2010 Mercedes-Benz E350 Coupe: First Drive
By Chris Haak
Earlier this year, during the auto-show circuit, Mercedes-Benz first displayed its all-new 2010 E-Class Sedan. The previous E-Class was Mercedes’ second-best selling vehicle at 38,576 units in 2008, and behind only the C-class, which sold 72,471 units during the same period. The E’s sales were behind its arch-rival BMW 5-series’ sales, but well ahead of the Audi A6’s sales pace. Then, at the 2009 Geneva Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz revealed the new E-class coupe. Until the current 2010 model year, there was no E-class coupe; instead, those duties fell to the C-class-based CLK-Class, which is being discontinued. The E-Class Coupe shares no body panels with the E-Class Sedan, and even has its own architecture under the skin.
While the E-class sedan’s shape has some of the C-Class’ chunky, severe, cobbled-together appearnce – and, to my eyes, isn’t a lot better-looking outside than a far more expensive German version of the unloved Chrysler Sebring, I was absolutely dumbstruck by the shape of the new 2010 E-class coupe. Rather than the staid, conservative styling of the sedan, the coupe breaks out with a unique style of its own. The roofline flows in a nice arc and its line is not interrupted by any B-pillar; instead, the rear windows retract when wanted. There are also small windows adjacent to the C-pillar that do not retract, but also help to prevent the gigantic blind spots that many vehicles with aggressively-sloping rooflines suffer from. (Camaro, Challenger, and Genesis Coupe: I’m talking to you.)
Mercedes-Benz seems to do most of the experimentation with the “face” of their cars with the E-Class, which is somewhat surprising given the importance of this car to the overall lineup. The W210 E-Class, launched in 1996, introduced us to the quad oval front lamp treatment, and the next generation, called the W211, was launched in 2002 and was an attractive, yet conservative, evolution of the W210’s shape. This time, the W 212 version introduced the world to a new squared-off quad lamp shape, continuing the evolution of the C-Class’ somewhat squared-off shape. The grille has an enormous three-pointed star – as if it would be possible to mistake the car’s front as belonging to anything other than a Mercedes-Benz at first glance. The grille is fairly upright relative to the rest of the car; I have also noticed this trend in recent BMW models, and I believe it’s a nod to European pedestrian-safety standards. The somewhat-vertical grille can’t be all bad, though, since the E-Class coupe has a class-leading drag coefficient of 0.24.
Mercedes probably felt forced to make the E-Class a more unique shape than in the past since Hyundai borrowed a few styling cues from the W211 E-Class for its Genesis sedan. The taillight treatment is different from other Mercedes-Benz products and doesn’t seem to carry much brand identity – certainly not as much as the front of the car – but the car has nicely-shaped haunches over the rear wheels. Overall, the design is excellent, and reminds me in many ways of the most beautiful current Mercedes-Benz product, the CLS four-door coupe. It doesn’t take much imagination to picture the back of the E350 Coupe’s front door openings moving forward slightly and squeezing in a set of rear doors. A set of upper and lower swage lines gently move downward to the front of the car, and provide a nice contrast to the flowing shape of the roofline above them.
It may have been so large because Mercedes needlessly shoved a fairly-large clock onto the gauge cluster to the left of the speedometer (it was the same size as the tachometer, which resided on the other side of the speedometer). The gauges are then so numerous that they span a wide area, so the wheel has to be large to accommodate them so that they’re visible within the wheel’s rim. Had the clock been relocated elsewhere, the gauges would require less room and the wheel could be smaller. One positive about the gauges was the large information display within the speedometer. Unlike the clock’s location, that was a good use of available space. I was disappointed to see a foot-actuated manual parking brake in a car of this stature, and I found the location of the cruise control switch – which resides on a stalk just above the turn signal lever – to be an annoyance, as I regularly hit that instead of my signal. I’m sure that’s something an owner would get used to quickly, but they also shouldn’t have to.
The interior is just stunning. The seats of my test vehicle were covered in tan leather, and the lower dash, console, and door panels were covered in either tan leather or tan soft-touch plastic/vinyl, while the top of the dash and the steering wheel were done in dark brown and were also soft to the touch. The steering wheel itself had a nice thick rim and a flat bottom, race car-style. Unfortunately, it probably needed the flat bottom because it had such a huge diameter.
The E-Class Coupe that I drove had Mercedes-Benz’ optional COMAND navigation/infotainment interface. It’s very similar to BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI interface in design, execution, and required learning curve. The navigation display had extremely high resolution, which made its somewhat uncomfortably-small size a little more tolerable. One Autosavant writer who’s very technologically-inclined but shall remain nameless told me that he couldn’t figure out how to do anything with COMAND, but after only about 20 minutes of driving, I was comfortable enough with it to change the treble and bass settings. I then pressed the power button and the screen went completely dark; it’s very frustrating when turning off the audio kills the navigation display. GM’s navigation systems tend to do this, but Toyota and Lexus systems, for example, do not. Another minor nitpick: true keyless start is elusive in a vehicle like this (you need to insert a key into the dash and turn the key. How quaint.)
Elsewhere in the interior, tasteful chrome, wood, and aluminum touches abounded. The wood trim looked excellent – on par with many Audis that I’ve seen – and the car was extremely solid over road imperfections. The coupe is a 2+2, with a nice appointments for rear passengers, but only room (and seatbelts) for two of them. Between the sculpted rear seats is a pair of cupholders concealed by a wood-trimmed door, which serves to spruce up an area that doesn’t get much design attention in most cars. The back seat passengers are also treated to an incredible view overhead from the standard panoramic sunroof. Basically, the entire roof of the car is made of glass. The glass everywhere gives the car a far more open, airy feeling than a vehicle of its size would probably have otherwise.
On the road, I found the E350 Coupe to be a very smooth ride. The large steering wheel and somewhat non-aggressive suspension tuning conspire to make the car a vehicle that doesn’t particularly enjoy carving corners, yet I found the steering to feel fairly connected with the road. The 268-horsepower 3.5 liter V6 felt merely adequate in the horsepower department, but the outstanding 7-speed automatic that it was partnered with made the most of each of those horses. The car felt like one that would just gobble up highway miles in large doses, while leaving it occupants (at least those in the front seat) relaxed and refreshed. To be fair, I didn’t spend nearly enough time in the car to evaluate long-distance comfort.
I have trouble getting my mind around the fact that the E-Class Coupe is built by the same company that hollowed out Chrysler. It’s everything that most current Chrysler products are not. It’s stylish, it’s beautiful, has a gorgeous interior, lots of technology – and it’s expensive, with a base price including destination of $48,925. Everything is relative, though, and the 2010 E-Class Coupe is actually slightly cheaper (OK, $50 cheaper) than the outgoing 2009 CLK-Class that it’s replacing, in spite of throwing in more equipment and a larger car. As I listed to my audio notes taken while driving the car, I gushed, “I love this car! Wow! Wow!” It certainly wasn’t the most engaging, exciting car on the road, but the combination of the Mercedes-Benz badge, beautiful exterior, and luxurious interior won me over – or at least made a very favorable first impression upon me.
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