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Auto Corner: The True Gentleman's and Woman's Sporting Coupe - the Mercedes E-Class Coupe

19 September 2010   John Dickerson
Mercedes recalibrates its storied luxury coupe in the E-class.

mercedescoupe_exteriorExactly what is sophistication, in a car? The answer has something to do with the soul between the lines. Yes, a sophisticated car is fast and safe and confident, but it also breathes an intangible essence. That essence of sophistication is what makes Mercedes Benz’s new E-class coupe – available with either a V-6 (the E350) or V-8 (the E550) – a leader in its class. It is the true gentleman’s, or woman’s, sporting coupe.

As the German automaker has been doing with coupes for years, the new E-class emphasizes luxury more than lap times, prestige more than performance. While other sport-luxury coupes egg each other on in a performance frenzy, the staid Benz seems almost indifferent. It is a fast and sporting luxury coupe, but it won’t deign to be caught in The Fast and The Furious drama that has captured the attention of less fortunate coupes.

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Similarly, while other coupes are glitzing out their interiors with more chrome and eye candy, the Mercedes turns a blind eye, composing itself with the sort of uncomplicated luxury that has defined its cockpits for decades.

That cockpit is intentionally Spartan, perfectly practical and decidedly luxurious. Every option one would expect in a luxury coupe is there (and many one wouldn’t imagine, as well). But those options – be they four-zone climate control or adaptive air suspension – function flawlessly without drawing undue attention to themselves.

The same unpretentious confidence defines the Mercedes sporting capabilities, which are competent, but not the core of the car’s identity. Drivers who rank performance above sophistication may be drawn to Audi’s sensual A5 or BMW’s stalwart 3-series, which offer more dynamic driving experiences. In comparison, the Mercedes coupe seems almost stoic. Though still sporty, the Benz is far more comfortable for touring, cross-country trips, or for that matter, commuting.

The V-6 Mercedes coupe (E350) offers a class competent 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The faster and thirstier V-8 coupe boasts 382 horsepower and nearly 400 pound-feet of torque – enough to uproot most houses from their foundations. Mercedes pairs a fantastic 7-speed automatic transmission with either of the engines. Like the rest of the car, the transmission is sporting enough, but is more calibrated for luxury touring.

Even with the Electronic Slip Protection engaged, a simple nudge of the accelerator can squawk the tires on the E550. The transmission allows you to switch through the seven gears yourself as you accelerate, but I found the E-coupe sprinted to 60 and on to 100 miles-per-hour just as fast when the automatic transmission chose to shift. That sprint to 60 takes the solid and fairly hefty coupe exactly five seconds, when equipped with the V-8 engine and 1.5 clicks longer with the V-6.

The essence of the E-coupe, like most Mercedes-Benz vehicles, is more than numbers on paper. If sophistication and luxury rank anywhere on your priority list, you must give the E-class a sampling before signing on any other coupe.

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Leather and high-end finishes combine to make an understated, hand-crafted luxury cockpit.

 

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