Mercedes E-Class Coupe First Drive: an Exquisite Execution of Efficiency

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Halfway between Barcelona and the Costa Brava in a sleepy hillside village a strange panorama of pride and poverty surrounds us, sunshine bounces off a body white as ivory, a remarkable rocket with a reckless nature—das neue E-Klasse couldn’t be more at home.

The sturmmann stands out draped in designo cashmere white magno paint, AMG Line bodysuit, and glittering 19-inch boots; Multibeam LED headlamps flank a low-slung “diamond grill” and welcome me with a very blue lightshow, while twin power domes crown an elongated hood.

The 2018 E-Class coupe is easily the most minimalist of Mercedes’ matryoshka family of two-doors; it ditches the chiseled topline of the C- and S-Class coupes in favor of shaped and sensuously bare shoulders, giving the E-coupe an elegant-yet-aggressive air of depravity. Frameless windows and a missing B-pillar seemingly stretch the greenhouse, while its flat surfacing and traditional grand touring proportions give it a squat muscular look and a best-in-class 0.25 drag coefficient.

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Its luminescent snap-crackle-kristalloptik taillamps house Mercedes’ first application of a new rear welcome function which ensures perfect politeness, perpetually, no matter what angle you approach from.

Globally the coupe will be available with several different engine choices and at least two transmissions—there will be a six-speed manual E200 sold somewhere—but for now North America is only getting the E400 with its 329 horsepower 3.0-liter biturbo V6 hooked to Mercedes’ new 9G-Tronic nine-speed automatic transmission; Americans get to choose between rear and all-wheel drive, while Canadians will get the 4Matic system standard.

Eventually there’s supposed to be an AMG version which should feature Mercedes’ new M256 double-boosted inline six, but no one was willing to talk much, at least not in English.

SIZE MATTERS

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The bones of the outgoing coupe were little more than a reworked C-Class—it even shared the smaller car’s wheelbase and track width—the new one moves to a version of the new W123 platform allowing the two-door to grow 4.8 inches (123 mm) longer, nearly 3-inches (74 mm) wider and one-inch (33 mm) taller.

Because the new E-coupe ditches B-pillars, Mercedes needed to modify the platform and body structure in order to ensure appropriate rigidity for both sportiness and safety. Engineers added an additional cross-member in the roof, beefed up the A-pillars, and used additional high-strength steel where necessary.

First and foremost, the bigger footprint helps perk up the car’s behaviour in motion; a 4.4-inch (113 mm) longer wheelbase brings serene high-speed stability, while a 2.7-inch (69 mm) wider track helps it hold on laterally during our run through the Catalan countryside.

The growth spurt also gives passengers more space to occupy; rear leg room grows by 3-inches (74 mm) which joins incremental increases in head, shoulder and knee space to evolve the E-coupe into a legitimate long-distance-four-seat GT.

PERSONALIZED PERSONAL SPACE

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Inside, the coupe adopts the same dashboard, infotainment and touch points as the sedan and wagon. However, the coupe distinguishes itself from the four-doored derivatives with new air vents aping the shape of jet turbines; plus, two new wood trim packages with open-pore or high-gloss finishes, and unique colour choices. My inner dandy was also smitten with the interior’s customizable LED lighting offering 64 colors to choose from and the beautiful-but-optional Burmester surround sound speakers.

North Americans will get the upgraded 12.3-inch COMAND screen as standard kit along with navigation, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay. A second 12.3-inch screen is available to replace the conventional binnacle, bringing digital gauges that can be customized in Classic, Sport and Progressive styles plus multiple auxiliary information choices. Definitely treat yourself to the Widescreen-Cockpit, it’s an impressive spread, especially in combination with the multicolored head-up display.

Everything can be controlled with mere finger swipes across the Touch Control buttons mounted on the steering wheel. There’s also a touch centrally mounted touchpad and Mercedes’ Linguatronic voice recognition system.

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The technology doesn’t stop there, like its siblings the E-Class coupe is available with Mercedes’ Intelligent Drive Package which brings a suite of highly capable semi-autonomous and safety functions like Drive Pilot DISTRONIC which can corner and change lanes on the highway with little more than your consent; and Evasive Steering Assist which will quite literally steer you clear in the event of an emergency.

DISTRONIC worked as advertised, but I was smoother and more decisive when dealing with human irregularities as we stretched out across the Catalan autopista. Drive Pilot was most at home with a clear road in front of us, which in my opinion is a waste of empty asphalt.

Despite all the extra engineering work that went into reducing road roar from the floor and the firewall, the E400’s standard panoramic roof undoes everything by leaking wind noise on the highway.

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Automatic emergency braking comes standard as does blind spot monitoring and Attention Assist, which pays attention to how well you’re paying attention.

The E-class coupe also borrows Mercedes’ condescendingly named Magic Vision Control wipers from the S-class—it basically runs washer fluid to the back of the wiper blades in order to eliminate “the splash of water that usually briefly impairs the driver’s field of view in the case of conventional windscreen washing systems.” The wipers are run by semi-automated washer software that’s so German it wouldn’t even let me test the system because my windshield wasn’t dirty enough.

TOURING GRANDLY

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Pulling off Catalonia’s pristine C-32 highway around Mas Carbó – cutting through the costal range towards Girona—I get sandwiched between a pair of E300s, in front of me two young Russians, and a quite serious German man behind me.

Things begin to escalate as they always do when you put hot heads with hot shoes in somewhat hot cars. The E300 makes less power but rotates better thanks to a lighter nose and a lack of 4MATIC. My E400 has more torque available over the same rev band—metered out through an all-wheel-drive system split 45/55 rearward—but I’m hauling around an extra 400-pounds most of which hovers around the front axle. The car was happier to square off corners and claw its way forward rather than fighting understeer trying to carry corner speed.

Toggling the Dynamic Select switch to Sport+ actually made the car perform worse. The highest performance mode was constantly jumping up and down the gearbox and brought aggressive driveline shudders on upshifts and squirminess under braking; it was basically sound and fury for the sake of seeming to do something.

I had to drop it back down to Sport mode just to get a bit of control back with the wheel mounted paddles. There is an Individual mode that lets you customize throttle response, shift points, suspension settings and steering weight, but I was too preoccupied to play with it.

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The three tourenwagens were all riding on Mercedes’ mid-level Dynamic Body Control suspension with adjustable electronic dampening; there’s also the standalone option for Air Body Control, a three-chamber air suspension which keeps the car flat with roll, pitch and heave stabilization. Both upgraded suspensions are good but the differences are nearly impossible to pick out, drivers will want the adjustable dampers for its more communicative feeling, while passengers will prefer the airbags around town. Regardless of suspension choice all E-coupes sit a half-inch lower (15mm) than the sedan and wagon.

But our fun is cut horribly short as we came up quick on a Renault who was coming up even quicker on a transport truck filled with fruit. I ask the lasseiz-faire navigation lady to find me a place to stop, leaving my colleagues and pulling up to a corner café in Tossa del Mar to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes— like Oscar Wilde once said, every man is true to his trade.

VERDICT

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Poking around side streets near the Parlament de Catalunya in downtown Barcelona shows the E-class coupe as smartly capable in the city just like its sedan sibling, but where it’s absolutely at home is gobbling up vast expanses of empty road at high speeds with a high degree of efficiency. Something sportier might be better suited to eating apexes, but you’re not going to find anything in this segment with more passenger space or better interior appointments.

North American picing hasn’t been announced yet, but expect to pay a premium well north of the E300 sedan’s $53,075 MSRP when it reaches dealerships this summer.

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