capable, not inspiring. Push the E550 hard into corners, and it typically holds on and behaves, but you don't get the involvement and controllability you would in a BMW 3 Series, which is, though technically a C-Class competitor, comparable in terms of interior space.
Like the C-Class, the E's steering improves on the numb performance of earlier models, but I expect more sportiness from a rear-wheel-drive car. My coupe lacked the feedback of a front-drive-based Audi A5 Quattro, much less a BMW. Some shoppers might not demand sportiness, but it bears noting because everything from the two-door styling to the console shifter — in place of the sedan's column gear selector — promises sport. Comfort Over Sport The E550 excels in comfort, with a smooth ride and a quiet cabin. It also has a Sport button on the dashboard that's ostensibly for sportier performance — as if it could magically transform the car into a track star. What it does in the E550 is transform a previously comfortable car into a rough-riding one with a twitchier accelerator and a transmission that's less interested in upshifting. Mercedes is by no means alone in this practice; I'd like all automakers to put the emphasis on actual performance rather than effects you can easily demonstrate.
Even if you like the results, it would be better if the adaptive suspension, transmission and throttle were divorced from each other rather than ganged together into a single, all-powerful Sport button. (The E350 has no Dynamic Handling Suspension, so its Sport button has no effect on the ride.) Even if the changes in ride quality weren't so severe, I'd still like to be able to liven up the transmission — maybe take off in 1st rather than 2nd gear on occasion — without feeling a road that's better left unfelt.
As for the throttle progression, I think a car's accelerator should respond consistently regardless of mode (except in off-road vehicles), but I seem to be alone in this crusade. To that end, the pedal may be slow to respond when you first pop the transmission into gear. Say you're doing a three-point midblock turn and shift from Drive into Reverse, and the car doesn't go when you hit the gas. The natural reaction is to step harder — then the throttle finally kicks in and you're flying toward the parked cars behind you. Again, this isn't a problem that's unique to Mercedes, but it's annoying at best, and it stood out in the E550. The Coupe's Tighter Fit The coupe has a smaller interior than the E-Class sedan, but it's larger than the outgoing CLK-Class in the most important dimensions. Numbers don't tell the whole story, but they're a start. Here's a comparison of the E-Class sedan and coupe and the 2009 CLK-Class:
Overall length (in.)
Overall width (in.)
Turning diameter (ft.)
Front headroom/legroom (in.)
Front shoulder room (in.)
Backseat headroom/legroom (in.)
Backseat shoulder room (in.)
Trunk volume (cu. ft.)
Source: Manufacturer data
Compared with the sedan, the coupe has a 2-inch-plus advantage in front-seat headroom and almost an inch more legroom, but I found myself sitting lower than I like, as if the occupants themselves must compensate for the coupe's lower roofline.
I welcome the E coupe's increased shoulder width versus the CLK's, but the driver and passenger will get to know each other better while in this car. The center armrest isn't very wide, so you'll probably find yourself engaged in an airplane-style armrest war. Though we all like the Comand multimedia-control menus (standard, but without a navigation system), the controller itself is much better-executed in Mercedes' flagship S-Class, where your hand rests naturally on the knob. In my E-Class coupe, it was so far back that I found it uncomfortable to operate; it all but required me to elbow my passenger in the ribs. People who don't have chimpanzee arms tend to sit closer to the steering wheel, so they have no advantage.
Other ergonomic quirks include the turn-signal stalk, which Mercedes has mounted lower than normal on the steering column for more than a decade — and which seems to get lower all the time. If you only drive Mercedes, you'll adjust, but if not, you're doomed to flick the cruise-control stalk inadvertently instead. Two-Door Ease On the upside, Mercedes handles the two-door aspects brilliantly. First off, there's a motorized arm that feeds the shoulder belt forward once you get in and close the door, making it easy to reach. In two-doors with rear seats, it's a challenge to position the belt so it doesn't block backseat entry, and is reachable from the front seats. I've seen this feature in other cars, but BMW's 3 Series feeder arm attempts to hook the belt, and every now and then it misses. In the E-Class coupe, the belt feeds through a ring that carries it forward.
When you tilt the backrests forward, the front seats motor forward to help passengers get into the backseat, then return to their original position. It still wasn't easy to get back there, but at 6 feet tall, I was surprised by how workable the headroom was. The standard Panorama glass roof, which puts glass over the backseat along with a front moonroof, makes it feel more open than many coupes do. The legroom is actually decent, too — if the person in front shares. The front seats have some room to spare in this car; the shortcoming is that the backseat is narrow — 8 inches narrower than the sedan. Even though there are two seats back there rather than three, passengers can expect to sit shoulder-to-shoulder. Cargo Hey, there's nothing wrong with squeezing your kids or friends into the backseat, but you don't want your golf bags to be crowded, right? Here, the coupe has you covered, offering the same trunk volume as the sedan: 15.9 cubic feet. We fit two sets of clubs in there without folding the backseat forward. For a two-door, the E coupe is pretty versatile. Safety An all-new model, the 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class hasn't been tested yet by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The coupe's standard safety features include nine airbags, with the option of two more.
An interesting standard safety feature, Attention Assist monitors a driver's steering action and other parameters and is claimed to be able to identify drowsiness and display the message: "Time for a rest?" Also standard is Pre-Safe, which uses stability system sensors to detect potential collisions. If one is detected, it snugs up the seat belts, closes the sunroof and moves the front passenger seat into a more favorable crash position. When equipped with optional adaptive cruise control, Pre-Safe can also respond when the car is closing too quickly on another car and alert the driver, ready the brake assist and, if the driver doesn't respond, trigger partial or full braking.
Click here to see the full standard safety list. Other optional safety features include adaptive high beams, which adjust headlight height based on speed and oncoming headlights. Tele Aid — Mercedes' answer to GM's OnStar — is also optional on the coupe, though it's standard on the E-Class sedan.
Unfortunately, some of the sedan's safety options aren't offered on the coupe, including blind spot and lane departure warning systems, and night vision with pedestrian detection. E-Class Coupe in the Market The E-Class coupe occupies the middle ground of luxury two-doors: more expensive than the Audi A5, BMW 3 Series and Infiniti G37 — whose coupes fall in the mid-$30K to mid-$40K range — but nowhere near the BMW 6 Series and Jaguar XK (more than $78,000 and $82,000, respectively). The Porsche Cayman is close ($51,400 to start), but it only has two seats.
For its size, though, even the E350 coupe isn't cheap, and its standard-equipment list lacks some of the mundane fare found on cheaper premium/luxury cars, such as heated seats, iPod connectivity, a backup camera, parking sensors, active xenon headlights and more. When configured with all the available features — excluding cosmetic upgrades — even an E350's sticker grazes the $60,000 mark.
Still, the E350 is the better choice if you want a comfortable coupe. If sportiness is your goal, a loaded BMW 335i coupe is priced comparably to the base E550, and a reasonably well-equipped base BMW M3 is in reach for less than $60,000, including destination charge and a gas-guzzler tax.
The E-Class has something the well-equipped, more affordable luxury coupes don't have, and that's the Mercedes name, which itself goes a long way in the market. For people who aren't swayed by brand names, though, comparable models will save you a lot of money.