Though the S-Class is the profit-per-unit world champion, Mercedes' stalwart E-Class is still the company's most reliable producer of profits. The latter tends to represent the model that most humans on Earth think of when they think of Mercedes-Benz. The taxi version of the E-Class sedan used in Europe and elsewhere is the usual reason given for this familiarity we all have with the E, but c'mon, it also happens to be a pretty stunning piece of work in its market segment.
Today we're trying the upgraded and massaged fourth-generation Mercedes E-Class Coupe (known internally as C207). Specifically we're driving the 329-horsepower E400 coupe that arrives in the US next summer (2014) to eventually replace – in all body variants – the current V8-powered E550. Starting price for a base E350 coupe should scare up $51,500 when it arrives a little later this year, while this E400 two-door will hit US soil at around $56,000 as a futuristic-sounding 2015 model.
BMW has found the cheap way to "expand" its product lineup by now calling its 3 Series coupe and convertible the 4 Series. Mercedes, meanwhile, put big development cash into the new W212 E-Class sedan and its wagon variant back in 2010, then took the smaller W204 C-Class-based coupe and cabriolet – formerly called the CLK-Class – and made them higher priced E-Class variants. Even now, as the recently tested midlife E-Class sedan changes pretty significantly, the coupe seen here and its cabrio sibling remain substantially similar to their 2010 counterparts. We've always found this product strategy a little fishy, and that definitely isn't going away with this midcycle updo. If we're paying for and expecting an E-Class, we'd sort of like to have an E-Class chassis, not a two-generations-old C-Class chassis.
This E400 setup will eventually be the range-topper after the 550 is sent on permanent vacation.
This, however, can get into a-little-too-picky territory, because the E-Class coupe and cabrio are swell machines that don't really offend a soul among their clientele as they drive along on the elder C-Class architecture. What helped make things even better for us here is that our E400 coupe test car was dressed in AMG Sport guise – one fine trim for those who crave a lifestyle car like this. Also fitted were the optional, 19-inch, seven twin-spoke, AMG wheels and accompanying Continental ContiSportContact3 tires – 235/35 ZR19 front, 255/30 ZR19 rear. Up until now, the E-Class Coupe in America has not come with the availability of these 19s, nor with a formal AMG Sport package. At least for the E400 setup this will change, as it will eventually be the range-topper from sometime in 2015 onward after the 550 is sent on permanent vacation. (The new E-Class Coupe in Germany? Nine engine trims and eleven choices of alloy wheel design, three of which are 19-inch.)
The new bi-turbo V6 is the really big story here, however. It's not just the engine's 329 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, but the bundle of 354 pound-feet of torque that is on full tilt between just 1,400 rpm and 4,000 rpm. As opposed to the E400 sedan we tested earlier this year, this coupe weighs 132 pounds less, has seven inches less length to deal with, a 4.5-inch shorter wheelbase, is almost three inches skinnier and is two inches lower in overall height. Think of something close to an Infiniti G37 coupe and you're not far off. Plus, there are the added benefits of the AMG Sport pack and E-S-M mode Dynamic Handling select button for the 7G-Tronic Plus automatic gearbox, said button also altering the throttle response and standard sport exhaust of the AMG trimmings.
The new M276 bi-turbo V6 is the really big story here.
Though the roads we were on between Hamburg in Germany and the Danish countryside were far less than challenging for this chic setup, the nimbleness gained by the coupe's tighter packaging was occasionally felt. The standard Agility Control adaptive dampers are good tech made even better by the optional sport calibration you can order. At this slightly smaller CLK-Class dimension, the coupe provided solid overall handling as we played with the feel of the electromechanical Direct Steer via the three-spoke wheel swathed in AMG leather, our butts comfortably and firmly in place thanks to the car's multi-adjustable sport seats.
In US market terms, again, you could cross-shop this E400 coupe with the Infiniti G37 coupe or, a little smaller still, an Audi S5. The feeling from behind the wheel and sense of substance are quite different between the less-expensive Infiniti and the Merc. Meanwhile, the S5 is set to stay about $6,000 below the E400 coupe in pricing, and offers quattro traction and a six-speed manual as standard kit if you don't want the automatic setup. Despite its many upsides, therefore, the E400 coupe is going to have a difficult time competing with the more powerful and less expensive Audi S5, which still offers more interesting variety to us. But, hold on, this battle for a relatively small US niche could shift soon; this year we'll have the freshened Merc coupe as an E350, E350 4Matic and E550. Then in the middle of 2014 comes this E400 and also an E400 4Matic. Infiniti already has the three setups of G37 coupe – basic Journey trim, the all-wheel-drive model and Sport with six-speed manual – at much lower price points.
The V6 bi-turbo gets much better fuel economy than the V8 while being only 0.2 seconds slower to 60.
After what became nearly 350 miles on northern German flatlands, on car trains to carry us and on car ferries to ferry us, there was no doubting that this Mercedes E400 coupe with AMG Sport package is a sweet lifestyle conveyance. With things set in the S calibration, it can also hold its own with most competitors short of full-blown performance-division models. Plus, the V6 bi-turbo gets much better fuel economy than the V8 in the current E550, while being only two-tenths of a second slower (5.1 seconds) to 60 miles per hour. And riding the v-max limiter at 155 mph for several ticks across the unlimited portions of the Schleswig-Holstein region helped put pay to the coupe's slinky coefficient of drag number of just 0.25. Then when it was time to reel things in abruptly, the augmented front brake discs that come with the AMG Sport added just that little bit of urgency to the halting process.
Besides our lingering suspicions regarding the old C-Class chassis – but, to repeat, this little E behaves very nicely all the same – one must get past the overly designed new interpretation for the LED headlamps, and the overly haunchy contour along the rear flanks. But, in the end, to each their own in this class and style of two-door, no? The E400 coupe is certainly, at the absolute least, a damned lightyear better than any taxis we know.