The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe is new this year, replacing the old CLK-Class two-door in the automaker's global family of cars. It's longer and wider than the car it replaces, and more expensive, too--leaving it a bit more exclusive and slightly less sporting than the vehicle that's been its natural competitor, the BMW 3-Series. TheCarConnection.com's editors drove both the E350 Coupe and E550 Coupe on a press preview in Las Vegas, and this road test highlights the impressions from a day's worth of high-speed touring through the Nevada desert.
At first glance, the 2010 E-Class Coupe is fairly striking. It shucks all the soft, feminine, conservative shapes of the old CLK for crisp details and a big, bold star on the grille. Is it beautiful? That's not immediately clear at first glance, but for sure, the new E-Class Coupe is engaging to see, especially on the road. There are details that seem perfectly in place, like that big medallion up front and those emphatic twin "lamellas" (the louvers in the grille). Other cues, like the rear fender folds, echo 1950s Benz coupes to a mixed effect. Inside, though, there's no arguing with the high-quality finishes and appeal of the E-Class Coupe's cabin. It's swathed in walnut and leather, along with a handsome set of gauges as clear as any you'll see in a luxury coupe.
The E-Class Coupe is either an E350 or an E550, depending on which engine you choose. The 268-horsepower V-6 two-door, with a base price of under $49,000, is less expensive than before but a better performer. There's a fine mechanical whir to the engine note as it clips by 60 mph in about six seconds and hammers to a 130-mph top speed, with the tranquil stability of a Swiss Alp in motion. The 382-horsepower V-8 edition simply cuts that acceleration time to about five seconds and turns the whir into an exhaust bark filtered into the cabin in the best way possible. A paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic sends power from either engine to the rear wheels, and does it seamlessly unless the optional Sport mode is engaged; shifts are quicker and a little less happy in commuter-style driving. Handling isn't razor-sharp as in a BMW 3-Series, but the E-Class Coupe excels in loafing--maintaining utter control in curves with a light touch to its steering and braking--though TheCarConnection.com's editors far prefer the base car's mechanical suspension setup and predictable nature to the V-8's electronically assisted shocks and somewhat jittery feel.
Two passengers ride in bliss in the E-Class Coupe; four will stretch the boundaries of the coupe's rear-seat headliner and the passengers' friendship. Test drivers couldn't find much comfort in the back, where tall adults will get intimate with the headliner. In front, the seats are easy to set into a comfort zone good for hundreds of miles; heating and ventilation are also offered. Trunk space is very good for a two-door, and the quality feel of the E-Class Coupe isn't limited to its wood and leather--the absence of harsh road noise even at 130 mph is remarkable.
The 2010 E-Class Coupe likely will achieve top safety scores when it's tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), based on performance from other Mercedes vehicles and the E-Class in particular. Mercedes installs even more airbags this time; pelvic airbags are standard, while rear-seat side airbags are offered. A rash of new tech features will help keep drivers safe in an accident, they promise: Distronic Plus prepares the car for impact by braking, to cut impact speeds, while Attention Assist shows a coffee cup on the gauges when the car's computers infer that the driver is getting drowsy (no magic--just measuring inputs of throttle, steering, and braking).
Every 2010 E-Class Coupe comes with wood and leather trim, a telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, and an audio system with Sirius Satellite Radio and an input for MP3 players, along with a panoramic sunroof. The E550 adds its electronic suspension, new wheels, and tires. Options include a Sport package with AMG-style wheels; a voice-activated navigation system with hard-drive music storage; premium leather; and a Harman/Kardon premium audio system.
It may no longer be a sporty competitor for the BMW 3-Series Coupe--and that may be exactly what Mercedes has in mind with the 2010 E-Class Coupe. As it's grown, the E-Class has taken some styling risks while keeping its more conservative driving character intact. With that, it's created a class of its own: the luxury coupe that makes its statement on style and speed.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe brings four-passenger seating and high style to a price point that rises above its old rival, the BMW 3-Series Coupe. Still, shoppers for premium coupes will look at the BMW two-door, which has also grown heftier in its latest version. The BMW handles more crisply and steers truer, but it's no more handsome and has a bit less interior room than the E-Class Coupe. The Audi A5 sits in the same size class as the BMW; it's probably the best-looking of the bunch and comes in an exciting S5 edition that's among the most highly rated cars at TheCarConnection.com. The Lexus IS Convertible is brand-new and has a folding hardtop, a more generous backseat, and a price tag substantially lower than the Mercedes.
The Bottom Line:
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe blends a more daring body with a more laid-back driving feel, and creates a distinct class of its own.