Road Test: 2010 Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe
This 2010 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2013.
By Douglas Kott of Road & Track
So your friend has been telling you about this girl who would mesh with you perfectly...compatible astrological signs, likes Thai food, kind to small animals, shares your fascination with the early works of David Cassidy. Geez, where do I sign the pre-nup? And then, the bomb drops. "She's got a great personality!" friend says with feigned enthusiasm, which we all know is code for "She could be James Lipton's body double."
Looks do matter, in a long-term relationship with either a car or significant other. And Mercedes-Benz, always a comfortable fit on the engineering front, has been on something of a design bender over the last decade or so, remaking its once stiffly formal lineup into some of the most expressively styled cars on the planet. Think of the CLS's muscular sleekness, or the dramatic fender forms on the current S-Class. Now it's the E-Class's turn, and the makeover is similarly stunning.
We'll concentrate on the coupe version here, which replaces the CLK — always a curious "tweener" that blended E-Class styling cues with smaller C-Class structure. But now this coupe is built on shortened "E" architecture and has the extra girth to prove it. Wheelbase is 108.7 in., up 1.8 in. from the CLK's, and that increment roughly applies to the increases in width and overall length, too.
Aside from the benefit of increased interior room, the larger size yields a broader sheet-metal canvas on which to paint. Here, cues that first emerged on the auto-show turntable (the Fascination concept, Paris '08) are now production reality — the more extreme rhomboid headlight forms, the increasingly beak-like nose and grille, the deeply etched character lines and the "Ponton" rear fender traces, inspired by their namesake 1953 Mercedes S 220. As with the CLK and countless other Benz 2-door hardtops, this E is a true pillarless coupe, with a subtle convex arc to its beltline, and rear windows that roll down. The overall effect is a sexy, wide and ground-hugging look that makes the CLK appear a little malnourished by comparison.
There's no shortage of Wheaties in the powertrains either, carryover though they are. The 3.5-liter V-6 generates a stout 268 bhp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque; the 5.5-liter V-8 a lusty 382 bhp and 391 lb.-ft., each paired to Mercedes' own 7-speed Touch Shift automatic. (Little-known cocktail party fact: This gearbox has two reverse ratios, selectable by the Comfort/Sport button on the console, which also affects throttle response and shift mapping. Good to know for those Rockford Files J-turns.) Of course, we had to go with the V-8 version, which also comes standard with AMG-style front fascia and side sills, split-spoke 18-in. AMG wheels and wider Pirelli P Zero Nero tires, 235/40s front and 255/35s rear. Another identifier? The dual exhaust tips are oval on the V-6, rectangular on the V-8.
If there's a sweeter, better-behaved V-8 around, we've yet to experience it. Did its silky, softly modulated exhaust pulsations inspire the soul who coined "mellifluous"? OK, the word came first, but it fits this all-aluminum 4-cam 90-degree powerplant that's capable of ripping off consistent 0-60 runs of 4.7 seconds and searing through the quarter mile in 13.1 sec. at 108.9 mph. Quick, to be sure, putting the E in the rarefied realm of the Maserati GranTurismo and BMW M3. Around town, its torque is readily accessible (that 391 lb.-ft. can be tapped from 2800-4800 rpm) so you can almost think this car up to speed. But we vastly prefer the Sport transmission mode that offers snappier throttle response and seems to hold a gear lower in most situations. Unfortunately, that mode can be accessed only with the shock valving set to Sport...still with me?...but you can go to Manual shift mode in either shock setting and select gears by tipping the console lever side to side, or tapping the optional steering wheel paddles.
So far, this road test reads like a love sonnet to Mercedes, and deservedly so. Whether you consider the following a flaw is highly dependent on how hard you drive, but the chassis does feel slightly rubbery on quick turn-in or when hunkered over in trail braking, like the body's yawing a degree or two over the suspension. Soft sidewalls, laterally squishy bushings, or a combination of the two? Whatever, it's one of those isolation tradeoffs that makes this Mercedes "sporty" instead of "sports" — and on the flip side, no doubt contributes to making the highway cruise experience especially comfortable and serene.
Once past this transitional quirk, peak grip is decent (0.84g) and accomplished without much tire howl and moderate body roll. Steering is agreeably well weighted with that characteristic Mercedes molasses-damped feel around center, and brakes — the fronts with 13.5-in. cross-drilled rotors — seem competent despite longer-than-average stopping distances. You can't fully disable the stability control, but turn it "off" and the system will give you great latitude in sliding before it intervenes, all that torque a willing accomplice here. Fun! But not really in this car's mission brief.
Thankfully, the car's exterior sophistication continues inside, with a shallow vee of chrome-edged burl walnut spanning the dash as the main graphic. The 5-dial instrument cluster includes a prominent analog clock and a big floating-needle speedometer in the middle, its center section a display that issues forth all sorts of useful information from radio stations to compass directions. The COMAND interface system is now standard, its 7-in. color screen housed in a hooded, center-dash enclosure, and the center console is now a more formal piece with split, side-hinged covers over the storage bin.
Our car had the active ventilated front power seats (part of the $6350 Premium 2 Package) whose generous bolstering, perforated inserts and long lower cushions were appreciated. Air bladders controlled by thumbwheels inflate for lumbar support, and exhale with a muted hiss. In back, there's room for two in individual sculpted buckets, which split 60/40 and fold for access to the generous trunk. Six-footers can endure short stints back there, helped by the "Gurney bubble" depressions in the headliner, and it's less claustrophobic than you might think with the pillarless design. And for easier ingress, the front seats motor forward with a tug of a big chrome handle, then return to their original positions when the seatbacks are righted.
As one might expect, the E550 Coupe contains a wealth of standard features, including the COMAND system, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius satellite radio, rain-sensing wipers, wood, leather and an extra-large power moonroof. And then there's Attention Assist that detects when a driver is drowsy, primarily through patterns of steering inputs and corrections, and then sounds a chime. Clever, but the next step should automatically program the nearest Starbucks into the (optional) nav system!
And other options keep Mercedes at the forefront of safety tech, with Adaptive High Beam Assist whose camera reads light patterns of oncoming cars and adjusts the bi-xenon headlights accordingly, nearly banishing the high-beam switch to redundancy. And Distronic Plus uses radar to maintain preset following distances with cruise control, and can apply up to 40 percent braking power, without any driver intervention whatsoever, if its calculations predict a collision is imminent.
Very slick, this E550 Coupe. And powerful and easy on the eyes, we might add. Furthermore, consider the value equation — its $54,650 base price undercuts last year's CLK550 by a cool $3000, making this latest Mercedes pillarless 2-door more than just a pretty face.