2012 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

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First Drive Review: 2010 Mercedes E-class / E350 / E550 Coupe

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver

In car-speak, acronyms have their pros and cons. Alphanumeric, gobbledygook names force customers to use the parent company's name every time they identify a car, casting a halo effect for the brand. "I drive a Legend," for example, did less for Acura than, "I drive an Acura." And so the RL was born.

Now apply that thinking to Mercedes-Benz, which, to be fair, has always used alphanumeric names. But as the company expanded its lineup to some 15 separate nameplates — not counting the AMG models — it resulted in confusion on the showroom floor and significant marketing challenges in promoting individual models. Things needed to get simpler, and they have. The replacements for Mercedes' mid-size CLK-class coupe and cabriolet models will henceforth be identified as part of the E-class family. (The CL coupes will become part of the S-class lineup.)

E-class Innards, C-class Dimensions
Unlike the last C124 E-class coupe from the mid-1990s, as well as most of the E-class coupes before it, the 2010 E coupe is not simply a two-door version of the 2010 E-class sedan. Rather, as with the CLK, it is more or less a blend of C-class and E-class components under the skin. But whereas the CLK was more C-class than E-class, the new E coupe has more suspension and powertrain bits in common with the E than the C, according to Mercedes-Benz USA product manager Bernhard Glaser. Dimensionally, however, the E coupe is much closer to the compact C than the mid-size E, sharing the C-class's 108.7-inch wheelbase, and the exterior dimensions remain within an inch or two of the C's, even given the wider, longer, and lower bodywork. Compared with the E-class sedan, however, the E coupe has a three-inch-lower roof and five fewer inches of wheelbase and is about 200 pounds lighter, seven inches shorter, and a whopping five-and-a-half inches narrower.

E-class Style Inside and Out
Mercedes clearly wants the E coupe to be seen as an E, and so it adopts the sedan's design cues, including quad headlamps and the Ponton-inspired rear quarters. Few pieces are actually shared, however. Look closer, and you'll notice that the fender contours are ever so slightly exaggerated compared with those of the sedan and that the low-beam headlamps are unique. Unique also describes the grille treatment — here, it features two bars bracketing the three-pointed star, whereas the sedan has three or four grille slats with a vertical hood ornament. Most distinct, however, is the roofline, which, like that of the CLK, remains pillarless (that is, if you don't count the mullion that forms the little rear quarter-window). Wheels start at 17 inches in diameter, with 18s optional on the E350 and standard on the E550. All E coupes get a full-length, partly retractable sunroof as standard equipment, the light from which is particularly appreciable from the snug rear bucket seats.

In the front row, the low-mounted seats ensure a sporty driving position, and settling in is made easier as the seatbelts are presented on startup by motorized arms. The driver faces a dashboard that recalls the sedan's retro-inspired, angular cabinetry without copying it outright. Differences include a subtle V-shape that helps reduce the design's imposing squareness, and a conventional console-mounted transmission shifter — as found on the C-class — stands in for the sedan's column-mounted electronic gear stalk.

The driver faces arguably one of Mercedes' best-ever gauge clusters, which combines five Porsche-like intersecting circles with clear, crisp displays. All E-classes feature Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system that bundles secondary controls into a reasonably sensible screen-based interface, and E550 coupes add navigation as standard. Other options include front-seat ventilation, pneumatically adjustable seat bolsters, and a five-channel surround-sound stereo. Sadly, there's nothing on the list capable of adding any visual spice to the conservative burled-wood-trim interior décor, which is as exciting as a bank lobby, especially compared with the intense driving environs of the Audi A5 and the BMW 3-series coupe. It's reasonable to assume more interesting trim options are forthcoming.

Capable and Quick, but Misses Being Engaging
Consider the stage set, then, for a mature driving experience, one that neither sets one's heart ablaze nor lulls a guy to sleep (although if indeed the latter occurs, the list of E-class safety equipment includes a drowsiness monitor). The E350's 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 pulls hard and is capable of hustling the car to 60 mph in an impressive 6.1 seconds, according to Mercedes. Although the E350 never feels slow or winded, it lacks the sexy engine notes of, say, the Infiniti G37 or any six-cylinder BMW. The 382-hp, 5.5-liter V-8 of the E550 is far more glorious, with buckets of torque all over the range, a claimed 0-to-60 time of 5.2 seconds, and a surprisingly hurly-burly exhaust grunt. Throttle response on the E550 can be sharpened by pressing the Sport button, which also stiffens the shocks and raises shift points of the ubiquitous seven-speed automatic that is shared with the E350 (and nearly every other model in the Mercedes lineup). Manual shifts can be requested via the shift lever or paddles mounted to the steering-wheel spokes — left for downshifts, right for upshifts.

Speaking of steering, both models present beautifully weighted helms with quick responses complemented by suspensions (with adaptive shocks that stiffen automatically in turns) communicative enough to instill confidence long after the speedo passes the century mark. Meanwhile, ride quality remains civilized, even when equipped with the staggered-width 18-inch wheels, which are shod with thin 40-series front and 35-series rear tires. The electrically variable shocks — standard on the E550 — manage body roll gracefully and in their stiffest settings dial in considerable road feel while mitigating harsher impacts.

All things considered, there isn't much to fault with either E coupe, except to say that they're a little low on excitement. The utter repose of the chassis and the eerie silence at triple-digit speeds made our repeated bursts to the E-class's computer-limited top speed of 130 mph relatively anticlimactic. Seriously, if you can't have fun at 130, when does the fun start? That said, autobahn stoicism has always been a trait of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. And scrubbing off speed for the occasional oncoming Crown Vic (or anything that might look like one from a mile away) proved that Mercedes did its homework in the braking department, too. Still, we climbed out of the coupes feeling rather apathetic toward them as performance vehicles. But we're not ready to blame the car just yet — the roads Mercedes chose for our route were heavy on high-speed sweepers, affording us no sustained opportunity to test its transitional liveliness, let alone coax it into tail-out shenanigans. (An AMG model would up the fun nicely, but Mercedes is making no promises and hints that, even if we were to get a two-door E AMG, it would likely be of the convertible variety.)

So there is little about the E350 and E550 coupes that really invites sports-coupe hooliganism. Pretty much everything about them — from their graceful styling and comfort-oriented interiors to their serene ride characteristics and stealthy speed — reflects an attitude not seemingly concerned with the competition from BMW, Audi, or even Jaguar. The 2010 E-class coupe feels stronger and more confidence-inspiring than the outgoing CLK, and at $48,975 for the E350 and $55,535 for the E550, they are nearly identically priced. But the E-class coupe is also more mature in pretty much every respect, offering luxury-sedan hospitality in coupe attire. So we'll go along with the name change. Because after all, if it looks like an E-class and drives like an E-class, it's pretty fair to call it an E-class.

Performance Data
PERFORMANCE (MFR'S EST):

Zero to 60 mph: 6.1 sec (E350) / 5.2 sec (E550)
Top speed (governor limited): 130 mph

FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 18/25 mpg (E350) / 16/23 mpg (E550)

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BB01 - 4/19/2014 10:44:43 PM